March 12, 2013

Members of the Madison Legislative Delegation:

Thank you for your ongoing work on behalf of our community. As you continue the state budget process, we want to give you information about our district’s budget process and the harmful impact of state budget proposals on our schools. The current budget proposal is bad for our students, our taxpayers and the future of public education.

From a significant decrease in our state aid, to fiscal disincentives for our current charter schools, to using taxpayer money for private schools, this budget proposal presents real challenges for the 2013-14 budget for Madison schools.

The state budget continues to shift the tax burden to our community while also taking away local control of how funding is used, through proposals like vouchers and restrictions on charter schools. Even more troubling is the effect on future years of public education in this state.

First and foremost, vouchers do not raise student achievement. In fact, students in voucher schools performed below students in public schools on state tests.

Private school vouchers do not save taxpayers money. Instead, property taxes will go up. The district would have to pay for the cost of 38% of each voucher’s cost, and public schools would receive less aid. In addition, priority preference for vouchers is given to current private school students. That means that the district would lose aid for students who have never been in our public schools.

Based on our current understanding of the proposal, that could mean the loss of an additional $2 million in state aid next year. The effect on future years would be even more troubling. Based on our current projections, Madison schools could lose $4.5 million in state aid in the second year of the program, more than $7 million in the third year and close to $9 million in the fourth year.

In Milwaukee, taxpayers now pay an additional $50 million in property taxes thanks to their voucher program.

As the program expands and more students become eligible, that means painful reductions to neighborhood schools, undercutting our ability to serve students in public schools. In the past decade, the district has been forced to cut more than $70 million from its budget. Combined with the freeze in per pupil revenue limits, private school vouchers mean more cuts to services for all students.

Private school vouchers send taxpayer dollars into programming that is not accountable to the public. Schools funded by taxpayers should be subject to state and federal mandates, be assessed by state systems and be required to serve the needs of all students, regardless of socio-economic status, language or special education needs. None of those guarantees are in place for voucher schools currently.

Governor Walker's budget proposal also contains many changes to charter school law that will limit local control and authority.  These changes would limit our ability to negotiate charter contracts with instrumentality charter schools. Not only does it make our current charter schools more expensive and less accountable to the public, but it also effectively removes non-instrumentality charter schools from the district, again siphoning resources away from public education. For example, a non-instrumentality charter school of 120 students could mean a decrease of $2 million in state aid. Similar to vouchers, the changes in charter law take taxpayer dollars out of public schools and decrease public accountability.

Please contact us with any questions. Again, thank you for the work you do on behalf of our community.

Sincerely,

Jane Belmore
Superintendent

James Howard
Marj Passman
Ed Hughes
Maya Cole
Mary Burke
Beth Moss
Arlene Silveira
Members of the Madison School Board