Wisconsin school vouchers safe for now in Gov.’s budget

Wisconsin school vouchers safe for now in Gov.’s budget

(Wis.) Classroom teachers in Wisconsin, probably more than any other group in the state, won a big victory when Democrat Tony Evers ended the Scott Walker rein as governor in November.

Now, many educators are watching Evers closely as he prepared to promulgate his first budget and follow through on his campaign promises—especially pledges to spend more on public schools and to phase out the voucher program.

In comments made earlier this week, Evers has said he will propose a $1.4 billion increase in K-12 funding next year but he has also acknowledged he will not seek to end perhaps the most aggressive voucher program in the nation.

A former teacher, district superintendent and two-time state schools chief, Evers won the governor’s seat by only 1.1 percent. Meanwhile, the GOP maintained its grip on both houses of the Legislature with big majorities.

Evers said in an interview Tuesday that he will instead work get more disclosure about the cost of vouchers.

“We’re looking for more transparency and accountability, to make sure people understand and successes and failures,” he said. “I think the people of Wisconsin do need to have a conversation around public schools and publicly funded schools period, and in order to have that I think we need to have the best transparency possible.”

School voucher programs, which are generally defined as taxpayer money provided to families to allow enrollment at private schools, exists in 14 states and the District of Columbia, according to a 2017 analysis by the Education Commission of the States.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the nation’s longest running voucher system, having started in 1990. Today the program encompasses more than 100 schools and nearly 26,000 students. Another system was started in 2011 in Racine, and under the leadership of former Gov. Walker, a statewide program was begun in 2013 along with a system aimed at students with disabilities.

Under the statewide system, participating private schools receive about $7,750 for each kindergarten through eighth-grade student, $8,390 for each high school student and about $12,400 for each special education student that receives vouchers.

In 2016-17, the four programs combined cost the state nearly $24.5 million.

School choice and indeed, vouchers, have become political fodder from both the left and the right. Democrats and teachers unions all over the country argue that any money provided to non-public schools, comes at the expense of the most at-risk students. Republicans counter that too many school districts continue to fail in their mission and need competition.

Evers said in a candidate forum in September that he would work to phase out state subsidies for private schools.

"When we aren’t adequately funding our public schools,” he said, “how can we possibly afford a parallel publicly funded private school system?”

He suggested that if he could not get the Republican-controlled Legislature to go along with the idea, he would work to increase funding to public schools while also imposing new mandates on private voucher schools to employ licensed teachers.

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