Rep. Scott Johnson on funding for public and private schools

State Rep. Scott Johnson, R-Jefferson, discusses the politics of public funding for and oversight of K-12 education in Wisconsin as districts seek voter support for referendums to boost their budgets.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

March 20, 2024

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State Rep. Scott Johnson:
Republicans have been in charge of the biennial budgets and it's pretty clear that most of us Republicans want to favor school choice: voucher schools, charter schools. They do an outstanding job. But the public has to understand, we're now publicly funding both educational systems. And I think that you can lay claim that the private schools do an outstanding job of educating children. But I think you mislead the public if you tell 'em that our public school system is failing because I don't think our public school system is failing. I think we've overregulated it. I would make the comment that we've almost regulated it to death. I would also say that private schools get the opportunity to choose not only their child but their child's parents. If you have a child who has parents that are actively involved in their educational career, I don't care where that child goes, they will do good, they will perform well 'cause they have concerned parents that want that child to succeed and they will help that child to succeed. And I think private schools, voucher schools, charter schools get the advantage of that. I think part of my disappointment with that is we don't have any real accountability of those tax dollars. And I think it's unfortunate that we've sort of shielded the public from the amount of those tax dollars there. It's not a big amount when you compare it to public education but it's still a significant amount. The question goes back to, is the Republicans responsible for the cliffs that we're anticipating? I think, and it's, again, it's a balancing act. I don't know that if we had left it into indexing relative to revenue caps, there probably wouldn't be referendum, but there would probably be some pretty outspoken cries about high taxes on the property tax bill. I think what the Legislature hasn't really come to grips with is whether or not we can properly provide the support to both the private and the public schools. And if we're willing to ask the private schools to give the same accountability that we expect of public schools. I think it's really disingenuous to have all the regulations on one form of education and very minimal regulations on the other and certainly not necessarily being as accountable to the tax dollars.

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