The School District of Beloit is opposed to private-school vouchers, or school choice, in Beloit because the alternative schools wouldn’t have to play by the same rules and would drain public schools of resources in a time of massive budget cuts to education, according to Melissa Badger, spokesperson for the schools.
“We welcome competition, but only if the referees make both teams play fair,” Badger said.
Badger said the district is glad there are alternatives for parents, some of which are provided from within the district. Parents also have the option of going to a different school district free of charge in open enrollment.
“We lose funds from that alternative, so naturally there is competition to improve faster, get more opportunities in place for students, and promote ourselves harder — a good result of state open enrollment,” Badger said.
However, the difference from losing a student to a neighboring district versus a private school is accountability. Unlike public schools, voucher schools are allowed to keep their own admission standards and aren’t required to take all students.
Badger said voucher schools can even strip special education students of their rights, such as Individualized Educational Programs. She said their teachers are not required to be certified, information isn’t required to be made public and meetings don’t have to be open to the public.
“Their admissions should be equitable like ours. We have to accept all students who want in. We have to provide the same services, such as all special education services, English Language Learner services and transportation no matter the cost, and be transparent by having open meetings and open records laws,” Badger said. “Of course it will look like voucher schools spend less per student if they are not required to pay for all the services public schools are required to fund.”
Badger said it’s important for people to know the State of Wisconsin does not pay $10,000 per student in public schools, with the actual amount varying depending on the property value of the community.
Beloit is currently state-funded at $7,974 per student as the city has the lowest property value per student in Wisconsin, and is therefore more funded than a city like Lake Geneva, which receives $2,295 per student.
The average amount of state aid per pupil, statewide, is $4,899. The maximum choice payment is currently set at $6,442, according to numbers provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as of Jan. 28, 2013.
She said public schools already subsidize private schools, as taxpayer dollars already pay for some transportation needs of private school students and special education services to private school students.
“With the lack of high needs students and transportation costs, private schools do not spend as much to educate a student. Public schools are required by law to provide services to all students regardless of special needs and cost of services, sometimes as much as $70,000 per year for a single student,” she said.
Badger said the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau evaluated math and reading scores from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and Milwaukee Public schools and found no significant difference.
Badger said vouchers are not the only choice open to families. Besides in-district school transfer availability, the School District of Beloit offers: the Beloit Virtual School for families wanting a home-school feel with access to district resources and support; the Beloit Learning Academy for students needing additional skill-building to go alongside academic support; and the Roy Chapman Andrews Academy charter school for driven students to master curriculum standards through project-based learning at their own pace.