October 30, 2014

Governor wants to expand school voucher program

Wisconsin’s school choice program could soon be coming to even more school districts in the state. A proposal included in Governor Scott Walker’s budget would expand the often controversial program to at least nine school districts, allowing students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

Under the plan, voucher programs would be allowed in districts with over 4,000 students that have at least two failing schools. Walker says parents and students in those districts should be given a viable alternative to schools that are under-performing.

Performance of schools will be based on school report cards the state began issuing last year. Under Walker’s plan, schools rated as “fails to meet expectations” or “meets few expectations” would count toward the two school minimum.

There are 42 schools districts in the state with more than 4,000 students. However, the only districts that meet the failing schools criteria are Madison, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Beloit, Kenosha, Sheboygan, Superior, West Allis-West Milwaukee, and Waukesha.

The plan is already drawing fire, including from Walker’s fellow Republicans. Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) says entire districts should not be open to choice because of just two failing schools. The governor says it’s an issue he’s willing to consider, and urged the Senator to work on an approach that would target that factor specifically.

State Superintendent Tony Evers also blasted Walker’s education budget, calling it deeply disappointing. Evers says private schools would receive $73 million in additional funding and spending authority, while spending in public schools would remain under a freeze.

Several school districts are also expected to fight against the proposal, although Walker says the easiest solution for them is to work to make sure they don’t have any failing schools. He says “if they don’t have any schools that fail to meet expectations, there’s not gonna be a choice program.”

Walker will formally unveil his budget on Wednesday.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:14)