Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

In response to AB 92


Several years ago, I was a member of the research team studying the voucher program, or what is called the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In our visits to the Choice schools it was clear that teacher aides had little if any formal teacher training and conditions for teaching and learning were less than ideal. At the same time, one of the Choice schools, Juanita Virgil, was shut down. Where then did those students go? Back to the public school. Several other Choice Schools were facing bankruptcy. 

While comparisons are difficult between Choice and traditional public schools, it was clear that there were little if any statistically significant differences between the Choice schools and the traditional public schools. Over the years, however, statistically significant were the tens of millions of dollars that have left the Milwaukee public school district, having flowed to the Choice schools.

Yet the rationale given for this experimental program, one that was never voted on by the legislature, but was placed as an addendum in the budget bill, was that this program would serve poor children who had otherwise been denied an education of worth under the Milwaukee Public School system.

The problems of the Choice schools continued, in some instances with administrators misusing funds; years later Harambee Community School would be denied Choice funding because the school failed to become accredited. Choice schools have been able to use public taxpayer funds without producing test scores, and they have a much lower rate of students who are in need of special education services; apparently those students have trouble finding seats in the Choice schools, but are disproportionately represented in the public schools.

While Milwaukee struggles with concentrated poverty, it appears that the legislature is prepared to, not fix the broken school funding formula and give Milwaukee and other staggered school districts a hand up, but to blow open a hole in the school funding by dramatically expanding the School Choice program.

‘School Choice’ is an interesting, persuasive, and strategically compelling euphemism. It conjures a vision of hope, but in reality it has led to the dashing of dreams, and the hobbling of our public school system. In Chicago where I work with teachers and students, and where I continue to study with amazement what passes as ‘educational reform’ efforts, ‘choice’ is also used to suggest freedom to select from a potpourri of educational options. But when one digs a little deeper, findings indicate that students and families really have very narrow options, if they have limited resources to begin with.

Students and their families there have few if any real options, just the rhetoric of choice remains. Neighborhood schools have been replaced by the innocuous sounding “selective enrollment” schools, but the thinly veiled secret is that “selective enrollment” really means restricted admission.

And in the case of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program “choice” really means “voucher” and “voucher” from many years past has always really meant “white flight” from urban areas. Do we really want to expand vouchers across the state? Across the country?

So let’s cut to the chase; with the expansion of the “choice” law – raising the caps so that any number of private schools can receive public funds and eliminating the income threshold so that wealthy families may raid the public treasury . . . comes the looting of our common school system and the short changing of our neediest families.

Vouchers and restricted admission, this is what we have before us today. Under the language of “expanding” choice, the reality is to make unlimited the vouchers for the rich because, after all, that would be the net result if this ill-conceived bill goes forward.

Todd Alan Price is Associate Professor of Education at National Louis University and author of Secular Humanism vs. Religion? The Liberal Democratic Education Tradition and the Battle Over Vouchers in the USA. In 1993, he was a member of the research team, led by Professor John Witte, working on the Third Year Report Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. He can be reached at 312.261.3555, or by e-mail at

AJ Segneri is the Wisconsin Green Party Co-Chair. He can be reached at 815-499-2765 – cell or by e-mail at