It was made official on Monday. Tony Evers is now governor. And if we learned anything during the campaign, Evers doesn’t know anything about educating kids despite serving as the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Evers wants to throw more money at education even though, as the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) points out, it can’t be shown that more money will improve education in public schools. Unfortunately, the political reality is that the legislature will probably go along with more educating spending. Republicans dumped more money than ever before into public schools in the last session of the legislature and, given polls that show support for even more spending, are likely to dump more money in a “compromise” with the new governor.
Will Flanders and CJ Szafir of WILL, writing for the Fordham Institute website, are hoping that the increased spending will translate into more funding for voucher choice schools. “Today, funding for Wisconsin’s private-school choice programs is tied to public-school budgets,” said Flanders and Szafir. “Though Evers’s proposed increases would do nothing to narrow the very wide funding gap between public and private, they would give a bit of a boost to participating private schools, schools which currently receive $7,747 per student in K–8 and $8,393 for high-school pupils.”
However, they also note Evers’ hostility towards school choice, warning that the new governor is the first to want to roll back school choice since the program began under Governor Tommy Thompson. (Governor Jim Doyle tried unsuccessfully to freeze participation in the program.)
Evers recently came up with a proposal to require municipalities to put the cost of voucher schools on property tax bills to try to force a conversation on school choice. Flanders, in a separate op-ed for RightWisconsin, is willing to call Evers’ bluff to have that conversation.
Evers won’t like the results. When controlling for socioeconomic factors, choice schools do better than Milwaukee Public Schools, and independent charter schools do even better. Evers’ own Department of Public Instruction’s school report cards showed choice schools did better than their regular public school counterparts.
Fortunately, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has been supportive of school choice, especially in the Racine Unified School District. Unfortunately, the state senate has again appointed Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) as the chairman of the education committee, which is like putting a representative of Planned Parenthood in charge of a maternity ward. Olsen actually endorsed Evers in his last race for schools superintendent.
We’re not going to see a big expansion of school choice under Evers. But Republicans should not be afraid to defend the successes of the different choice programs: voucher programs, charter schools, open enrollment. They all support the principle that parents, not school administrators, are the ones who know what is best for their children. And when defending the use of tax dollars for these programs, Republicans should remind their Democratic colleagues that taxes are collected to educate children, not fund school systems.