By Colleen Flaherty
Another voucher school in the Milwaukee area is closing its doors after failing to meet state requirements. Travis Technology High Schools will no longer receive taxpayer money, and about 200 teenagers will have to find different schools to attend when winter break ends.
This is a common story for the state’s voucher program, according to a recent study by the Wisconsin State Journal. Wisconsin has spent $139 million on school vouchers to private schools that were eventually disqualified from the state’s program. Eleven schools participating in the program were removed within a year of opening due to poor educational standards, which costs taxpayers $4.1 million.
As Gov. Scott Walker proposes to expand the program by an estimated $200 million annually, the voucher program needs to be looked at for its lack of accountability standards and transparency, said Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan who requested a review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
“Every child in Wisconsin and across the United States deserves the right to a high-quality education,” said Pocan. “Before Governor Walker tries to expand the state’s voucher program, Wisconsin taxpayers deserve to know more about the widespread reports of discrimination against students with disabilities and the insufficient academic accountability of choice schools.”
The voucher program has a poor track record when it comes to equity concerning students with special needs. Of the approximately 21,000 students who attend private school using state-subsidized vouchers, only 1.6 percent are identified as having special education plans. By comparison, nearly 20 percent of the approximately 81,000 students enrolled in the Milwaukee Public Schools have special education plans in place.
“We owe it to every student to ensure publicly funded schools – including voucher schools – provide high-quality education and protect the rights of students with disabilities,” said Pocan.
The recently shut voucher school is one of two in Milwaukee run by Ceria M. Travis Academy Inc. CEO Dorothy Travis Moore heads the operation with her daughter, Executive Director Wilnekia Brinson, who both receive six-figure compensation packages despite the school lacking textbooks and other adequate classroom materials.
Funding these institutions that lack accountability and equity with taxpayer money don’t only hurt students who attend these schools, according to Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. These programs are draining resources from public schools.
“Public schools are the only institutions with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to support all students. That’s the core reason we have public education. We serve all,” said Peterson. “Who are these private schools serving?”