Voucher Expansion Could Devastate Waukesha Schools, Superintendent Says
Gov. Scott Walker's plan to expand school vouchers in Wisconsin needs more work, according to Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray.
Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to extend the school voucher program to the Waukesha School District could seriously harm the district’s finances, Superintendent Todd Gray told Waukesha Patch.
Gray said he has reached out to Walker and several state senators about his concerns with the current proposal. Democrats oppose the plan — as do many Republican senators — to allow low-income students in nine additional school districts to receive vouchers to attend private schools, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The school voucher program already exists in Milwaukee and Racine.
“The proposal needs a lot of work,” Gray said. “Financially, for us, it could be very devastating, depending on how it works out. I think the vouchers should be limited to schools that are failing — we don’t have any failing schools — failing multiple years. I think if you have one bad year, you shouldn’t be subject to this.”
Students taking advantage of the program could shift revenues as much as $17,000 per student per year, Gray said, because the school district would not be allowed to count the student in enrollment counts for revenues but would still have to fund the vouchers.
While Gray thinks the voucher expansion will go through in some form, he hopes it doesn’t create too much damage to the Waukesha School District.
“Hopefully, if it is done, it is done so it doesn’t really take apart public schools,” Gray said. “We have a lot of good things going here. We worked very hard to build up some great programs, and I would just hate to see us lose a lot of those programs and have those programs minimized because of a big loss of revenues that we have.”
The choice program will be open to school districts with at least two underperforming schools who meet these criteria:
- receive school report card grades of "fails to meet expectations" or "meets few expectations"
- has at least 4,000 students
- has at least 20 students intending to participate in the program
This expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide for 2014 and 1,000 for 2015. Eligibility requirements for students would be similar to current choice program eligibility requirements.
Last year four Waukesha schools received low grades and were categorized as "meets few expectations." The scorecards system, which is in its infancy, needs work, Gray said. Additionally, other rules should be considered when looking at the voucher expansion.
“Voucher schools really need to have the same accountability system that we have,” Gray said. “I will compete with anyone. If it is all the same, if it is a level playing field, I am not worried about competing with voucher schools. But right now the governor’s proposal is not a level playing field.”
Walker is looking at a compromise by possibly requiring the private schools that receive state funding be subjected to the same evaluation system as the public schools, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The change is supported by State Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, who represents Waukesha.
“We do not want our school children jumping from failing school to failing school,” Farrow said in a statement. "I commend Governor Walker for publicly endorsing the use of report cards for voucher schools. I hope that with his help and input we can create a Choice Program that is accountable to taxpayers and leads to our most at-risk students getting the education they both need and deserve."