Democrats in the Wisconsin state Assembly reserved their harshest criticism for Governor Scott Walker’s public school plans, while Republicans say he doesn’t go far enough in terms of school accountability. The Republican governor on Tuesday delivered an address outlining – in the barest possible terms – his 2015-’17 state budget. For the most part, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos liked what he heard.
But with essentially no increase for public school funding, and a lifting of the statewide cap on voucher school enrollments, Walker’s proposals for K-12 public schools in Wisconsin had Assembly Democrats apoplectic. “Crumbs for public schools, and unlimited increases for voucher schools,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha). “It’s taking us in a direction that is extremely harmful and will be absolutely very difficult for public schools to try to manage, after having to absorb a $1.6 billion hit in the governor’s first two years in office.”
The governor’s budget tosses out agreed upon Common Core standardized testing, and would implement ‘A’ through ‘F’ letter grades on schools state report cards. But Walker would not impose sanctions on schools that fail to make the grade, leaving it up to parents to decide if they want their children to attend schools which fail to do so. That doesn’t sit well with Vos, who said members of the Assembly Republican caucus will expect more. “I don’t think we’re going to accept a position that says we’re going to take half a loaf and argue about more later,” Vos said. “I have concerns that if we only do letter grades, and only do some of those things like repeal of Common Core in the budget, but we don’t ever get to the point of talking about what we do with a failing school that’s failing children, that we take the easy part and put that in the budget and allow only the difficult part to remain.”
Walker’s statewide voucher school expansion proposal would allow students from families making 185% of the federal poverty level to use vouchers to attend qualifying private schools. The plan would be for “switchers” only – that is, children using the vouchers would have to already be attending public schools, or entering kindergarten or first grade.
“With this expansion of taxpayer money going to private schools . . . that’s going to mean our public schools are going to take a hit, after already taking a huge hit,” said Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “I think this is probably the most anti-public education governor in the country right now, if you look at what he’s done to public education.”
But Walker’s aggressive moves on public schools will likely play well with conservative GOP caucus voters in Iowa, a state where the presidential hopeful will be spending a lot of time, while lawmakers back in Wisconsin grapple with his budget.