Wisconsin, school vouchers, and the perfidy of Tony Evers

For the second consecutive year, state Superintendent Tony Evers has used his bully pulpit at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to imply that the Badger State is throwing more money at a voucher program that is inferior to a traditional school system which is receiving less. But a closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called “morally wrong.”

Closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called "morally wrong."

Just like last year, Evers distributed a press release this week asserting that students in the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs scored no better, and in some cases worse, than district students on Wisconsin’s standardized test. We all know that such comparisons are problematic because of “selection bias” since nobody can be sure whether kids using vouchers and those using the public schools differ in important ways. (The former might, for example, have fled bad districts precisely because they were doing poorly there.)

Especially galling was Evers’s use of the Racine data.

His press release claims that far more district students in that city scored at grade level or better in reading and math than did Racine students who chose the private school voucher, barely half of whom were rated proficient in either subject.

But what the superintendent failed to note was that voucher recipients had been in their chosen private schools for only two months before taking the test. In other words, their performance mostly reflects what they learned in the public schools that they left. The fall exam should be seen as a pre-test or baseline, one that (in this case) shows that the youngsters availing themselves are lower performing than the kids who stayed behind. One might reasonably surmise that their parents are the most desperate for schooling options that might work for their children.

Nor did Evers stop there. He also said that state aid for the voucher program was up 10 percent while state aid for Milwaukee Public Schools was down by a similar proportion. What he failed to note, however, is that Milwaukee also receives a LOT of money in local funds, while voucher students get exactly zero from those sources. As a result, students using vouchers get less than half of what kids going to Milwaukee Public Schools receive for their education ($6,442 vs. $13,000).

Families and schools in Wisconsin should demand integrity and accuracy from the supposedly professional head of their education department, not shrouded polemic deprecating programs and policies that the guy in charge simply wants to go away.

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