Saturday, February 18, 2006

Belated Comment on Voucher Agreement

I’ll start by noting that I agree completely with Jay’s assessment of the sad attempt by conservatives to claim Doyle caved on school vouchers.

Now, on to the actual agreement.

Overall, I reluctantly support it. It’s not perfect, but the nature of a compromise is usually imperfection.

The one big hole in the agreement is that a funding flaw still plagues the program. It’s completely unreasonable to ask Milwaukee residents to pay $1000 more for each voucher student than they pay for a MPS student. Even John Gard called this a “legitimate concern.” So then why wait until 2007 to deal with it? The money is there—the state is essentially bankrolling $3000 annually for each voucher student. What’s the delay in shifting $1000 per voucher student back to Milwaukee residents? Even an outlined plan would’ve been nice, with some verbal commitments to follow through with it from both sides. The shunning of the funding flaw was almost enough to tank the agreement for me.

But, as it turns out, I pretty much like everything else in the agreement. I would’ve liked to see SAGE get the $500 per student increase Doyle initially proposed rather than only $250, but any increase to that proven program is a bonus to kids and schools across the state. I think the accreditation requirement is good, as are the plans to raise the income eligibility cap and eliminate prior-year eligibility rules. Setting the enrollment cap at 22,500 should keep the program solvent into the foreseeable future, particularly in light of the prediction by the Public Policy Forum that voucher enrollment is leveling-off.

I am hesitant about the standardized testing requirements, but not for the reason some of you may think. I’m not an opponent of the idea of standardized testing, but I am strongly against directly tying funding of any kind to standardized testing—particularly when that testing isn’t designed as locally as possible (the state, in my opinion, isn’t local enough). I’ve explained my feelings on standardized testing before (see here and here), so I won’t go into them on this post. I need more explanation of how the scores of these mandatory standardized tests will be used once reported to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. They should certainly be used to scrutinize the voucher schools, but they should not be tied directly to funding like testing in the public schools is through No Child Left Behind—two wrongs, in this case, would not make a right.

Most of all, I’m happy an agreement was reached on this issue. I hope it moves quickly through the legislature. And the thought of needing to stomach another attack ad by Charlie Sykes makes me hope the school voucher program isn’t an issue on this scale for a long time.


Blogger Brent said...

Where did you get your $1000 more for each voucher student than they pay for a MPS student?

February 19, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

You can follow the link on "funding flaw" (fourth paragraph) and it'll bring you to a more complete explanation.

February 19, 2006  
Blogger Brent said...

The numbers cited are for City of Milwaukee tax payers and not the overall costs.
Choice program - Amount paid per student: This year, $5,943 per student or the actual cost of educating a child, whichever is lower. (2005-2006)

MPS - Average of $9,414 per student(2006-2007). This is not including additional SAGE money that is added in the deal.

The state picks up more costs for MPS than it does for school choice schools and that is where the approximate $1000 difference is, it is not the actual cost per child.

February 19, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

How is that different than what I said?

I didn't say voucher students cost more overall, I said they cost more for Milwaukee residents. My exact line is this: "It’s completely unreasonable to ask Milwaukee residents to pay $1000 more for each voucher student than they pay for a MPS student." That's the funding flaw.

Jay over at folkbum provides a good explanation for why public school students cost more, if you're interested. But overall cost is not the point I was making here.

February 19, 2006  

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