During the debates over school choice and the state budget, opponents of parents’ right to choose the best educational options for their children have let their ideology prevent them from telling the truth.

Will Flanders and Libby Sobic of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) have compiled a list of the top five false statements by school choice opponents. In a new “Mythbusters” report, they explain why the statements are, “misleading at best and completely inaccurate at worst.”

The five statements are:

  • “Nearly $200 Million in Public School Aid is Lost to Charters and Vouchers.” – Rep. Sondy Pope
  • “The data we’ve had for 20-some years pretty much shows that there’s not an appreciable — or any — difference in academic achievement of kids that get a voucher and those that go to regular public schools.” – Governor Tony Evers
  • “This is how the unaccountable voucher system has grown year-after-year: through provisions slipped into the budget at the urging of special interest lobbyists at the same time funds get pulled away from rural and urban public school kids.” –Senator Chris Larson
  • “A lot of choice schools don’t provide (evaluations for IEPs) themselves. They tell the parents to get it done at the public schools and then transfer to the choice schools with the evaluation because it’s paid for by the public schools.”—Senator LaTonya Johnson
  • “In the north, the advent of school vouchers all but decimated public schools, and in the meantime, students—primarily those that are black, brown, and/or poor—are left holding the bag and begging for resources.”-Rep. LaKeshia Myers

As Flanders and Sobic explain, the “lost” money to charter and voucher schools that Pope complains about is for students the traditional public schools are no longer educating.

“However, under state law, districts are allowed to raise property taxes to
make up this revenue,” they wrote. “This curious situation, analogous to Walmart continuing to receive money from customers who decide to shop at Pick N Save, was found to be quite unpopular in WILL’s school choice poll.”

Choice schools only receive, by the most generous estimate, 4.3 percent of the state’s total education spending. Meanwhile, school districts like Milwaukee actually make money off of students enrolled in charter schools.

Evers, a former state Superintendent of Public Instruction, is equally wrong about claiming that voucher students do not outperform their peers in traditional public schools. It’s a statement Evers has made many times, but repeating it does not make it true.

As Flanders and Sobic point out, a number of studies have shown how voucher students do better than their peers when socio-economic factors are taken into account. The WILL annual study, “Apples to Apples,” confirmed this again this year.

The most recent Apples to Apples report, analyzing data from the 2017-18 school year, found that proficiency rates in MPCP schools exceed those in traditional public schools by 3.9% in math and 4.6% in reading once appropriate socio-demographic controls are added to the model. Even without going to the extremes of statistical modeling, recent data straight from the {Department of Public Instruction} shows higher performance for choice and charter schools. Proficiency rates on the Forward Exam12 and ACT scores13 were higher for choice students relative to other low-income students in traditional public schools in recent years.

Flanders and Sobic say Larson’s statement that voucher schools are “unaccountable” is “perhaps the most tired” of the myths about school choice.

“Despite these claims, schools in Wisconsin’s choice programs arguably face greater accountability than traditional public schools,” Sobic and Flanders wrote. “Choice schools in Wisconsin are among the most regulated in the country, which has been found to have a negative effect on the likelihood that high-quality schools will participate. They face regular audits, must maintain accreditation, and—above all else—face the greatest accountability of all through the families that choose to send their kids to these schools.”

The authors of the report add that a recent study showed how the worst performing voucher schools were the schools most likely to be dropped from the voucher program, showing that voucher schools are indeed accountable.

Johnson’s statement attacking choice schools for not recognizing special needs students is “misleading the public,” according to the report’s authors.

“Both federal and state law mandates that students with disabilities receive an evaluation by the local education agency (i.e. the resident school district),” they wrote. “This requirement is called ‘child find’ and every school district receives federal and state funding to comply with the mandate to identify and evaluate every child in the district who may have a disabilities, regardless of where that child attends school.”

Schools participating in the Special Needs Scholarship Program vouchers rely upon the existing system to help identify students with special needs.

Flanders and Sobic note, “this program is proof that private schools across the state are educating students with disabilities.”

“In just two years, the program has grown to serve nearly 700 students in 2018-2019 in schools across the state,” they wrote.

But none of the above statements, according to Flanders and Sobic, are as “off-base or dead wrong” than the one by Myers accusing school choice programs of leaving “students—primarily those that are black, brown, and/or poor,” to beg for resources.

“Wisconsin’s choice programs are only open to students of low and middle incomes,” Flanders and Sobic wrote. “In reality, these schools serve a larger share of minority and low-income students than other schools in the state of Wisconsin.”

As Flanders and Sobic note, choice schools are often the only alternative that allows “black, brown, and/or poor” students to escape a failing school system that has failed generations of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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