Senator Luther Olsen
Room 319 South
Madison, WI 53707-7882
Via fascimile to (608) 267-4350
Dear Senator Olsen,
I am writing you today on behalf of the nearly 7,000 members of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, who share the concerns of parents and taxpayers regarding the lack of transparency in Wisconsin’s school voucher programs.
Media reports have outlined a “deal” regarding the Governor’s proposals in the state budget to expand school choice and charters. We are extremely concerned that this deal will open the doorway for a far broader expansion of vouchers statewide – without providing transparency and accountability. The proposal also does not address the fact that voucher schools have been underperforming the public school system and does not address the federal mandate that these schools cease discriminating against children with disabilities.
From the start of the choice program, Wisconsin’s public records and public meetings laws have not been applied to these private schools – even though they receive taxpayer funds and in many cases the students they serve are all, or virtually all, receiving vouchers. While the state has required some minimal reporting from private voucher schools, the public - including families - has been left in the dark. In 2010, voucher schools were first required to report students’ test scores to the Department of Public Instruction, these schools still are not required to make available important information as graduation, dropout, suspension and expulsion rates; teacher licensure percentages and information; and what curricula and textbooks are used.
Based on media accounts describing the deal to be presented to the Joint Committee on Finance next Tuesday, there still are no provisions to include voucher schools under Wisconsin’s open government laws. Failing to do so will deprive families and the public in local communities of crucial information about these nominally private, but publicly funded, schools.
Wisconsin should not create two publicly financed school systems, one open and accountable, and another secretive and exempt from reasonable accountability measures.
The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that it is time to begin dismantling the failed private school voucher program. The program should certainly not be expanded for many compelling reasons, including lack of openness and lack of accountability. Please do not agree to any “deal” on choice and charters without tough accountability measures that require adherence to Wisconsin’s open records and open meetings laws. Please ask the Governor and voucher lobby why they won’t abide the same transparency requirements as adhered to by public school districts.
Thank you for your consideration. Please let me know your position on this important matter.
ACLU of Wisconsin