Editors' note: We reached out to School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender for a response to the email sent by the Green Bay School District Friday. You can read their original email, here.
The email sent to Green Bay residents last week from the School Board requesting feedback on the expansion of vouchers used assumptions and factual inaccuracies to create an emotional response, not a logical one. They warn of impending doom from a dramatic property tax increase and a lack of resources for the students remaining in the public school system.
They create a hypothetical situation where 200 students leave the public schools and use a voucher. They claim this will increase local taxes by $1.2 million. Intentional or not, the school board is seemingly unaware that only 38.4% of the voucher is paid for by property taxes with the rest being covered by the state.
For a comparison, the district levied $3,073 per student this year for students in public schools and the property tax portion of the voucher is only $2,474 per student. That means a student in the Green Bay public school will cost local property taxpayers $599 more per student than a voucher.
The local school district, like in Racine, acts as the levy agent for the property tax portion of the voucher. The state has created a system that results in a net loss of zero revenue for the district. In other words, the voucher does not impact funding per student in the public schools.
But all of this is meant to deflect from a school board meeting on what is actually happening in Green Bay. So, instead of using the new report card that few people understand, what would happen if they sent out an email seeking input on low-income and minority graduation rates? After all, the programs in Milwaukee in Racine predominately serve these populations.
The Green Bay school board would then need to discuss how only 64.3% of low-income students graduate, according to DPI. For Hispanics, the number drops to 63.9%. For African-Americans, it drops even further to 51.7%.
How about a call to arms on the percentage of students taking the ACT, one of the primary components of getting into college? The district overall has less than half of their student graduating class in 2011 take the test - 45.6%. If you were African-American, that drops to 16.5% and Hispanics fall further to 13.3%. By comparison, in the same year in Milwaukee, 69.4% of African-Americans and 89.7% of Hispanics took the ACT test.
Low-income, struggling students are those most likely to utilize a voucher. The five-year, statutorily mandated School Choice Demonstration Project, which just received its second peer-reviewed approval, showed that students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) graduated high school at higher rates that a matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. It also showed that students in the MPCP were more like to get into, and remain, in college.
Graduation rates for the income-limited MPCP were 12.3% higher than low-income students in Green Bay in 2010-11. Additionally, the MPCP boasts stories like HOPE High School that just announced that for the second year in a row, 100% of their graduating class not only graduated, but were also accepted into college. HOPE High School is 100% African-American and 95% are eligible for free and reduced lunch. They achieve these results in the voucher program on $6,442 of taxpayer dollars per student.
In terms of return on investment, those results are simply outstanding.
Maybe because of results like this from local private schools, the Green Bay school board highlights their foundational argument behind their alarm bells. They believe that if given the chance, parents will choose to leave.
This is not based solely on supposition. Under the open enrollment program for public schools, parents transferred 1,098 students to districts outside of Green Bay. With only 143 transferring in, it is clear that when given the option, nearly 90% of parents who participated in open enrollment want something different.
But when it comes to scaring local property taxpayers, the Green Bay school board is very quiet about these open enrollment numbers. After all, open enrollment has $6,445 of the $9,200 of the revenue limit sent away to the transfer district totaling $6.15 million. Green Bay, however, keeps the remaining $2,755. That means that the district is levying property taxes in Green Bay for 955 students that are being taught somewhere else for more than $2.5 million.
So their fears of students fleeing the district may be warranted. But make no mistake, as the education establishment has proven over and over, they are more interested in finding villains for their ills than solutions.
Just remember that the story being told in Green Bay is selective, inaccurate and purposely misleading. The email’s most revealing aspect is not the misinformation but the missing information - there was not a single idea on how the school board was going to improve education.
Jim Bender is the President of School Choice Wisconsin