While both Open Enrollment and Chapter 220 are certainly excellent programs for the integration of Wisconsin schools, I had to wonder just how the parents accomplished the feat of getting their children to school and back each day as parents are responsible for transporting their children to and from school. Only low income parents who qualify for free or reduced price meals may apply for reimbursement of a portion of their transportation costs. If a particular pupil transfer would increase racial imbalance in the school district, that transfer must be denied. (Open 2006).
Parents need to keep in mind that they may only apply for a particular school district, not a particular school. Each school board will assign students to schools within their district and make the decision whether or not to allow intra-district pupil transfers. On a website that details the Shorewood School District in Wisconsin, it is noted that: “under the Chapter 220 Program, minority students residing in the City of Milwaukee are permitted to attend schools in suburban school districts. Conversely, white students from the suburban districts are permitted to attend schools located in the City of Milwaukee.
The program is completely voluntary. Transfers between school districts are facilitated by local planning councils. Following planning council recommendation, districts enter into contracts, which establish the number, grade levels and other characteristics of transfer opportunities. ” (Registering 2006). An article written in 2003 by Mike Johnson states that Republican lawmakers, looking for savings in their budget, were contemplating either cutting the Chapter 220 desegregation program or merging it with the less expensive public school choice program, threatening a substantial blow to the diversity in Milwaukee public schools.
(Johnson 2003). GOP Lawmakers cited high costs as their reason for wanting to cut Chapter 220 funding, as well as a decline in participation in the program. Chapter 220 peaked at 5,981 students in 1993 and counted 4,846 in 2003. Chapter 220 has been called the “nation’s most expensive school choice program. ” (Johnson 2003). In some ways the Open Enrollment Program, while having the same goals as Chapter 220 has actually hurt the 220 program. During the 2000-2001 school year, the state paid $47 million in Chapter 220 aid to MPS, with their 23 participating suburban districts.
Open enrollment, on the other hand cost just under $11 million during that same time period, and had almost twice the number of students. Districts accepting open enrollment students received a payment of $5,195 per student during the 2003 school year, while Chapter 220 school districts received approximately $9,400 per student. (Johnson 2003). Open enrollment programs report only 15% of the participating students are minorities, while Chapter 220 students are 100% minority. (Johnson 2003).
I believe this shows that even though the open enrollment program might be cheaper for the state, the results are hardly the same. With the goal in mind of desegregating school districts, open enrollment, while certainly a useful program, hardly seems the way to accomplish this. Putting costs aside, if the Chapter 220 program were to be eliminated, the integration levels of suburban school districts would likely plummet. After having worked so long and hard on integration of public schools it seems like it would be a real shame to cut Chapter 220 at this point, but perhaps reforms are in order.
Feelings for the school choice voucher program of Wisconsin seem to have far greater supporters and detractors as well as those who have downright vehement feelings about the program, than either Chapter 220 or Open Enrollment. The income eligibility for the voucher payment program states that the total income of the pupil’s family may not exceed 175% of the poverty level established annually by the federal government. As an example, in 2002 the income limit for a family of four was $30,913. 00.
The checks are sent to the school of choice, but must then be endorsed by the parent or legal guardian. The “rules” for voucher schools, are not much like those of public schools. Voucher schools just do not have the same accountability as public schools, and in fact: Do not have to administer the statewide tests required of public schools. Do not have to release data such as test scores, attendance figures, racial breakdown of students, or drop-out rates. Do no have to provide the same services for special education students or students who do not speak English as their first language.
Do not have to obey the state’s open meetings and records laws. Do not have to hire certified teachers—or even require a college degree. (Special 2000). I personally find those facts somewhat disturbing in that there is little to no accountability for these voucher schools. While the majority of them may be doing an exceptional job of educating our students, what of those who are not? Standardized tests are a part of public school systems for a reason—we need some method of judging if our teachers are teaching and our students are learning.
The fact that voucher schools are not required to provide any data such as test scores, ethnic ratio or attendance records sounds to me like there is a reason not to provide them, or, in other words, something to hide. Even though ostensibly the purpose is to allow the very best education for each and every student, what about special needs students or those with limited English—are they not also entitled to the very best education possible? Additionally, I believe that public school teachers are required to be educated and certified for a reason, and that safeguard is not in place in voucher schools.