Monday, June 24, 2013

The voucher provision that Gov. Walker needs to veto

Disclosure allows parents to make informed choices, and voucher spending to be scrutinized

With the Republican state legislature passing the budget bill last week, it now heads to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for his approval. Included in the budget were last-minute provisions prohibiting the state from releasing information on newly-expanded voucher schools, requiring such information to be made public simultaneously:
The amendment requires the Department of Public Instruction to release uniformly from all voucher schools the data on how well they are using that taxpayer money to educate students.
To the casual observer, this makes sense: to make things fair, the information should all come out at once.

Yet the amendment limits more than just when information is released, but also the data on individual voucher schools:
...the amendment also goes further, prohibiting the state education agency from releasing selective data on individual voucher schools unless the private schools agree.

That could prevent journalists, parents and researchers from getting an early look at student scores as well as potentially a number of other records such as how much money the schools have been paid, complaints that have been filed against them, lists of board members and financial audits.
This is sad news to say the least. Limiting what information is made public means we won't know what standards voucher schools are holding, or how well their students are doing in their halls.

What’s more, it violates the very argument that voucher proponents make in defending the program. Leaving it up to voucher schools to determine whether their data can be made public goes against the idea of “market-based education” -- in other words, the idea that parents can make an informative choice in their children’s schooling is completely scrubbed.

Beyond that, however, is the question of disclosure, of where taxpayer dollars are being spent, and how effective those funds are at educating students. It isn’t just parents who need to be concerned over how well voucher schools are performing -- the investment that taxpayers provide for these schools, too, deserves to be transparent.

Ideally, the entire voucher expansion included in this budget should be scrapped. There’s no evidence that students perform better in the schools where vouchers are being used, and in some studies there’s evidence that voucher students actually perform worse.

But it’s clear that Gov. Walker isn’t going to do the rational thing here. Walker fully endorses expanding the program, and he’s not about to disappoint his voucher school supporters by suddenly reversing his opinion on them.

Still, even a conservative like Walker should know better than to allow this amendment to pass. His veto pen should strike it out of the budget, and there should be no hesitation in his hand when he does it.

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