New Report on Challenges to Public Education

A non-profit, non-partisan Wisconsin think tank, the Forward Institute, has released a study on the impact of recent legislative changes to public schools.  The report, full-text available here, actually has far-reaching implications because many of the changes that have occurred in Wisconsin are being pushed across the nation, including right here in Missouri.  In particular, just this year Missouri had proposed legislation that would have given letter grades to schools and nearly every year some style of vouchers are proposed.  Fortunately, as of yet Missouri has not faced the contraction of public education funding that Wisconsin has, but changes to Missouri’s tax structure and tax credits could seriously impact school budgets in the future.

Hit the jump for some of the “critical findings” from the report…

The major findings underscore that the biggest challenge for public education today is from the expansion of poverty related to our nation’s recent economic woes.  Here are some of the most salient “critical findings”:

1. The number of students in poverty has nearly doubled since 1997, increasing from 24% of all students to 42% (Reference Poster Figure 1).

4. The new School Report Card scores released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have a strong correlation to the level of poverty in any given school and school district (reference poster figure #3).

5.The Walker budget proposes to expand voucher schools into districts where School Report Card scores “fail to meet expectations.”  This proposal will assure that more schools and school districts of high poverty will lose resources.

3. If the Walker proposal to increase voucher school funding is adopted, over $2,000 more will go to a K-8 voucher student than a public school student.A voucher high school student will receive nearly $3000 more in state aid than a public school student (Reference Poster Figure #2).

I put these out of order because it highlights the potential downward spiral that this combination of legislative changes can have on public education.  First, expanding poverty leads to poor results on school “report cards.”  Poor results on “report cards” lead to an increased emphasis on pulling students out of public schools and placing them into voucher-subsidized private schools.  Because of the nature of vouchers, the state is then on the hook for a more expensive solution than the traditional public education, thereby draining public funds for traditional public schools.

While this result is merely one potential outcome, the wide-spread ramifications it can have for even supposedly well-performing (i.e. schools that serve non-poverty populations) demonstrate that public education reform should be done only with strong research-based backing and not with a purpose to forward a political agenda.

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