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Public Education as the Bulwark of Democracy


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Executive Director of ACLU of Wisconsin discusses the harm done by privitizing and voucherizing the public school system in Wisconsin

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Public Education as the Bulwark of Democracy

  1. 1. Public Education is the bulwark of democracy, but what has gone wrong in Wisconsin? Voucher expansion, the school to prison pipeline, and local governance Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself
  2. 2. 2 Public Education  In Wisconsin, there is an expression of collective commitment to public education. As Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution notes, all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years have a right to a free and public education, in school districts as nearly uniform as possible.  On a federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the importance of public education.  As Justice William J. Brennan wrote, education is not merely “some governmental ‘benefit’ indistinguishable from other forms of social welfare legislation. Both the importance of education in maintaining our basic institutions and the lasting impact of its deprivation.”
  3. 3. 3 Local Control  Every MPS school is required to have a democratically elected school council. The majority of the council is comprised of students’ parents or caregivers, and elected by the school’s parents/caregivers. The council also includes the principal and teacher representatives elected by their peers, and at least one community member elected by fellow council members. At high schools, students have a democratically elected representative. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion is illegal.
  4. 4. 4 Legal Obligations of Voucher Schools  Schools in the voucher program are private schools. As a result, they do not have the same legal responsibility as public schools to educate all children. For instance:  Voucher schools do not have to provide the same level of special education services.  Voucher schools do not have to provide bilingual or English Language Learner services.  Voucher schools do not have to provide services for homeless children.  Voucher schools do not have to hire certified teachers.  Voucher schools can set their own criteria for expelling a student.
  5. 5. 5 What went wrong?  Milwaukee has had voucher schools for more than 20 years. They’re failing.  An apples-to-apples achievement comparison released in 2011 by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that Milwaukee public school students outperformed voucher school students in reading and math.  The math scores were particularly troubling. The report found that while 48 percent of Milwaukee public school students scored proficient or better in math, only 34 percent of voucher school students scored proficient or better. And at some private schools, the report found, less than 20 percent of voucher students scored proficient or better in math or reading.
  6. 6. 6 Religious Freedom  A recent study found that 15 voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine teach a creationist curriculum. In Milwaukee, more than 84 percent of voucher students attend religiously affiliated schools. In the Racine program, 10 out of 11 schools are religious.
  7. 7. 7 Vouchers = Religious Subsidies  This year, another 43 religious schools have registered with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to receive tax dollars as the voucher subsidy program expands across the State. They join the 25 religious schools subsidized last year. The limit on vouchers and their cost to taxpayers doubles next year to 1,000. Every one of the 68 schools is religious.  While the religious education program expands, the schools receiving tax dollars continue to be free from meaningful accountability requirements. Legislators say they favor additional accountability, but they have met the expectation of their pro- voucher donors that none will be required.
  8. 8. 8 Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination  The public should not be forced to financially support homophobic, anti-woman beliefs that are at odds with democratic rights and public policy.  For example, St. Marcus School, is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Its core beliefs include:  Homosexuality is a sin.  Living together outside of marriage is a sin.  Women are not to hold positions of authority over men.  A literal interpretation of the Bible.  The theory of evolution is wrong.  The Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church is the anti-Christ.
  9. 9. 9 Achievement / Opportunity Gap  The racial and ethnic “achievement” gap in Wisconsin public schools is long-documented.  In 2011, black and Hispanic eighth-graders in Wisconsin public schools scored at least 24 points lower than their white counterparts in math and reading, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.  What’s more, in math classes, Wisconsin black eighth-graders scored an average of 39 points lower than white eighth-graders — and these numbers have barely budged in more than 20 years.  We need to narrow the achievement gap. But voucher schools aren’t the answer. Voucher schools rob our public school system of the funding necessary to help students succeed.
  10. 10. 10 School to Prison Pipeline  This is a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out.
  11. 11. 11 Zero Tolerance Policies  Criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in school lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.  Without improving outcomes for students of color, we cannot begin to address the mass incarceration rate and disparities in Wisconsin.
  12. 12. 12 ACLU of Wisconsin  The ACLU-WI is a nonprofit 501(c)4, non-partisan membership organization - with nearly 7,000 dues- paying individuals in Wisconsin. It is the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. Our mission is “to protect and promote the civil liberties and civil rights of all the people of Wisconsin in a non-partisan manner.” The ACLU of Wisconsin envisions a diverse society that better understands, values, and protects civil liberties and civil rights.  The ACLU-WI has a sister organization, the ACLU-WI Foundation, which has 501(c)(3) IRS nonprofit status.
  13. 13. 13 May 17 in Milwaukee –
  14. 14. 14 Follow Us, Friend Us, Whatever!  One of the simplest ways to stay up-to-date with what is happening at the ACLU of Wisconsin is to get involved with our social media.   
  15. 15. 15 For more information about this issue or the ACLU in general, contact: Chris Ahmuty at: or read more on our website at: EXAMPLE – CLOSING SLIDE