Debate: School voucher issue on its own bill vs. within state budget

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MADISON (WITI) -- Does the school voucher debate belong on its own bill, or within the state budget? The Wisconsin Senate's top Democrat is demanding a stand-alone bill, but Gov. Walker calls that idea "ridiculous."

Gov. Walker has spent the last month touting his plan to expand the state's voucher schools program.

"I think most of the public is against private vouchers," Sen. Chris Larson (D - Milwaukee) said.

The minority leader of the state Senate says expanding school vouchers would be a major policy change, and shouldn't be passed as part of a budget.

"I think that all of it should be pulled out of the budget.  I think it should be taken up independently and frankly there should be a referendum on it in the communities where it already exists," Sen. Larson said.

Gov. Walker says that won't happen.

"It's just ridiculous.  It never has in the past.  It's one of those where it has a financial implication.  We've added $475 million for schools in this budget, for higher education, for K-12, public schools, choice schools, the technical colleges, the UW System, and the budget is the place you should make decisions about your spending priorities and that's exactly what we're doing here," Gov. Walker said.

Under Gov. Walker's plan, 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. 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 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.

There is a debate in virtually every community. Even some Republican lawmakers have questioned Gov. Walker's plan. In Green Bay, there's been some backlash from the public school community, but in Waukesha, public officials have embraced it.

The issue will be discussed before the Joint Finance Committee and then voted on sometimes in June.