A conference in Madison offered a glimpse of what could be contentious public hearings on the state budget proposal. A panel of three lawmakers from the Joint Finance Committee talked about their educational priorities during the Wisconsin Association of School Boards lobby day Wednesday.
Governor Walker’s budget proposal includes a controversial plan to provide special needs students with vouchers to attend private schools.
Sen. Jennifer Shilling of LaCrosse, the lone Democrat on the WASB panel, said she is opposed to the plan because it lacks assurances those students will be handled by teachers and staff who are certified in special education.
Representative Dan LaMahieu said, “I feel comfortable that the parents being involved will be seeking what is best for that student.” The Eastern Wisconsin Republican added that he does think it’s “a problem” that proposed funding increases for the voucher program far exceed that of public schools.
During questions from the audience, Pulaski Schools Administrator Mel Lightner took a jab at the Republicans present and claimed local communities are not asking for the special needs scholarships. “I don’t think you’re being responsive to Wisconsin people. You’re part of national movement that has hunkered down and is coming down with massive private dollars,” said Lightner who is also a parent of a special needs child. His comment/question drew applause.
Republican Alberta Darling responded that she has a good, working relationship with school boards in her Suburban Milwaukee Senate district. “What school choice is about is to give parents, low-income parents, the opportunity to have a school for their child that they cannot afford to pay for as you or I possibly could.”
Darling, who co-chairs JFC, said four public hearing on the budget will take place in April in Greenfield, Green Bay, Wisconsin Dells, and Baldwin. She said the committee plans to vote on the package later that month, or possibly May, with the full legislature to vote on it in June.
AUDIO: Impassioned audience question and reponses from Darling, LeMahieu(4:40)