Recently, Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) put out a press release critical of the amount of money that is spent on vouchers annually. Like many arguments put forth by opponents of school choice, the press release contains a number of misconceptions and misleading statements that warrant refutation. Here, we take aim at three of most obvious.
Hypocrisy on Quality Education: Perhaps the most laughable part of this press release is the statement that “Access to a quality education should not depend on your zip code.” They proceed from this to claim that the school voucher programs are somehow preventing this, but the reality is that the policy that this press release is designed to harm—private school vouchers—are among the best ways to ensure that every child in Wisconsin is not limited to choose from low-performing schools. As we have found in past research, private school choice programs in Wisconsin perform significantly better on state exams than traditional public schools, and it is not a product of picking the best kids (which they are not allowed to do).
Fallacy of Vouchers as a Cost to Districts: As we have highlighted a number of times previously, it is simply non-sensical to think that a service provider should continue to be paid for a service they are no longer providing. For a school district to demand to be paid, in perpetuity, for a student they are no longer educating is analogous to Pick n Save demanding to be reimbursed for a customer that now shops at Aldi.
While this seems a bit crazy, in Wisconsin we actually take steps in that direction by giving school districts a number of years to adjust to the loss of a student. Because the district is allowed to continue to count a portion of the student for enrollment purposes for three subsequent years, they actually end up with more money per remaining student than they had before the student left for the private alternative school. This does not even account for the ability of districts to recoup the “loss” of revenue by raising property taxes.
Rather than complaining about the cost of vouchers to districts, it is high time to ask why we continue to reward local schools for their failure to retain kids.
Spending on Vouchers is a Drop in the Bucket: Even if we were to concede that spending on voucher students represents a real “cost” to school districts, the amount spent on vouchers is a drop in the bucket relative to overall spending in Wisconsin on education. According to the press release, the total cost of vouchers was $475 million during the previous budget cycle. Total spending on K-12 during that time period was 12.7 billion. Spending on vouchers represented a mere 3.7 percent of total education spending during that time frame, hardly a sizable enough share to cause the great consternation that resulted in this press release. To highlight the absurdity of the Democrat’s claim, a pie chart is included below.
Increasingly, opponents of school choice appear to be emboldened to make strident statements on the issue. This is especially curious because opposition to school choice is not a winning issue—not only is it not the issue on which many people make voting decisions, but it enjoys support from Wisconsinites across the political spectrum. It is time for those who understand the benefits that school choice provides to push back, as the opportunity that more than 30,000 low income Wisconsin children enjoy to attend better schools may hang in the balance.
Will Flanders is the research director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).