Madison Residents Voice Support for School Choice

With the Joint Finance Committee concluding their recent hearings on Governor Evers’ proposed budget, Gabriela Garduno, Brandon Alvarez and Josepha Da Costa of Madison want to make sure their voices are heard. Recently, they spoke to the Institute for Reforming Government about important ways that lawmakers can help their communities. 

Gabriela is a mother of three, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 24 years ago. She originally enrolled her children into Madison Public Schools, but when she learned about Wisconsin’s choice program, she used a voucher to enroll her two youngest children in private school. “They are learning in very high levels, which for my kids [is] very good,” Garduno told the Institute for Reforming Government. “I’m very happy.”

But in response to Governor Evers’ proposal to limit school choice statewide, she exclaimed, “I’m not going to be happy about it. We cannot be silent for something [that’s] not right for my family. I will speak for my family.”

“I don’t think the government should decide what is the best for my own children. I have the power to choose.”

With federal funding from ARP, she recommends lawmakers expand access to tutors, a big barrier in the Latino community. “I remember when my older daughter was in high school, [they had] never enough tutors. Many of us [Latinos] cannot help them with homework.” More tutors, she said, could help with exams and standardized testing. “Mothers are desperate,” she said. “Sometimes the language is a barrier for them.”

Watch Gabby’s full story here. 

Brandon’s parents came from Mexico and he went through the Madison public school system. “I came up a little bit harder. I wasn’t very interested in school because I wasn’t good at it.” 

His work at Simpson Street Free Press helped his academics and now he is pursuing a degree in business management in college and has the goal of eventually opening his own gym. 

He has two sisters in K-12, and educational choice is a big deal for his family. “After all the hard work they [my parents] put in their life – all the sacrifices they’ve made and the struggles they’ve gone through, they believe that they should be allowed to choose where their kids go to school.”

But, they have seen real learning loss in their community and implore lawmakers to help students in need. 

“I have two younger sisters and they both have to do online learning. When it first started, it was very difficult for them,” Brandon told IRG. “I know that had to have been a struggle for a lot of students, especially if the parents weren’t home.”

“If [lawmakers] are able to give money to us here, or the school, and they’re able to actually put that to good use and put that to help kids that need the help, obviously that would be great because a lot of these kids are going to need extra help now because of this whole year of virtual learning where some of them did really good, but some did really, really bad.”

Watch Brandon’s full story here. 

Josepha is a sophomore at LaFollette High School and her parents came from Togo to seek better opportunities for their family, including a high-quality K-12 education. Taking advantage of attending both private Catholic and traditional public schools in Madison, Josepha loves books and writing and plans to study journalism in college with the goal to open a business or become a teacher someday.

“I’ve definitely benefited from having education choices and I know my parents aren’t the only parents in Madison who have concerns about academics and safety in our schools.”

While her educational background helped her thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic, she acknowledges how difficult the last year was for her and her classmates. 

“Online school was kind of difficult for me. My parents were technically essential workers…It was usually just me and my brother at home,” Josepha told IRG.  “I think more resources and things that would help go toward students who need help and someone there to recognize when a student is struggling.”

Watch Josepha’s full story here. 

Gabriela, Brandon, and Josepha are just three out of tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who benefit from school choice. Lawmakers should listen to their voices and consider allowing more families to benefit from educational choice. 

CJ Szafir is the President and Courtney Mullen is the Director of Community Engagement for the Institute for Reforming Government, a think tank based in Madison, WI.