Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly told the Capital Times they are planning on introducing an education savings account (ESA) bill in the upcoming 2017 legislative session. ESAs give parents the option to use state education funds that would have otherwise gone toward sending their children to a traditional public school. ESA funds can be used to help pay for tuition and fees at a private school or to purchase textbooks, online education programs, or private tutoring services.
“ESAs are about empowering parents and improving the range of educational options for children,” Renee Porter, executive director of Choice Matters, told The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News. “All children are different and learn differently. Some children have disabilities that require special attention. Other children are so advanced that their time in the classroom isn’t really benefitting them. It’s unrealistic, and quite frankly unfair, to expect every public school to provide for the exact needs of every student. That’s why it’s important to give parents options like charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools.”
A statewide survey of 600 likely Wisconsin voters conducted in May 2016 for the American Federation for Children by Public Opinion Strategies found 54 percent of Wisconsinites support the state’s Parental Choice Program, a school voucher program. This includes 69 percent of Republican voters and 49 percent of independent voters. Twenty-nine percent said “improving public education” should be the top priority of the governor and the State Assembly.
Only 45 percent of Wisconsin 4th graders and 41 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Only 37 percent of 4th graders and 39 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Wisconsin’s public school system is failing to educate roughly six out of ten 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics.
Wisconsin’s sub-standard performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in Wisconsin are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.
Wisconsin has been a trendsetter in education choice since 1990, when the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nation’s first school voucher program, was passed. This led to the creation of Racine’s Parental Private School Choice Program, the statewide Parental Choice Program, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program. These programs were steps in the right direction, but they only serve roughly 32,000 students, a very small percentage of the total number of Wisconsin students. The goal of the Wisconsin Legislature should be to allow every parent to choose, require every school to compete, and give every child an opportunity to attend a quality school. A universal ESA program would go a long way toward remedying Wisconsin’s lackluster record of failing to adequately educate its children.
The following documents provide more information on ESAs and education choice.
Education Savings Accounts: A Primer for 21st Century Education Policy
This study, published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, explores why Wisconsin policymakers should consider creating an education savings account (ESA) program in the state. It also examines the ESA programs already in place in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee and tackles the criticisms made by ESA opponents.
Ten Principles of School Choice
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 school vouchers are constitutional, grassroots activists around the country have been organizing to support the creation of school choice programs. Legislatures passed statewide programs in Colorado and Florida, and other states are expected to follow their lead. At least 35 cities have privately funded voucher programs. This booklet from The Heartland Institute provides policymakers and civic and business leaders with a highly condensed and easy-to-read guide to the debate. It presents the 10 most important principles of the school choice movement, explaining each principle in plain and precise language. It also contains an extensive bibliography for further research, including many links to documents available on the Internet, and a directory of the websites of national organizations that support school choice.
A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.
2016/17 School Choice Report Card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation.
The Legal Landscape of Parental-Choice Policy
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris cleared away the most significant obstacle to the expansion of private school choice programs by ruling the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not preclude faith-based schools from participating in private school choice programs. These programs raise other important legal questions, which fall into four categories: the scope of students’ rights to an education and parents’ rights to choose their children’s schools; state constitutional obstacles to private school choice; the effect of laws governing racial integration and the inclusion of disabled students; and the religious liberty implications of faith-based schools participating in such programs. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes the lack of clarity on these questions poses challenges, but AEI also says these questions create opportunities for proponents of private school choice to scale up existing programs and expand program options.
The ABCs of School Choice – 2016 Edition
Published by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, The ABCs of School Choice is a comprehensive, data-rich guide to every private school choice program in the United States. This publication, which is updated annually, may not reflect developments past January 25, 2016.
Taking Credit for Education: How to Fund Education Savings Accounts through Tax Credits
This Cato Institute paper shows how legislators can design an education savings account (ESA) that is privately funded through tax-credit-eligible contributions from taxpayers, similar to tax-credit scholarship programs that already exist in states across the country. Tax-credit-funded ESAs would empower families with more educational options while enhancing accountability and refraining from coercing anyone to financially support ideas they oppose. Because they are funded through voluntary contributions, rather than public funds, tax-credit scholarships have been found by the U.S. Supreme Court and by every state supreme court that has considered the issue to be within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions. In states that have Blaine amendments, which greatly restrict the ability of lawmakers to create some school choice programs, tax-credit ESAs could be a lifeline to families in need.
The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.
How School Choice Programs Can Save Money
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.
How School Choice Can Create Jobs
Examining five South Carolina counties, Sven R. Larson found school choice programs were associated with gains of up to 25 percent in youth self-employment. Larson writes, “School Choice raises academic achievement and reduces the problems and costs associated with high school dropouts. But it also has a decisively positive impact on youth entrepreneurship and could provide a critical boost for the economies of poor, rural counties.”
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News at https://heartland.org/publications-resources/newsletters/school-reform-news, The Heartland Institute’s website at http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
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