Withering Our Schools

Voucher schools gain ground in Wisconsin and public education withers.  The newly passed 2015-17 Wisconsin state budget destroys public K-12 education piece by piece. The spoils, of course, go to private investors who have long bet on voucher schools, a long-held objective of the American Legislative Council (ALEC).  

Governor Scott Walker, an active ALEC member since the early 1990’s, is the main conduit through which ALEC imposes its road map on our state; he’s responsible for most of the policies included in this budget and Motion #999, the last minute addendum to the budget passed by the Joint Finance Committee late in the evening of July 2 and largely adopted wholesale by the two chambers of our legislature.  

The effects on our public schools will be devastating. 

According to the Wisconsin Budget Project,

Governor Walker[‘s] … education budget … cuts state support to public schools, freezes local support, devotes new resources to private schools, and cuts property taxes.  [It] reduces support for public schools by $98 million over the two year budget period….  Although the bill increases school aid by $108 million in the second year of the biennium, districts will generally have to use those funds to reduce property tax levies, rather than increasing spending. Not counting the cut proposed for the upcoming budget, Wisconsin has already cut state investment in schools by 15% per student since 2008, a deeper cut than all but four other states. That 15% cut (in inflation-adjusted spending) means the state is spending $1,014 less on each student in fiscal year 2015 compared to 2008.  

The cumulative cuts have produced a most unwelcome result: “For what could be the first time ever, Wisconsin would fall below the national average in per-pupil K-12 spending if Gov. Scott Walker's budget passes without changes, according to an analysis from a national nonpartisan research group” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 15, 2015].

Other provisions of the budget affecting publich education include: 

  • Forbiding local governments from levying taxes to support its public school district;
  • Lowering the standards required to acquire a teaching license (although Motion #999 restored some standards from the initial proposal, they remain lower than the current standards);
  • Spending $4.5 million to change the accountability system;
  • Spending an additional $12.9 million for a board to create more charter schools and for more students attending charter schools;
  • Changing the present grading system to a 0 to 5 star rating;
  • Ending Chapter 220, a voluntary integration program which helps to racially balance Milwaukee and suburban schools;
  • Creating virtual charter schools at the same cost per pupil as public brick and mortar schools;
  • Allowing apples-and-oranges testing requirements that hold charter and voucher schools to a different assessment standard than regular public schools;
  • Phasing in a takeover of high-poverty, low-performing Milwaukee public schools;
  • Providing special-needs vouchers for disabled children, an idea opposed by every disability-rights organization in the state.
  • And more (from The Progressive, “Watching Wisconsin Destroy Public Schools")

Walker continues the assault on public education begun during Governor Tommy Thompson’s second gubernatorial term.  

For 20 years, a top priority item for ALEC has been the privatization of public schools through a school voucher system.  ALEC has dozens of bills related to this topic, along with books, analysis and legal opinions.  Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to implement a voucher program, using public funds to send children to private schools in 1990.... [Then governor] Thompson was seen as an innovator, and the role of ALEC was never discussed. The voucher ‘experiment’ was limited to low-income students in the Milwaukee School District.  In 2010, voucher students took tests that permitted the comparison of voucher students with their Milwaukee Public School peers for the first time. Although [voucher programs] promised to advance academic achievement for minority students, the results showed that the voucher students performed worse in math and reading [PRWatch, July 14, 2011]. 

Scott Walker continues to blaze his trail to the presidential candidacy on the backs of the people of Wisconsin.  Walker has, obediently and brazenly, enacted ALEC’S pre-written laws with the help of Republican majorities in the state’s assembly and in the senate.  Walker is well versed in ALEC philosophy.  His assault on unions was a premier item on Walker’s agenda after years of frustrating confrontations as Milwaukee’s County Executive.  (For an expose of how this organization operates, watch United States of ALEC.)  ALEC affects every aspect of public policy across the societal spectrum.  Far right wing Americans are enamored with Walker as they cheer the destruction of our beloved state. 

Do not underestimate the power and reach of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Examples of ALEC provisions in Wisconsin in one single session; 2011-2012, are listed here:

AB 69:
ALEC Castle Doctrine Act
SJR 21:
ALEC Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act
Act 2:
ALEC Joint and Several Liability Act, Punitive Damages Standards Act, and Product Liability Act
SJR 23:
ALEC Constitutional Amendment Restricting the Use of Vehicle Fees and Taxes for Highway Purposes
Act 10:
ALEC Public Employer Payroll Deduction Act
Act 9:
ALEC Super-Majority Act
Act 23:
ALEC Voter ID Act
Act 1:
ALEC Health Savings Account Act
AB 110:
ALEC Special Needs Scholarship Program Act
SJR 21:
ALEC Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act

All of these ALEC-written bills passed. 

For more interesting articles on ALEC, check these links: 











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  • Grassroots North Shore posted about Withering Our Schools on Grassroots North Shore's Facebook page 2015-07-14 14:30:10 -0500
    Withering Our Schools: what the biennial budget means for public education in Wisconsin and ALEC's role in its demise.