MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to lift the cap on the state’s private school voucher program and to create a statewide board to authorize new charter schools – both of which would greatly expand education options for low-income families.
The school choice measures are included in Walker’s proposed budget for 2015-17, and are already under attack from public school officials who would rather not compete with private schools for students, WiscNews.com reports.
“Unfortunately, this budget proposal clearly prioritizes private school vouchers, the authorization of independent charters and politics over real support for public schools and our students,” Jennifer Cheatham, Madison School District superintendent, said in a statement.
Walker wants to accomplish the education reforms while keeping revenue limits for public school districts intact. His proposal would levy $105.6 million in school taxes for each budget year, and calls for a $108.1 million increase in aid to schools for 2016-17, according to the news site.
Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers, who was elected with significant help from the state teachers union, doesn’t think the funding is nearly enough.
“(To) hear essentially public schools will for the most part be receiving no more money, but their expenses go up every year, that is not a good deal,” he groaned.
The voucher expansion would roll an existing voucher program in Racine into a statewide voucher system with no cap on student enrollment or participating schools. The program would be open to all families that earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Per-pupil funding for participating students would be pooled together and distributed evenly among private schools in the program. Walker budgeted $4.9 million for next year and $12.3 million for 2016-17 to accomplish the changes, according to the news site.
Walker would also spend $4 million in 2016-17 to create a board of appointees to oversee the approval of new charter school authorizers, such as nonprofits. Currently, local school boards must approve student requests to attend charter schools in their district, an obvious conflict of interest.
“The board would consist of the state superintendent and 10 other political appointees, including two from the governor, six from the legislature and two from the state superintendent,” WiscNews.com reports.
“Walker also recommends that in districts with at least 4,000 students and two schools with report card grades of D or F, students ‘have full ability to attend any independent charter school, while in other districts pupils must seek approval from resident school board to attend an independent charter school.’”
Walker’s budget would also cut funding for Smarter Balanced school exams, which are tied to the national Common Core standards, Madison.com reports.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Kenosha Democrat, was quick to criticize Walker’s proposed education reforms.
“Tonight’s revelation was about the public schools,” he said after Walker delivered his $68 billion budget to lawmakers Tuesday. “We could that there were literally crumbs for public schools and unlimited increases for voucher schools. It’s taking us in a direction that is extremely hurtful.”
“It’s a shameful indictment of where our public schools are at with this governor,” he said.
Madison Democrat Rep. Chris Taylor even went as far as to label Walker “the most anti-public education governor in the country.”
In a speech at the Capitol, Walker said he’s focused on helping more families achieve the American Dream.
“More than anything, my family ingrained in me the idea that anyone who worked hard could go as far as their dreams would take them. It was through their eyes that I got my first glimpse of the American Dream,” he said, according to Madison.com.
“Today, however, I worry that too many of our fellow citizens feel that dream has become out of reach for them and their families. The budget plan we present tonight will help restore that America Dream right here in Wisconsin.”