Testimony by Bob Peterson to the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Education

April 19, 2011

Bob Peterson testifiesThank you for the opportunity to address this committee.  I speak to you as a teacher in Milwaukee with more than 30 years’ experience teaching fifth graders.

Today I ask you to defend public education in Wisconsin. 

For more than 150 years, this state has been a leader in building strong public schools.

In 1848, Wisconsin’s founding fathers were very forward thinking when they included Article X Section 3 in our State Constitution that established district schools that “…shall be nearly uniform as practicable, and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.”

The expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program threatens that historic commitment to public schools. 

It does so in two ways:

  • First, by giving hundreds of millions of tax dollars to private schools each year. Since the start of the voucher program, over $1 billion of taxpayers' money has gone to Milwaukee private schools. This reduces the money that goes to public school students, particularly in Milwaukee. Along with the proposed budget, this means that students in the MPS elementary school where I teach will not have music, art, physical education teachers or a librarian next year. But they will have significantly higher class sizes and fewer adults to help them.
  • The second way the voucher program harms pubic schools is that it has essentially established a dual school system in Milwaukee: A private system with over 20,000 students and a public system with 80,000 students.

They are very different systems, yet both receive public dollars. As even my fifth graders recognize, that is inherently unfair and inequitable.

On the one hand less than 2% of voucher school students have special needs, while nearly 20% of MPS students do.

Private voucher schools can choose their students by counseling out the hard-to-educate ones. They can also expel students, who have no rights to due process. Milwaukee Public Schools must serve all students.

Private voucher schools have virtually no accountability or transparency. Within MPS, in contrast, all salaries from the lowest paid kitchen helper to the top administrator are public. The qualifications of teachers are public. The content of the curriculum is public. All test scores, disaggregated by various ethnic, social economic, language and special need categories are public. The suspension and expulsion figures are public. Finally, the public schools all honor the state’s open meetings and records law.

None of this is the case with the private voucher schools.

Assembly Bill 92 will expand this separate and unequal school system in Milwaukee.

We need to support our long tradition of public schools in Wisconsin. We need to dismantle the dual school system and ensure that all schools that receive public funds have accountability, transparency and serve all children.

I have fought for more than 30 years to improve our public schools, especially in communities where over 80% of our children are living in poverty.

Reform the public schools, yes. Dismantle the public schools, no.

Please do the right thing: Protect the Wisconsin tradition of a free and public education for all children. Reject Assembly Bill 92.

Photo credit:  Barbara J. Miner

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