Democrats Lead on School Accountability As Scott Walker, GOP Call for More Taxpayer-funded Giveaways to Voucher School Special Interests

Jan 06, 2015

Despite already expanding state funding for unaccountable voucher schools by a staggering $124 million over the past four years, Scott Walker and Republicans in the legislature have made no secret about the fact that a further expansion is one of their top priorities in Walker’s second term — but Democrats are calling for some accountability first.

This morning, Senate Democrats introduced a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Chris Larson and Nikiya Harris Dodd that would address serious problems with the voucher school system and ensure that all schools that receive taxpayer funding are held to high and equitable accountability standards. Currently, private voucher schools that receive public taxpayer funding are not required to hire licensed teachers, conduct staff background checks, admit students with special needs, meet state graduation standards, or even be located in Wisconsin.

Democrats understand that the first step in helping underperforming schools is to tighten requirements across the board and ensure accountability and high standards at every single school that receives taxpayer dollars. In addition to requiring that instructional staff at all schools receiving public funds hold a valid license issued by the Department of Public Instruction, the Democrats’ sweeping accountability proposal requires pre-employment background checks and annual background checks for teachers and administrators at private schools, requires private schools to assess 4K through second grade students for reading readiness, mandates that high school diploma requirements at voucher schools are in line with public school standards, and prohibits corporal punishment at voucher schools. The proposal also puts some weight behind its requirements; it authorizes the Department of Public Instruction to bar private schools from the voucher program if they are in violation of these provisions.

The evidence that voucher schools improve student learning is thin. Public school students consistently outperformed voucher students on statewide test scores from 2011 to 2014, and with higher standards and accountability to the taxpayers. 

Despite the evidence that voucher schools perform no better, and in most cases perform worse, than public schools, the unaccountable voucher system was on the receiving end of a staggering influx of taxpayer funds — an increase of approximately $124 million over Walker’s term. Advocates for unaccountable vouchers schools, funded by special interest billionaires and led by long-time Walker insider Scott Jensen, have spent more than $10 million in state elections in the past 12 years, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. This session, Walker wants to expand the unaccountable voucher program statewide by removing the enrollment cap – which conservative estimates say could cost a total of $1.2 billion. 

“Senate Democrats understand that the first step in ensuring academic success for all Wisconsin schoolchildren is by requiring more accountability and high and equitable standards at every school that receives public funds,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Wednesday. “Republicans have failed our children by allowing voucher schools to operate under lax standards just so we can fund an unnecessary and expensive entitlement like taxpayer subsidies for the state’s wealthiest to send their children to private schools. It’s past time for this commonsense proposal.”