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Educational Savings Accounts Coming to Wisconsin?

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Public education is changing in Wisconsin, with talk of still another type of school choice program. (AlexBrylov/iStockPhoto)
Public education is changing in Wisconsin, with talk of still another type of school choice program. (AlexBrylov/iStockPhoto)
December 7, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – Over the past several years, Wisconsin's new school choice and charter school programs have been at the center of controversy about the future of public education in the state.

Now, Republican legislative leaders have signaled they will consider still another type of voucher program, known in other states as Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) when the Wisconsin State Legislature convenes in January.

Opponents of these voucher programs, such as Stan Salett, president of the Foundation for the Future of Youth, say it's a slippery slope.

"That what began as an experiment to create innovative charter schools has now become a movement to completely privatize public education," he said.

The state's largest education group, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, opposes Educational Savings Accounts, saying they would take taxpayer money away from public education to subsidize private school tuition, with no accountability. Supporting groups, such as School Choice Wisconsin, say ESAs could be part of innovative solutions that improve education.

In Salett's opinion, ESAs, vouchers and charter schools are changing the basic character of public education, by giving taxpayer money to schools that are run by people who aren't elected to school boards and have no public accountability.

"And we're now at the point where, in most of our major cities, we're being confronted with a dual system of education – one public, the other private," he explained.

ESAs now are being offered in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee, where parents can use ESA money to pay tuition at private schools. Salett and others say America's system of public education should not be treated as some sort of marketplace.

"And that's what's at play now," he added. "You've got a lot of money on one side going in, to create a privatized school system that becomes part of the new marketplace for hedge funds and Wall Street investors."

President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a long-time advocate of school choice and voucher programs such as ESAs.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI