AFC Mythbusters #9: Anti-Parental Choice Press Conference

MYTH:

“…the Republican-driven expansion of taxpayer-supported, unaccountable, private and often religious education has only served to starve and decimate Wisconsin’s once-stellar public education system”
(Rep. Sondy Pope, 5/22/13)

AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN MYTH BUSTERS:

“unaccountable”

It would help to know what the definition of “unaccountable” is in this situation.

For instance, the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system spent more than $14,2oo in taxpayer dollars on each of its more than 75,000 students in 2011 (or more than $1 billion), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, its 2011-12 four-year graduation rate was just 61.8%. We wonder whether Rep. Pope believes this data reflects an accountable or unaccountable school system. Then, we could better understand her vocabulary.

Students attending private schools through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) graduated high school, got accepted to college, and stayed in college at rates 4 to 7 percentage points higher than their MPS peers…and these students receive just $6,442 in public funding (or less than half of what is spent on MPS students).

So, if schools that receive just $6,442/student are doing a better job of preparing low-income children for the future than a system that spends more than $14,200/student and just under 62 percent of its students graduate on time, which sector is unaccountable?

“starve and decimate”

If the MPCP serves to “starve and decimate” Wisconsin’s public schools, then eliminating the MPCP would nourish and rebuild Wisconsin’s public schools, right?

Wrong. A December 11, 2012 Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo suggests that if the MPCP was eliminated, and 90 percent of students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools as a result, non-Milwaukee districts could lose up to $164.2 million in general school aid.

Also, two years ago, PolitiFact rated the claim that Republican legislators “voted to take funding away from their public schools in their districts to give it to private Milwaukee voucher schools” FALSE.

MYTH:

“Vouchers are something I know quite a bit about: I grew up in Milwaukee, went to school in Milwaukee, now represent Milwaukee…Time and time again, report after report shows that voucher schools provide no better educational opportunities than our traditional, neighborhood public schools”
(Sen. Chris Larson, 5/22/13).

AMERICAN FEDERATION FOR CHILDREN MYTH BUSTERS:

Senator Larson attended and graduated from St. Thomas More High School, which is a Catholic school in St. Francis that became geographically-eligible to participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program via the 2011-13 budget. So, he knows very well that such schools provide better opportunities than some neighborhood public schools; otherwise, why would anyone (including himself) attend such a school?

We’ve already mentioned the peer-reviewed, gold-standard School Choice Demonstration Project report asserting that choice students are more likely to graduate from high school, get accepted to college, and stay in college than their MPS peers attending traditional, neighborhood public schools. This was the longitudinal study that Democratic Governor Jim Doyle mandated through 2005 Act 125.

In 2011, University of Minnesota Sociology Professor John Robert Warren found that choice students are 17% more likely to graduate from high school than their MPS peers.

Finally, we are not sure whether Sen. Larson talks to any parents who choose to enroll their children in schools like his high school, but we do talk to many parents of the 25,500 students who are currently enrolled in the Milwaukee and Racine Parental Choice Programs. When asked, “Why do you enroll your child in a choice school, rather than a Milwaukee or Racine public school?” many respond with a single word: “Safety.”

Their own reports conclude that if their children are not safe, the promise of a true educational opportunity is pulled even further from their reach.