Will religious schools bring our public education system to its knees? On Grothman’s private school tax credit and other repugnancies

“… no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
from the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson, drafted in 1777

Image of statue of liberty holding a cross above her head and holding commandment tablets under her arm. Picture is from Chris Wieland of flickr. Creative commons license.

Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman [Fool-West Bend] and Represenatative Dean Kaufert [R-Neenah] announced on 4/1/13 that they’ll unveil a bill to authorize a $1,500 tax credit to parents who enroll a child in a private school at the elementary level and a $2,500 credit for enrollment in a private high school. Right wing poobah Robin Vos likes the idea.

Here’s their press release.

Seen one way, this new bill could provide a graceful way for Scott Walker to back out of his highly unpopular plan to expand publicly-funded voucher schools at a cost of approx. $94 million (currently WI voucher schools are limited to Racine and Milwaukee).

Seen through a dimmer lense, this bill could be *ADDED* to Walker’s voucher plan and could push Wisconsin’s public schools from the fiscal frying pan to the hellfires of austerity.

The vouchers Walker is proposing in his budget are worth $6,442 per student – so a $1,500 or $2,500 credit might be seen as a moderating direction.

Whatever. They both suck.

Both measures anger me for directing Wisconsin public tax dollars to private exploits. To burn my britches even more, a great deal of voucher moola in Wisconsin goes to religious institutions.
John Schilling of the Alliance for School Choice estimated that in 2012, 50% of the nation’s students using school vouchers attended Catholic schools. According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), over 21,000 of the current 25,000 enrolled voucher students in Milwaukee attend religiously affiliated schools. In Racine, 10 of 11 of voucher schools are religious.

There is no reason to expect that either Walker’s voucher expansion or Grothman’s tax credit wouldn’t be more of the same.

How Pricey is Grothman’s Credit?
We don’t have the 2013 bill to look at just yet, but we can review the parameters of the bill Grothman pushed in 2011, SB 69.

We can look at the DOR estimate of the 2011 tax credit cost for some idea of what the 2013 would cost us.

private school tax credit
$48 million in 2013
$68 million in 2014
$89 million in 2015…
$165 million in 2021

Grothman’s bill, as proposed, does not kick in until 2014.

Putting Public Schools on the Prayer Chain Leash

Walker has plans to kick voucher schools another $73 million. Those voucher schools serve under 30,000 students at the moment. Meanwhile public schools which serve close to 870,000 students are slated to get an additional $129 million from Walker in general state aid. –source: WASB

That’s an allocation of $148 per public student
an allocation of $2,433 per voucher student.

Gee. I wonder what Scott Walker’s intentions are.

Whose schools?
You probably read about the revolving door that barely separates the Wisconsin legislature from the voucher school lobbyists. You know – the door that Jeff Fitzgerald, Scott Jensen, John Gard, and Jim Bender scooted through without even a tap on their backsides. They’re shilling for School Choice Wisconsin and American Federation for Children.

Less has been written about the state’s religious (or should I say more obviously religious) lobbyists for private schools such as the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools. They are busy lobbying for taxpayer-funded school vouchers and have over 800 religious member schools.

Even less attention goes to the unpaid religious school advocates who sit in the churches’ pews.

These days churches call on their faithful to lobby with no fear of losing a tax-exempt status. There are two main reasons for this:
1) A lot of lobbying does not fall into the category of “electioneering” and even if it did, the lobbying in question could be “minimal” and be legal
2) The IRS hasn’t audited a church since 2009.

So it was that in my research on Grothman’s 2011 bill, I happened upon a document from the Superior, Wisconsin diocese urging parishioners to contact politicians in support of a tuition tax credit.

And so it is that these days the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) is openly supporting Walker’s voucher expansion plan. They encourage their flocks to convene at the Monona Terrace Convention Center on April 10 for “Catholics At The Capitol”.

After the prayer and talks of the day’s main event, at 3:25PM on April 10th the gathered will walk two short blocks to the Capitol building so they may speak with legislators.

No doubt the topic du jour will be point #1 from the “WCC Priorities in State Budget”:
“1. Urge legislators to support the right of parents to send their children to the school that best helps their children by backing the Governor’s plan to allow more families to use vouchers at religious and independent schools.”

No doubt Glenn Grothman’s tax credit will be in hot rotation as well.

What now?
Feel free to pray about this pickle the state’s in. But afterward, get on the phone or on your computer and contact your legislators of all denominations and political proclivities and let them know you do not support routing public tax dollars to private schools with vouchers OR tax credits!
Especially not to private religious schools.

Here’s the Wisconsin State Legislature “Who are my legislators?” page

You might also attend a JFC public hearing on the budget and testify your objection to Walker’s voucher plan. Word to the wise: I read in a facebook comment that buddies of Walker got first dibs on speaking at the recent hearing near Milwaukee.
If you’re not a V.I.P., there is a real possibility you will be waiting ’til afternoon to get your couple minutes to speak. Pack a lunch!
JFC Public Hearings
Monday, April 8 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
Lambeau Field
Legends Club Room — 4th Level
Lambeau Field Atrium
1265 Lombardi Avenue
Green Bay, WI 54304

Wednesday, April 10 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) REVISED LOCATION
Kalahari Resort
Suites 2 and 7 (Main Level)
1305 Kalahari Drive
Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965

Thursday, April 18 (10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
Baldwin-Woodville High Shool Auditorium
1000 13th Avenue
Baldwin, WI 54002

I highly suggest you dig into the WASB’s background paper on voucher expansion in Wisconsin for a full picture of why voucher schools are detrimental to education in Wisconsin as well as to sensible and democratic local government.

Related Readings:
Creationist Vouchers in Wisconsin

Voucher expansion creates furor – Superior Telegram – April 2, 2013

FYI The 2011 WI Senate bill was introduced by Senators Grothman, Galloway, Lazich and Leibham;
Cosponsored by Representatives Jacque, Kleefisch, Wynn, Honadel, Kapenga, Kaufert, Knilans, LeMahieu, Litjens, Murtha, Petryk, Pridemore, Thiesfeldt, Vos and Ziegelbauer.

The Statue of Liberty with cross photo is from Chris Wieland of flickr. It appears here under the C.C.License.


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