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Veteran WI Teacher: Don’t Expand Voucher Program

April 13, 2011

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget contains a provision to expand the school-voucher program at taxpayers' expense, saying it will give Wisconsin parents choices for where their children are educated. But a veteran Milwaukee classroom teacher says the voucher program doesn't work.

Parents use the vouchers to help pay for private or religious schools. At the same time Walker wants to increase state and local support for vouchers, he plans to cut $1.7 billion in revenue for public schools.

Bob Peterson, who has been a classroom teacher for 30 years in Milwaukee, believes expanding the voucher program presents both financial and educational problems.

"The main problem is that the last 20 years of experience with the voucher program has shown that it doesn't work, that it hurts public schools, and it doesn't really innovate schools. So, given that the program's track record is so shallow, there's no reason to expand it."

Peterson says the voucher program already has resulted in what he calls "cherry-picking" of students.

"There's more special-needs students in Hamilton High School, a high school on the south side of Milwaukee, than in all the hundred private schools put together in Milwaukee."

Peterson, who is also a founder of the group "Rethinking Schools," says there is no link between vouchers and gains in student achievement, even though supporters of the proposed voucher-program expansion are convinced that it will spur public-school improvement.

Another proposed education reform, Senate Bill 22, would expand charter schools in Wisconsin under the direction of nine political appointees. Peterson says that expansion would drain scarce resources away from school districts across the state and lead to increased property taxes without local control.

"To have a statewide board chartering schools will mean that there's a huge gulf between what they decide, how they can monitor the schools, and what's going on in the locale. If a local school board charters a school so that there's some innovation, more power to 'em - but the proposal by Walker is going to further hurt the children's education."

Peterson believes taking away local control of charter schools will result in less accountability to the community, and fewer resources for neighborhood schools.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI