Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Don’t fear school choice


Don’t fear school choice

Waukesha parents deserve options

Waukesha Freeman May 16, 2013 Page A6 Opinion

The Waukesha Freeman reported the usual suspects against school choice met in the city at Horning Middle School on Monday night. They were opposing the expansion of school choice to the Waukesha School District and they were asking for more money for public schools.

Tom Beebe of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future and the rest of the gang want to increase funding for public schools by at least $275 per pupil. You get to pay for it.

Beebe tried to get Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and a Democratic Legislature to increase the state sales tax for more school funding. He was unsuccessful then, and it’s unlikely he’ll get the Republicans in the Assembly and Gov. Scott Walker to listen to him now.

Walker has already proposed $129 million in increased public school spending. His Act 10 reforms are working, and those school districts that are taking advantage of them are achieving huge savings on benefits, including the Waukesha School District.

But bringing costs under control while offering more state aid isn’t the only thing the state can do to achieve good educational outcomes. The state must lead on educational reform, including giving parents more choices.

According to the newspaper, Jeff Leverich, a senior researcher with the Wisconsin Education Association, even spoke against a proposal that would lead to the creation of more charter public schools like Waukesha’s STEM Academy. The state teachers union representative said the creation of a state board that would consider the creation of more charter schools would hurt local control.

Local control is in the eye of the beholder. If the revenue decisions for schools are being made at the state level, let’s not pretend that the state doesn’t have an interest in seeing the best return on the state tax dollar.

If local school boards want to continue to send state tax dollars into the same schools that aren’t succeeding while parents want other options, surely the Legislature has a responsibility to create those options.

That’s what school choice is really about. It’s about empowering parents to decide what is the best educational option for their kids.

We already have school choice in Waukesha. In addition to charter schools, parents can take advantage of open enrollment to send kids to other districts. Parents in other districts can choose to send their kids to Waukesha’s schools. Waukesha even has an online school that attracts students (and the state tax dollars) from all over the state.

School choice is working in Waukesha. I know, because I am one of those parents.

We know school choice isn’t hurting the district. The district just announced they’re giving iPads to every student and it will not affect the tax bill.

Adding a private school voucher option would only even the choice options available to parents already. Parents have the option of choosing a private school for their kid as long as they can afford it. This opens the schoolhouse door to those parents and students who aren’t as fortunate financially.

Beebe complained that the governor’s budget would give more money to “unaccountable” private schools. I hear that complaint a lot, that somehow private schools are “unaccountable.” To whom, exactly?

Unlike their public school counterparts, private schools are ultimately accountable to the consumer, the parents. If the parents are not satisfied, they can always choose another school, whether that school is private or public.

However, if the opponents of school choice had their way, there would be no accountability in the schools. Parents would be forced to send their kids to the one-size fits-all local public school whether it is failing or not.

How is that a wise investment of the state educational tax dollar?

There’s a reason that we allocate state funding based upon enrollment. That’s because state educational aid isn’t about funding districts, or buildings, or teachers unions. It’s about educating kids.

The union leaders and liberal activists like Beebe may have forgotten that. There is no reason that the Legislature should forget it, too.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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