School Board Candidates Stand Together on School Vouchers
*Editor’s Note: This is Part III in a series focusing on each question asked during the candidate forum, which pitted 7 candidates against each other for the four open seats on the School Board.
By Patrick Lynn
Seven of eight candidates for Stevens Point Public School Board on Thursday offered their ideas on school funding during a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LOWV) of Stevens Point. Incumbent Bob Larson was not present.
The candidates with the top three vote tallies in the April 1 election will each earn three- year terms, while the fourth highest voter-earner serves out the remainder of John Zellmer’s term, who left the board when he moved out of the district last summer.
Should private voucher schools taking tax-payer dollars be held to the same accountability stnadards as our public schools?
Candidate Terry Fink: “Yes, I totally agree. They’re a private school in the state of Wisconsin and should be held up to everything a public school is held up to. And it needs to be the same way for a private school. They’re receiving the same funding from the same place- it’s a no brainer. It wouldn’t be fair for them not to have the same standards as us. If they want to receive money from us, they need the same standards as us, such as the days- right now they don’t have the same day limits or hour requirements. They should be the same standards.”
Candidate Pat Hetzel: “If you’re receiving state dollars, then you should be following what the public school system is doing. A public voucher is one thing, but when private schools are getting those vouchers there have been X number of schools that are claiming coming in and receiving the money, keeping the students on those enrollment roles, and they’re not there, they’ve gone back to the public school system. There needs to be accountability for vouchers, they need to be following the same kind of rules as the public schools do anyhow.”
Candidate Alex Kochanowski: “I agree, it would be nice to see if there was a way to integrate the needs for some individuals who have to go into private settings for one reason or another. If we can try to meet those needs in the public school system setting, that they do not have to seek the education somewhere else, taking with them the voucher that is given to them. Here in Stevens Point, I believe we have 22 vouchers, and if that continues to rise, we’re going to be in jeopardy- potential jobs for teachers, the whole school system we have here in Stevens Point.”
Candidate Sam Levin: “I think it’s important we have a level playing field when it comes to vouchers. The problem I have though is I don’t believe we should have vouchers. I don’t think it’s right- you have a right to a public school education. If you want a private school education you also have that right but you have to pay for it. I’m not against private schools; I support the Catholic schools here. I buy my gift cards all the time and put on the (memo) line ‘for anyone’ so anyone who needs it can get the credit. But tax money should not be paying for private schools. Because all that’s doing is taking money away from public schools and public education we have to give to our students.”
Candidate Jeff Presley: “I would say yes, I will stick to the question and say yes. Private schools have to be accountable; it’s important that, as Sam said, it needs to be a level playing field. If you’re going to take the dollars you need to be held to the same standards. The one thing you have to keep in mind, though, with the voucher system, is they come back if there are certain needs that the private school cannot provide, they come back to the public school. So it’s almost charging the school twice, so you’re not only taking the voucher money, but there’s also the special needs services. So back to the question of accountability, if you’re going to be all-inclusive like the public school system is, you need to provide those needs also in the private school.”
Candidate Chris Scott: “I would agree with pretty much all the candidates. One of the things we do in public schools is we allow every student in our schools. We turn no student away, and isn’t always the case that you provide for those students. So if we’re going to use public tax dollars for that, I think we have to hold those private schools accountable and have the same standards and requirements. There’s such a comparison between Stevens Point and Milwaukee schools; there’s a reason this started when it started, years and years ago when I first started volunteering and I would hear, ‘they’re trying to privatize education’ and every year it seems like they’re getting closer to that in different ways. If we’re going to do this, if we’re going to fund it, then they need to be as accountable as our schools are.”
Candidate Trish Baker: “I think that’s a bit of a softball question in that we’re all in a agreement on it. We’re all running for school board; we’re al advocates of public education or we wouldn’t be here. But I just want to add something about vouchers that is important: if you, as a taxpayer, give me $100 in taxes, and I go to Guu’s and have a great night out, you as taxpayers are going to be upset. You’re going to say, ‘wait, Miss Baker- where’s the accountability here?’ With vouchers, we give them that $100- actually it’s more like $7,000- but we don’t have the ability to vote anybody out of office. You can vote me out of office as Clerk of Court when I spend that $100 at Guu’s and you don’t like it because it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars. When we give money to a voucher school, there’s no accountability for it with the taxpayer dollar. I think we all agree on the testing standards they should all be the same, but looking at it one level farther, it’s that accountability for how that money is spent that I really struggle with.”