Wisconsin Choice Programs Face Growing Scrutiny

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From the November 5, 2013, NSPRA Member Newsletter

School choice advocates in Wisconsin are in a defensive mode as the state’s newly expanded voucher program, as well as the academic performance of its cyber charters, face growing criticism. Although the voucher program is touted by its supporters as a way to help students escape poorly performing public schools, nearly 80 percent of students who received a taxpayer-subsidized voucher to attend private school this year did not go to a Wisconsin public school last year, data released last week showed.

Nearly three-quarters of those receiving vouchers (73 percent) attended a private school, 3 percent did not attend school, and 2.4 percent were homeschooled, the Associated Press reported.

Opponents, primarily Democrats and public school advocates, say the program is unaccountable to taxpayers and takes resources away from others who need it. While proponents of voucher programs maintain that the tuition grants provide students with more choice and give low-income students and families access to better schools, critics say that vouchers essentially provide a rebate for families who would be sending their children to private schools anyway — a claim bolstered by the recently released figures.

Meanwhile, on another choice front, half of the virtual charter schools that received a rating in the state report card did not meet expectations, either because of low graduation or test participation rates, or because of high dropout rates.

An article in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported that although the state has 28 cyber charter schools, only eight schools serving a total of 4,700 students were included in the state report card. Of those eight, only four met or exceeded expectations on the state report card.

According to 2012-13 report cards for schools released this fall by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 50 percent of the children in virtual schools were attending one that was not meeting performance expectations.

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The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG