Should Wisconsin’s school voucher program be expanded even further?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, Wisconsin Business Alliance Executive Director Lori Compas and conservative columnist David Blaska offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

The voucher program should be shut down

Despite the big-money propaganda machine that is pushing school voucher expansion, Wisconsinites know that public schools are the heart and soul of our communities.
We know we can’t afford to fund two separate school systems, particularly when one is run for private profit. And over time we’ve seen that voucher school students perform no better — and sometimes much worse — than students at neighboring public schools.

Our member businesses are concerned that the continued transfer of taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools, along with huge chunks of taxpayer money being pocketed by school profiteers, will lead to public schools being downsized or closed outright. When schools are consolidated, the towns and neighborhoods that “lose out” get caught in a death spiral: Student travel time increases, home values decline, parental involvement decreases, and businesses close their doors.

And from an economic development perspective, it makes no sense for the state to undermine one of its own top employers. Public school districts are among the top employers in every single county across the state. Major reductions in public school revenues in recent years have resulted in school districts eliminating programs and increasing class sizes, which is regrettable in itself. But aside from those lost opportunities for students, our businesses are taking a hit: When school employees lose their jobs or take a pay cut, they have less money to spend on the goods and services we offer.

Those who claim that vouchers offer a path out of poverty are either disingenuous or naïve. We’ve seen that Wisconsin’s voucher program primarily serves students who were already enrolled in private schools. If the voucher-pushers really cared about underprivileged youth, they’d work on problems that lie at the root of underperforming schools: poverty, poor nutrition, violence, and crumbling infrastructure.

Rather than undermining Wisconsin’s public schools, our state’s leaders should look for ways to strengthen and reinforce them. The school voucher program should be ended.

Lori Compas is a small business owner and the executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Business Alliance,



Vouchers give parents genuine choices

Mother saw young daughter off on the bus for her first day of school.

“What could be more cozy, familiar, Norman-Rockwellish?” Progressive magazine editor Ruth Conniff wrote last September.

That brief glimpse of morning in America was soon clouded by the dystopian conspiracy theories that chronically haunt the editors of the Madison-based Progressive.

“Who would have imagined that a network of right-wing and corporate interests would roll out a coordinated attack on our neighborhood schools?” Conniff queried — as if those ubiquitous Koch Brothers had hijacked the school bus and drove it to the Ho-Chunk casino.

Illustrating Conniff’s jeremiad was a photograph of the 2011 occupation of the Capitol when two-thirds of Madison’s radicalized teachers walked out on their students and closed down public schools for five days, many with falsified doctor’s excuses.

The same progressives who demand “a woman’s right to choose” would deny that same mother the right to choose where her child will attend school.

Of course, those who can afford to do so can send their children to private schools — but first they must pay the monopoly school district or move out of town. What a business model!

And that right-wing boogeyman routine is getting old. Choice proponents like Geoffrey Canada, Davis Guggenheim, Joel Klein, Howard Fuller, Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and former State Rep. Annette “Polly” Williams (D-Milwaukee) are hardly tea partiers.

Even older is the canard that choice schools skim the cream off the top. Researchers from the University of Arkansas and UW-Madison found that the 25,500 voucher students and 8,000 more students in independent charter schools in Milwaukee “are more likely to be low-income and low-achieving when they enter school than the average Milwaukee public school student.” They graduated and attended college at rates 4 to 7 percentage points higher than their public school peers — at less than half the cost.

Of course school choice should be expanded. If public schools are so good, why do the collectivists fear parents won’t choose them? The answer, class, is that the voucher schools aren’t controlled by the teachers union.

Which is why Mary Burke told The Wisconsin State Journal she would not expand Wisconsin’s school choice program. Can’t run as a Democrat without that teachers union swag!

David Blaska is a Madison columnist and In Business blogger. Find his blog at

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