"Be careful what you wish for." It's a familiar warning that often causes us to take a closer look at a topic or think about something from a different perspective. I spent the week talking with school administrators and school board members from all around the 37th Assembly District and it was the message I gave to them when the topic of school choice came up.
A constituent stopped by my office this week and spoke passionately about her dislike for giving vouchers to low income children to attend private schools. She told me if she had a magic wand, she would wave it and eliminate the Milwaukee voucher program and return that money to taxpayers.
If she got her wish, hundreds of students currently thriving in an educational setting that they and their families believe is best for them would end up returning to failing public schools. As troubling as that thought was to me, she seemed to be okay with it. I believe that allowing parents to choose where their child is educated isn't just good policy-- it's the right thing to do. Based on her reaction to that statement, it was clear that we didn't agree.
I decided to turn the conversation to what was important to her: the money (it clearly wasn't the future of low income kids in Milwaukee). What would really happen if she got her wish and the Milwaukee voucher program went away? The truth is that the students and taxpayers in our district and others all across Wisconsin would take a dramatic hit.
It's simple math. Last year it cost taxpayers roughly $13,000 to send a child to a Milwaukee public school. Because the district is so large, a majority of that money came from the rest of the state, not just taxpayers from Milwaukee. By comparison, taxpayers paid $6,400 for voucher students.
So if the choice program was wiped out by her magic wand, taxpayers would have to pay substantially more and, as a result, there would be much less money available in our district and the rest of the state.
That is exactly why Politifact and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel gave Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca a "False" rating when he said that lawmakers who supported choice expansion"voted to take funding away from their public schools in their districts to give it to private Milwaukee voucher schools."
Be careful what you wish for indeed. Eliminating the Milwaukee School Choice program would leave school districts scrambling for funds and taxpayers digging deeper into their pockets.
I don't think I was able to convince her on the merits of the choice program. It's likely we will never agree. But we did find some common ground. We both believe more money should be included in the upcoming budget for K-12 public education. I am committed to finding a way to increase per-pupil spending without raising property taxes.
It's time all of us -- parents, teachers, administrators, taxpayers and legislators work together to ensure every child has access to a great education. Now where's that magic wand?
John Jagler is a Wisconsin state representative.
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