REPORT: Across The Country, Conservatives Shift Taxpayer Dollars From Public to Private Schools

As ThinkProgress previously reported, a handful of billionaires and right-wing think tanks and foundations are pushing school voucher legislation nationwide, with the effect of undermining public education. These schemes funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools with the promise of better education for students — a claim that has never been backed up with actual evidence.

While many of the conservatives who are for expanding vouchers claim they are not trying to undermine public education but rather inject more competition into it — “school choice,” as they call it — Wisconsin’s superintendent Tony Evers said yesterday that it is morally wrong for his state to be expanding taxpayer funds for Milkwaukee’s voucher program while at the same time slashing money for the state’s public schools:

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to expand the Milwaukee school choice voucher program to other Wisconsin school districts is “morally wrong,” state Superintendent Tony Evers told students and staff Monday at Green Bay Preble High School. […] “Our public school system is under attack,” Evers said. “To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education is morally wrong.”

Indeed, it is a stunning statement on Walker’s priorities to have championed nearly $900 million in education cuts in his budget proposal while at the same time proposing a $750 million expansion of the state’s voucher system. Yet Walker isn’t alone in cutting back funding for public schools while expanding it for private schools. ThinkProgress has assembled a list of other states that are conducting a similar tradeoff:

FLORIDA: In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) proposed nearly $3 billion in cuts to public education spending, claiming that he had no choice due to the state’s budget problems. Yet Florida Republicans — along with a bloc of Democrats who have received thousands of dollars in funding from related special interest groups — are simultaneously pushing school voucher legislation that is expected to cost “nearly $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year and would have a potential recurring cost of $242 million.”

NEW JERSEY: One of the first things New Jersey legislators did this year was to finance a school voucher expansion which “would cost about $825 million.” Yet at the same time, Gov. Chris Christie (R) slashed $820 million in school spending last year — meaning that there was an almost equal transfer of funding away from public schools towards private schools.

PENNSYLVANIA: In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) proposed nearly a billion dollars in education cuts, telling the citizens of his state that he had absolutely no choice, given budgetary constraints. Yet at the very same time, conservative legislators are, with Corbett’s backing, pushing a voucher plan that “is estimated to cost taxpayers $730 million in the first four years.”

By slashing funding for public schools while rapidly expanding funding for private, even religious, schools, these conservatives are showing their true colors. Their aim appears to be undermine public education and Americans should arm themselves with the facts.

For more on the war on public education, see today’s Progress Report, “The Billionaires Who Want To Privatize Our Schools.”