Gov. Walker plans to expand state’s school voucher program

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MADISON (WITI) -- Gov. Scott Walker plans to expand the state of Wisconsin's voucher program, saying it's a way to get kids out of failing schools. However, Gov. Walker is meeting opposition from Democrats, and even some Republicans.

Gov. Walker is expected to unveil his state budget on Wednesday, and says he plans to expand Wisconsin's voucher program when he unveils his budget this week.

"One of the driving forces behind that is trying to raise performance," Gov. Walker said.

Under Gov. Walker's plan for expansion, vouchers would be allowed in districts where at least two schools with 4,000 or more students have received a D or an F on a state report card.

"Those families whose sons or daughters are in line to go to a school that's failing to meet expectations, we believe they should be given a viable alternative," Gov. Walker said.

Gov. Walker could face a challenge from key Republicans.

State Senate President Mike Ellis called the plan flawed, and Senator Luther Olson, the chairman of the state's Education Committee didn't give it a ringing endorsement, saying "we'll see."

Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in the Senate, so two GOP defections would likely kill the plan.

That is precisely what public school advocates want.

"Because people don't like our Parks System, we're not giving out vouchers for people to sign up for Country Clubs, so why are we doing that with our schools?  It just doesn't make sense," State Sen. Chris Larson (D - Milwaukee) said.

The minority leader of the Wisconsin Senate, Larson is opposed to the expansion because the state doesn't hold private schools to the same standards of transparency and accountability as it does with public schools.

"Before we throw more money at the problem, we have to make sure the money we're spending is invested wisely," Larson said.

That's exactly the argument that Gov. Walker is making with the public schools.  He says you can't throw more money at the public schools and expect them to show different results.

"He's saying that, but at the same time we have ways to actually find out what's going on with our public schools, that's not happening in our voucher schools. They only choose to report what they want to and at the same time they have no problem accepting taxpayer dollars," Larson said.

"Any school where there's public money involved will be involved in the report card system, so any parent anywhere in the state can look at the report card and know whether the kid goes to a traditional school, a charter school, a voucher school, a virtual school can know what the score is," Gov. Walker said.

School choice already exists in Milwaukee and Racine, but Gov. Walker would expand it to nine other school districts where there are failing schools, including Kenosha, Waukesha, West Allis, West Milwaukee and Sheboygan.

Gov. Walker would also increase the amount of money given to each student to offset the cost of a private education. Right now, vouchers are about $6,500.

Gov. Walker would increase that to $7,050 for kids up to eighth-grade and more than $7,800 for students in high school.

"Instead of looking at what's good for our students, what's good for education, he's looking at what's going to be good for his next election," Larson said.

"There's no other agenda than that it's pretty straight forward.  I just want to make sure every kid has access to a great education," Gov. Walker said.