Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Should we fund children or buildings?


Catching up here a bit. State Senator Mike Ellis made an absurd complaint about the proposed expansion of school choice, saying that a school district should not be punished if one or two buildings fail.

Of course Ellis’ objection is just absurd. Buildings don’t fail. School districts fail when they fail to teach children. If there are children that aren’t learning in the district, of course the school district is failing them regardless of the building. (By the way, Neenah is not under consideration. It’s curious Ellis didn’t use Green Bay after he called one of the schools there, “a sewer.” They currently meet the proposed criteria.)

Ellis also complained to Gousha that if a school district is failing, then students who are below the required income threshold who happen to be attending schools that are ranked high in the district can also participate in the choice lottery.

Ellis seems to believe that every student that are under the maximum household income level would want to participate in a private school choice program. If he truly believes that, it’s a poor commentary on the school district. Contrary to the example that Ellis gives, if a student is doing well in a school, regardless of the grade given to the school, it would be unlikely for the parents to move that child.

On the other hand, if a child is not doing well in a school that has been given an “A” rating by the state Department of Public Instruction, then it’s cold comfort to the parents to know that some students are succeeding when their child is not. Far better to match the student to the appropriate school than it is to worry about what the cost might be to the district.

Even if Ellis was correct that the proposed expansion of school choice might somehow block an impoverished child in a failing school from participating because of the lottery, that’s an argument against having the enrollment caps, not scrapping the choice program itself.

After all, the point of state aid to local school districts is not to build buildings, hire administrators, and to make superintendent jobs easier. The whole point of state aid is to provide the means for educating each of Wisconsin’s children.

That’s why twice per year we count the number of students in each school district to determine the level of state aid. We don’t count the number of buildings. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay a “school flight premium” to the school that lost the child. School aid is for educating children, not for building monuments.

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