Wednesday, September 14, 2011

School Choice Transparency is a Worthy Commitment—But Only if Info is Honest

A new measure was recently adopted in Milwaukee that will separate the portion of property tax levies citizens pay for the city's flagship Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Referred to by some as a "voucher tax," the argument from those who pushed to have the MPCP portion broken out is an interesting one. Because a small percentage of education funds to go schools participating in the voucher program, they say, it amounts to a "tax" on residents because it does not directly fund schools that are part of the city's struggling public school system.

Not only is the nomenclature misleading, but the the motivations behind the measure are not to make the tax code more transparent, as many of its proponents have alleged. Instead, they aim to imply that the existence of the voucher program is costing residents more money when, in reality, it's actually saving them significant sums.

In addition to educating kids at a fraction of the sum of their comparatively disadvantaged counterparts, the city's voucher program schools boast students with increased graduation rates. The MPCP is thereby doubly helpful to the community—it both helps kids and saves taxpayers money. It is far from a "tax," as it was sold in the recently-passed measure. It's instead a rare opportunity during lean fiscal times across the country for a city to tighten its belt without sacrificing its children's education.

According to Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin:
The successful and expanding Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has always been funded, in part, with local property taxes. However, because of the substantial savings compared with MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools], a more accurate proposal would list the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program section as the School Choice Voucher Credit. 
Transparency is only as effective as the data it reveals. If full disclosure is the goal, the property tax bill would show that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program saved Milwaukee taxpayers nearly $1,000 per student compared with MPS for the 201-11 school year. 
Empowering parents by providing them with high quality educational options makes Milwaukee a better place to live and learn. Funding those options in a way that saves both local and state taxpayer money should be celebrated, not attacked.
We're strongly in favor of good faith, open, and honest transparency and accountability measures, but a core principle of the push for more openness (which has also received strong, bipartisan support nationwide earlier in the summer) is that the information being communicated be honest, not misleading.

We agree that Milwaukee residents deserve to know where their money is going—but it's important that we be honest when we tell them.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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