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WI voters should reject GOP’s effort to ‘privatize public education,’ Rep. Hong says

WI voters should reject GOP’s effort to ‘privatize public education,’ Rep. Hong says

FILE - The Wisconsin Supreme Court listens to arguments from Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Anthony D. Russomanno, representing Gov. Tony Evers, during a redistricting hearing at the state Capitol, Nov. 21, 2023, in Madison, Wis. The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 13, declined to hear a lawsuit brought by Democrats seeking to end the state's taxpayer-funded private school voucher program. (Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times via AP, Pool, File)

By Bonnie Fuller

July 11, 2024

Rep. Francesca Hong says “that the attack on public education is truly an attack on democracy, and it’s a way to distract us from the fact that they truly do not want to have access to opportunity, to critical thinking and nutritious food available to all students.”

Rep. Francesca Hong has a very personal stake in the fight for more investment in Wisconsin’s public schools — her seven-year-old son, George.

Like every mom in Wisconsin, she wants George to get a stellar education like she did as a graduate of Madison’s public school system and then at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That’s why as she seeks re-election for her seat representing the 76th district of the Wisconsin State Assembly, the Democrat is demanding full funding for Wisconsin’s public schools on behalf of both herself and her constituent parents. 

“For the last 12 years, the state has been defunding public education, both K-12 and higher, and I think that’s been deliberate,” she charged in an exclusive interview with UpNorthNews.

“That’s been by design to undermine our public schools and to ultimately put more of the voucher program and our tax dollars into private schools.”

Hong condemns Wisconsin Republicans for what she believes is their end goal: “to privatize public education.” 

She asserts “that the attack on public education is truly an attack on democracy, and it’s a way to distract us from the fact that they truly do not want to have access to opportunity, to critical thinking and nutritious food available to all students.”

She accuses state Republicans of having an “agenda to maintain a much wider wealth gap.. And undermine one of our last, I think, democratic institutions, which is public education.”

Hong is correct that there has been a crusade for years by Republicans in their gerrymandered legislature to funnel taxpayer dollars away from Wisconsin’s public schools and into school choice vouchers that parents can utilize for their children to attend mostly religious private schools.

That included an enormous increase in taxpayer dollars in 2023, exceeding $700 million, made available for private voucher schools, according to the non-profit Wisconsin Public Education Network, which cited numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau

As a result, Governor Tony Evers signed a budget last year leaving 40% of school districts with less funding than the year before.

It’s no wonder that Hong says that in her district, “Parents want teachers to be paid more. Parents want classrooms that their kids are in to have resources. They don’t want to have to go get on an Amazon list for teachers.”

The Representative stresses that “regardless of zip code, a public school is the heart of a community. And this (inadequate funding) is an issue that I hear about from former teachers, from parents, from caregivers, from grandmothers across the state that are very concerned about teachers being disrespected and class sizes getting bigger.” 

Hong observes that Wisconsin ”families take their schools very personally and if they hear that even more of their tax dollars are going to voucher programs, I don’t think they’d be happy about it.”

Unfortunately, that just happened again. The 2024 state budget included the largest financial expansion of taxpayer dollars into private school vouchers in the program’s history, increasing from $8,400 per student for kindergarten through middle school to $9,900, and from $9,000 to $12,000 for high school students.

All this taxpayer money leaves the public education system with less money and resources for its about 800,000 Wisconsin students. There are about 55,000 Wisconsin children enrolled in voucher schools.

While Republicans have sold the idea to voters that vouchers give parents the opportunity to make their own choice of schools for their kids, the reality is that private or charter schools have not proven to provide a better education to students, according to The School Demonstration Study.

What parents may not realize is that while taxpayer money has been siphoned away from public education, private schools don’t have to adhere to the same curriculum standards as public schools, teachers don’t have to be certified and students enrolled in voucher schools haven’t performed as well as those in public schools.

Hong is fed up with the current situation in which despite government funding, those “schools get to choose their students but constitutionally public schools have to serve everyone.”

In other words, private schools don’t have to admit every child who applies in Wisconsin, including children from every race, income level, LGBTQ students and children with disabilities. However, public schools do.

Studies have shown that most of the students who use vouchers are already attending private schools and come from high income families

Meanwhile, “choice” isn’t actually working to provide more educational options for lower income families since the vouchers don’t cover the cost of a private school anyway.

As a result of all this, Hong says Wisconsin Republicans “don’t talk about how our class sizes are growing because they aren’t funding our schools  and providing our teachers with the resources they need…or that public schools have to meet the needs of every student and that’s why here in Wisconsin our special education funding is only 33% from the state, so schools have to match the rest of those funds.”

Finally, Hong is fed up with culture wars over books and curriculum being injected into Wisconsin public schools by Republicans, calling it a “fear mongering tactic.”

“It’s a way to really stoke their base of people, fueling fear into their communities by saying that what’s being taught in public schools is harmful,” she said.

“And the way that the right distracts us is basically to demonize or divide what they don’t really know much about.”

Fortunately, Hong sees that “more of my constituents are not willing to take that bait about the culture wars and are more focused on getting funding for their students, knowing that their neighborhoods grow stronger with good public schools and making sure their teachers get paid more … We know that public schools impact every single member of a community.”

Author

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights. She can be followed on her Substack at: BonnieFuller1 ‘Your Body, Your Choice.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION
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