"A La Crosse legislator says fraud at a Milwaukee private school highlights the need for holding voucher schools accountable." http://lacrossetribune.com/tomahjournal/news/local/shilling-defunct-milwaukee-voucher-school-shows-need-for-accountability/article_81ffcda3-71b7-5097-87d5-fd492aa5bb75.html
To: Wisconsin State Legislature
Milwaukee Deserves Oversight of Publicly-Funded Voucher Schools
When voucher schools shut down in the 'dead of night,' you've got a problem. Milwaukee's kids deserve better.
We're calling for all schools in Milwaukee to be subject to open-meetings and open-records laws. It's time we started holding these taxpayer-funded voucher schools accountable.
Why is this important?
News broke this month that a private voucher school in Milwaukee -- LifeSkills Academy -- had just one student testing at or above grade level in the state's reading assessment. After taking $2 million in taxpayer money, LifeSkills abruptly closed in December, leaving 66 Milwaukee students without a school.
As a parent and educator of Milwaukee schoolchildren, I deserve to know which schools are succeeding and which are not. Right now, it's impossible for Milwaukee parents to access information on how these schools perform, because that data is not made publicly available.
Imagine if the city health department functioned this way -- releasing a report on health code violations at restaurants but not mentioning which restaurants were unsanitary. Parents deserve to know which voucher-funded schools are failing students!
Since the state legislature created Milwaukee’s school voucher program more than 30 years ago, the program has paid for thousands of city students to attend private schools, of which 85 percent are religious. More than a billion dollars has been siphoned from the public school system to pay their tuition, including more than $50 million this year alone. LifeSkills Academy made off with $2 million in taxpayer money, before the founders jetted off to Florida to live in a $409k house in a gated community.
Studies have shown that students don’t do any better in those private schools. In fact, it’s not such a great investment for the public—or those parents.
In Milwaukee, 11 percent of voucher students passed the state’s reading test last year, and 13 percent passed math. Meanwhile, Milwaukee Public Schools take all students, no matter their special needs or disabilities or previous academic record – and still had higher test scores.
“The taxpayers are paying for a second, competing school system that doesn’t do as well as the one we already have,” Wisconsin state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts told a newspaper last year. “It’s extremely irresponsible stewardship of tax dollars.”
The solution is simple. Stop hiding the data on underperforming voucher schools, and pass legislation that equips Milwaukee parents and teachers with detailed information about their schools.
* Photo by Barbara J. Miner and used with permission