From Our Blog
SOS board members were in the audience at tonight's 'Across the Divide' forum on school choice. Thanks to WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee Public Radio and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for shining a light on this important...
Congratulations and welcome to the newly-elected Wauwatosa School Board member Eric Jessup-Anger! And, a huge thank you to all the members of our board, who prove over and over their commitment to thoughtful, responsible stewardship of our public schools.
In The News
On August 28, 2017, the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee met and voted on the 2017-2019 State Budget. This was not the final step towards passage; the budget will next be reviewed by the full State Senate, State Assembly, and then signed by...
Action Alert! Join fellow public school advocates this Monday, August 28, at the state capitol to show your support for public school funding. The Joint Finance Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. in room 412 East. Have a green GO PUBLIC shirt? Wear it and be there!...
Frequently Asked Questions About S.O.S.
What is SOS’s mission?
What is SOS’s mission? We are nonpartisan moms, dads, grandparents, business owners and other community members who believe in our kids and advocate for their Wisconsin public schools.
Do we even need to fund public schools? Can’t we just have private schools?
Wisconsin’s state constitution mandates that, “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.”
Is the funding shortage really that bad?
Yes. Wisconsin has cut about $1 out of every $8 that it spends supporting students in K-12 schools, a cut larger than all but three other states. Wisconsin’s cuts to K-12 schools were larger than all but three other U.S. states.
K-12 general funding per student fell by 13% between 2008 and 2016.
Comparing the 2003-05 budget period to the 2015-17 budget period, state support for K-12 public schools is down 14%.
State aid to public schools is down $1.1 billion since Governor Scott Walker took office in January 2011. Meanwhile, the state has spent roughly $1.2 billion on funding for private school voucher programs since then. Cumulative spending on K-12 schools compared to 2011, adjusted for inflation, is down $2.6 billion over six years.
And, Wisconsin parents and children attending private schools were allowed a state income tax deduction for tuition paid up to $4,000 for K-8 students and $10,000 for high school students. In tax year 2014, the first year this tax break was available, 37,240 tax filers claimed subtractions totaling $174.2 million. According to a recent analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), the deduction resulted in reducing state income taxes owed by about $11.2 million.
Why is there a need for SOS if we have a public school district to advocate for our children?
No one has more at stake and no one has a more powerful voice than parents. For decades, most parents (including us) had delegated the duty to advocate for our kids’ schools to others: school boards, school districts, teachers and others. Through legislation, Wisconsin’s leaders shrank the influence of these groups and disabled local leaders from making decisions on school funding. Decisions on school funding that used to be made by locally-elected school boards are now made by the state.
Simultaneously, powerful “choice” school lobbying organizations, backed by millionaires and business interests, have emerged in Wisconsin. They’ve spent millions of dollars to sway state leaders, encouraging them to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding away from our kids’ public schools to unproven and unaccountable voucher schools.
More than ever, it’s clear that we parents must fill the void and use our voice to advocate for our kids’ schools.
Because if we don’t, it’s clear that our kids’ schools will be underfunded, forcing them to make difficult financial choices: deferring safety measures, canceling classes, canceling programs and ultimately closing our kids’ schools. future.
What difference does it make whether Wisconsin gives taxpayer money to public or private schools?
We believe in our kids’ schools for three core reasons:
- Because they perform
Wisconsin’s public schools are exceptional. We are lucky to have some of the best schools in the nation. Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate and ACT scores are among the best in America.
- Because they are the heart of our communities
Our public schools are the heart of our community. From football games to fundraisers, from BBQs to theatre and music performances and more, our schools are full of traditions that bring our communities together.
- Because they are accountable to us
Through publicly elected school boards, and the regular public meetings they hold, we citizens have a voice and venue to oversee their success.
We are concerned about voucher schools for four core reasons:
- They don’t outperform our schools In 2014, PolitiFact confirmed that there is no evidence to suggest that voucher schools outperform our public. In fact, in 2012, 2013 and in 2014, Milwaukee voucher school test scores trailed Milwaukee and Racine public school test scores.
- No budget Voucher schools are primarily religious private schools. When students receive a voucher to attend a private school, taxpayer money is raided from our kids’ public schools. There is no separate budget devoted to fund vouchers. In 2015, the WI Legislative Fiscal Bureau said an additional $600 to $800 million in taxpayer funds will be raided from our kids’ public schools to pay for private and religious voucher schools over the next 10. The state will spend $258 million in the 2016-17 school year on private school vouchers.
- Inadequate oversight Citizens have no view into “dark budgets” at private voucher schools. With no accountability to school boards, taxpayers have no way to hold these schools accountable. And too often, these schools close their doors without any notice. More than 50 Milwaukee voucher schools have closed since 2004 – sometimes in the middle of the night with no notice – and have cost taxpayers more than $139 million. While calls for accountability have been cried on both sides of the political aisle, no action has been taken. Taxpayer funded programs, including schools, require sunlight and scrutiny, not darkness.
- Because they do not serve all of us Our kids’ public schools are legally obligated to serve all children, including kids with behavioral issues and special needs. Private voucher schools have no obligation to serve kids with special needs.
Shouldn’t parents be allowed the choice of where to send their children to school?
We believe parents should have more than choices. They should have great choices. Many voucher schools are bad choices. Voucher schools don’t outperform public schools, and don’t have appropriate oversight from the public. Many have closed in the middle of the night, without notice, due to fraud or financial mismanagement, leaving families and kids in turmoil. That’s why we’re calling for a pause in the statewide expansion of vouchers until they are held to the same high standards as our kids’ public schools.
Additionally, many parents have already made a choice. It is worth noting that for the current school year, 75 percent of the applications to the voucher program were already in private school, according to the education department, and for the 2015-16 school year, 79.9 percent. The voucher program has served more so as a subsidy for private schools than a service to students.
Are we really emphasizing voucher schools over public schools?
Yes. The amount of state money spent on each student using a private school voucher has increased by about 14 percent since 2010. At the same time, the amount of money the state spends on each public school student has decreased by about 4 percent, according to a memo released by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Don’t most Wisconsinites support voucher school expansion?
No. In fact, according to a Marquette University Law School poll conducted in May 2015, 54% of Wisconsinites opposed a statewide expansion of the private voucher school program while only 37% supported it.
Why shouldn’t the money follow the child; that is, a “voucher in every backpack?”
Many state leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat, have sounded an alarm on voucher school expansion. They’ve asked, “If we can’t afford to adequately manage and fund one school system, how can we afford to manage and fund two systems?” Until voucher schools are provided their own funding source, any increases in funding for vouchers have an immediate detrimental impact on our kids’ public school funding.
Is SOS making a partisan issue of school funding in Wisconsin?
We stand with the majority of Wisconsinites who want politicians to support our kids’ public schools.
According to a Marquette University Law School poll in May 2015, 78% of Wisconsinites opposed cutting K-12 public school budgets, while 18% supported cuts.
Also, according to a Marquette University Law School poll in January 2016, 57% of Wisconsinites say their local public schools are receiving too little from the state, while 30% said the schools receive enough. Only 7% said schools receive more funding than they need.
Finally, in 2015, Wisconsin legislators received over 12,000 sent letters and emails opposing a series of education bills expanding private voucher schools around the state, representing 99.8 percent of the communications sent to the legislators. The bills passed anyhow.
We are not allegiant to any political party. We are advocating for our kids because they cannot advocate for themselves. Funding our kids’ K12 schools is a moral obligation etched in Wisconsin’s state constitution. State leaders from both parties have advocated to fully fund our kids’ schools and to pause the statewide expansion of voucher schools, and we support their efforts, no matter what political party they affiliate with.
Retiring State Representative Steve Kestell told the Sheboygan Press in September 2014 that the voucher school expansion “is a case where ideology sort of overwhelms good sense and judgment. Where people who should have known better and are good mathematicians aren’t willing to do the math. It’s because they don’t want to show what would be detrimental to their plans. And the math doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. The [rural schools] problem will be on steroids with the wide-open school choice program cutting across the state. No one has even tried to explain how we’re going to deal with that as a state. No one has tried to explain how we’re going to fund parallel school programs. Because that’s where we’re heading.”
Retiring Republican State Senator Dale Schultz told Madison.com, “The K-12 system in the last few years has laid off 3,000 personnel, and it looks to me like that’s going to accelerate. I would not be shocked if a huge percentage of school districts wind up going to referendum to have the privilege of raising their own property tax because the state has walked away from its principal responsibility of providing for a free, appropriate and near equal education for everybody.”
On the potential $1 billion cost of expanding school vouchers:
“I have no idea where they could come up with that money short of taking it away from K-12 public education which is just going to accelerate its demise. We can’t afford one system in this state. How we are going to ever have ourselves in a situation of trying to fund two is beyond me. … But with Gov. Walker’s impending announcement for the presidency, I know that he is going to do everything he can to push a robust voucher program because that is what’s popular with certain elements of the tea party.”
Republican State Senator Luther Olsen told Wisconsin Public Television in 2015 that, “Choices cost money, and when we can hardly afford one (education) system, it is going to be difficult to afford two or three.”
If you have other questions about S.O.S., please feel free to submit them here.