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Journal Times editorial: Legislature needs to fix glaring flaw on school vouchers

Journal Times editorial: Legislature needs to fix glaring flaw on school vouchers

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If you want to open a brand-new voucher school, you don’t need to have a budget and you don’t need a building.

You can start accepting students and then figure out the rest later.

This is a prime example of putting the cart before the horse — and it needs to be fixed fast.

As a community that offers vouchers, we have supported the program here in Racine that gives low- to medium-income families financial support to send their children to private schools. It gives them another option and the opportunity to give their children an alternative to the struggling public school system.

But under the way the system works now, a new voucher school can enroll children after simply attending a short fiscal training session, writing the state a $900 check and filling out a few simple forms.

“You basically fill out a letter of intent. There’s not much else there,” said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, a nonprofit that supports voucher program expansion.

With that lack of checks and balances, parents and students with access to those vouchers are not getting the fair end in the deal.

Racine’s St. John Fisher Academy high school is a prime example of what can go wrong when new voucher schools are able to accept students before they are prepared.

For instance, a weekend Journal Times story explained how a student lost her voucher spot when St. John Fisher, 2405 Northwestern Ave., closed in 2012 after its first year in operation when it ran out of money.

Kandy Helson, whose daughter went to the now-defunct school, said she thought the school was sound because the state put it on a list of participating voucher schools in February. She didn’t know how little is actually known about participating schools when the list gets released.

“Their list should be accurate and good, like you’re going to be able to use those schools,” she said.

That seems like a realistic expectation, and apparently the changes have support from both sides of the aisle.

State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, is working on a fix, and Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, who is also a member of the education committee, said he supports Olsen’s work-in-progress bill, although he’d like it to include more new rules for voucher schools and would like to see it moving along faster.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos,

R-Rochester, also said he supports “accountability for all schools receiving public funding.”

If that is the case, then we ask, what is taking so long?

Just as students need to do their homework, officials wanting to open a new voucher school should be expected to do their homework, too, before accepting students.

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