By Andrew Hitt, Chairman, Republican Party of Wisconsin
All Wisconsin kids deserve access to a world-class education. No matter where they live, every parent should be able to feel confident that they are setting their child up for success and fully affording them the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
School choice programs help make that possible. By empowering parents with the option to send their child to a school that works best for them, education freedom not only makes quality education more accessible to everyone, but improves graduation rates, incentivizes schools to better meet the needs of their students and boosts local economies.
Additionally, amid the coronavirus pandemic, school choice programs have allowed parents the option to send their child to a private school holding classes in-person while public schools were closed. Today, nearly 46,000 Wisconsin children participate in school choice programs, so it’s imperative that our representatives in Madison are writing bills — and budgets — that ensure that school choice opportunities remain in place to provide more education freedom to more Wisconsin families.
In February, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers unveiled his two-year budget proposal. In addition to $1.6 billion in tax hikes and no requirements to get kids back in the classroom, unfortunately, the governor’s budget includes a direct attack on school choice programs in Wisconsin.
In the face of a pandemic, Wisconsin’s parents want educational options for their children. Since Republicans launched the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program in 2013, enrollment has ballooned by more than 2200 percent. This pandemic was a prime example of the need to provide more choices to more students.
When children were stuck learning online and Governor Evers refused to take the lead on reopening schools, despite the scientific consensus that it could be done safely, school districts that began the school year virtually had larger enrollment drops than those who had begun at least partially in-person. While forced virtual classes were hurting children academically, socially and emotionally, school choice programs allowed parents the opportunity to make sure that their child was able to continue to obtain a quality education in-person.
Governor Evers’ proposed budget caps enrollment in all three of Wisconsin’s school choice programs, as well as the Special Needs Scholarship Program. This means that Governor Evers is barring additional students from accessing these important opportunities, including special needs students whose families rely on private schools to provide their children with the accommodations they need.
According to the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty, Governor Evers’ proposal would “make [school choice] programs unviable for many schools that participate.” Currently, the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which is currently limited to serving five percent of students in each school district, would be able to serve 10 percent of students in each district by 2025. The governor’s proposed budget, however, would cap the district enrollment to 6 percent — meaning fewer students would be able to attend the school that best fits them.
Additionally, Governor Evers’ budget includes the elimination of the Office of Educational Opportunity — Wisconsin’s newest charter school authorizer. This reduces the ability for new charter schools to become authorized in Wisconsin, despite the fact that students who attend Wisconsin charter schools have higher test scores than students who attend traditional public schools.
Now more than ever, we should be expanding school choice programs — not gutting them. Not every school will be a great match for every student, so it is imperative that we provide families with options to allow them to best set their child up for success. When parents clearly want school choice, and students benefit, why would Governor Evers threaten to destroy it? Is it because of his $150,000 in campaign donations from Wisconsin teachers unions since 2018?
Governor Evers ran for office saying that “what’s best for our kids is best for our state.” If his administration believed that, they would stop their baseless attacks on the school choice program. This isn’t about political gamesmanship; this is about our kids.
Wisconsinites deserve a governor who will put Wisconsin children and families first — not special interest groups and union bosses. The Republican Party of Wisconsin is proud to stand with school choice advocates across the state in calling on Governor Evers to expand, not remove, opportunities for Wisconsin students.