Wisconsin Imposes New Regulations on Voucher schools

Published June 3, 2014

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill requiring voucher schools to provide more data to the state and federal governments, saying it will increase their transparency to government officials and parents. 

Senate Bill 286 primarily does two things, said School Choice Wisconsin president Jim Bender. First, it set a timeline by which voucher schools must link up with a new statewide student data network which collects personal information about students and teachers. Second, all students within the system must receive a unique student ID number.

“This is important, especially in Milwaukee where we have students moving back and forth [between schools],” Bender said. “Without it, information doesn’t transfer at all or is very slow in transferring.”

Privacy Concerns Dismissed
Although Bender acknowledged parents’ concerns about amassing personal information in hackable government databases, he said the system will provide more accurate public information about all schools that receive tax dollars.

“[Private] schools here are very skeptical,” Bender said. “They will have to see the absolute specifics of the program before rendering their support.”

Although the new law did not include any extra data privacy protections, MacIver Institute policy analyst Christian D’Andrea says it won’t pose privacy problems.

“Any data can and will be taken out of context, but this will limit the ways voucher schools are incorrectly compared to public schools,” D’Andrea said.

Part of a Package
American Federation for Children advisor Scott Jensen said this legislation is the first of several legislative leaders hope to pass in the next couple of years regarding voucher schools.

Jensen said the next steps will likely include developing a report card for every school, awards for high-performing schools, and reporting school safety and parent satisfaction.

“This is sort of like the way investments and stocks work, in that everyone who sells stock is required to report financial information in a standardized format so investors can decide whether it’s the right investment or not,” Jensen said. “Right now, we’re not giving enough information for parents to make a smart choice.”

Despite concerns about burdening voucher schools with more regulations, D’Andrea said this legislation should improve Wisconsin’s voucher program.

“Some schools don’t deserve to be in the voucher program and are parasites,” D’Andrea said. “Hopefully, this will force them out and create more space for the high-performing schools. This is a step in the right direction, but a lot more work needs to be done.” 

Image by CLS Research Office