The state released test score data last week for students in public schools and private voucher schools. Here are a few facts readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are unfamiliar with: 

  • Depending on the type of test, there are 30 different ways to compare public and voucher data. Voucher students out-performed low-income public students on 29 of 30 measures. Even more notable, voucher students out-performed public students on 24 of 30 measures. (See the summary from School Choice Wisconsin.)
  • According to the Department of Public Instruction, public schools spend $13,505 per pupil.
  • Per DPI, per pupil voucher support for elementary and middle school students is $7,754 and, for high school students, is $8,400.

In other words, for a fraction of the public school costs, voucher students on average out-perform most public school students. Specifically, they do better in all comparisons involving the college-readiness ACT test. They also do better in most comparisons on the state’s “Aspire” and “Forward” exams.

These facts should constitute front page news in a state that pioneered what has now become a national school choice movement. Yet, for reasons that are inexplicable, the Journal Sentinel has yet to report them or the deceptive way that Department of Public Instruction released data so as to obscure the results.

The notable result that has received media attention is the slight decline in overall results. Credit Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) for voicing concern in light of the substantial (“historic” even) growth in state support for public schools. Here’s Vos, as reported by the Journal Sentinel’s Molly Beck:

Less than half of Wisconsin students again this year are considered to be proficient in reading and math — a trend Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Thursday called “disturbing.”

“These test scores are a cause for concern for parents, educators and taxpayers,” Vos said, in a statement on the annual release of state test scores by the state Department of Public Instruction…

…Vos also questioned how recent increases in K-12 funding have been spent given students’ scores on state tests, which were crafted by an agency run by Gov. Tony Evers until January when he left his position as state superintendent. 

“Wisconsin students deserve an excellent education no matter where they attend school,” he said. “With the repeated increases in funding for K-12 education, taxpayers deserve to know why we’re not seeing better results.”

The Journal Sentinel’s malfeasance in reporting on school choice is old news. The paper has thrown in the towel when it comes to an issue where Wisconsin has a major national role.

It remains to be seen how Republican legislators will respond in the next state budget. It’s a given that Governor Tony Evers will propose yet another billion-dollar-plus boost in public school support. What’s needed instead: (1) a commitment to lessen the gap between public and private support; and (2) recognition that school choice programs are clearly more cost effective and productive.