We agree with Governor Tony Evers that children, regardless of their zip code, should have access to a quality education. Unfortunately, Evers’ policies do not match his rhetoric.
The governor’s proposed state budget included an assault on school choice, three assaults actually, as Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) pointed out. The budget included an enrollment cap on all private school voucher programs, eliminating the charter school authorizer Office of Educational Opportunity, and a requirement that all teachers in the school choice program be licensed by the state (even as the state faces a teachers shortage).
We know from prior research that school choice helps close the racial achievement gap. We also know that Wisconsin has the worst racial achievement gap in the country.
“The persistent achievement gap is particularly problematic because this represents the situation prior to the coronavirus pandemic,” Flanders wrote last October in an op-ed. “Differences in access to supplementary materials, tutoring, and even basic internet access tend to fall along racial and economic lines. At a time when most education is being conducted at home, some research has suggested that the pandemic will serve to further exacerbate these gaps.”
The largest school districts in the state, serving the largest numbers of minority students, refused to be open to in-person instruction during the pandemic despite research showing that transmission of Covid-19 from students was minimal. Meanwhile, many suburban and rural school districts, along with school choice and charter schools, remained open to in-person instruction and demonstrated that it could be done safely. While the teachers unions kept the schools closed that served the state’s minority populations, Evers remained silent.
But beyond the pandemic, Evers deliberately ignores the research pointing to greater minority academic success in charter schools and schools in the state’s private school voucher programs. Instead of supporting increased funding for the schools that work, or even funding the education of students directly through individual education spending accounts, Evers would like to just throw more money at the schools that are failing minority children.
Unfortunately, Evers is joined in his separate-and-unequal education agenda by the new state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly who apparently believes private schools are good enough for her children but too good for lower income families.
If Evers truly believes that every child deserves a quality education regardless of zip code, he would support the expansion of school choice in Wisconsin so that every child could go to the school of their choice, public or private, instead of having some schools of quality for some kids and failing schools for others. He would also call for the shuttering of nonperforming public schools across the state rather than waste precious resources on these warehouses of failure. Finally, he would support efforts by the legislature to push local school districts to sell their vacant facilities to charter and voucher schools.
Sixty-seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. It’s time for Evers and his fellow Democrats to stop blocking the school house doors and let the state’s minority children have access to a quality education.