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Poll finds strong support for School Choice in Wisconsin’s swing districts

By   /   September 12, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — School choice in Wisconsin now has a big voice advocating for it.

The American Federation for Children, “the nation’s voice for educational choice,” this week announced the launch Wisconsin Federation for Children.

AFC has been active in Wisconsin for the past decade. Officials from the conservative organization say the official Badger State launch of its local campaign “signifies a renewed commitment in the state, including a push for significant expansion of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.”

Watchdog file photo

CHOICE SUPPORT: A new poll finds strong support for School Choice in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin’s history as an innovator in education reform provides the perfect foundation for future growth and new opportunities for our kids,” Brian Fraley, communications consultant for the Wisconsin Federation for Children, said in a statement “We will help lead the push to expand educational options for parents and establish effective accountability measures, to ensure that educational choice becomes even more popular and stronger in the years ahead.”

Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature have pushed to expand voucher and other parental choice programs in recent years.

Data released in May found a surge of applications seeking to enroll in the program.

Only 500 new slots were open for the 2014-15 school year, and 537 public school students applied, according to School Choice Wisconsin, another nonprofit advocate of parental choice programs. The forced wait list of students denied a voucher this year, at the time, exceeded 2,400 students and represents a 26 percent increase in the number of students denied access to the school of their choice, School Choice Wisconsin’s study found.

A robust majority of voters in Wisconsin’s swing legislative districts favor school choice, according to a newly released poll by the Wisconsin Federation for Children.

The poll of 500 likely voters, conducted by NMB on Aug. 20-21, found 63 percent of respondents favor allowing education tax dollars to be used for choice programs in private schools. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

The survey of the districts also found Walker, a school choice champion, had a 1 percentage point lead over Democratic opponent, Madison School Board member Mary Burke, 47 percent to 46 percent.

Respondents were asked if they favor various educational reform proposals, including:

* “Expanding Wisconsin’s statewide school choice program so that it would allow any working class Wisconsin parent to use taxpayer dollars to send their child to the public, private or religious school of their choice.” The law now only allows the poorest parents to be in the program. (60 percent total favor, 33 percent strongly favor, 32 percent opposed)

* “Eliminating the cap on Wisconsin’s statewide school choice program so that more than 1,000 children can use taxpayer dollars to attend the public, private or religious school of their parents’ choice.” (56 percent total favor, 35 percent strongly favor, 38 percent oppose)

* “Requiring all students in public schools, charter schools and private schools in the voucher program to take similar academic tests so that the schools can then be graded and held accountable for their performance.” (83 percent total favor, 62 percent strongly favor, 13 percent oppose)

* “Allowing the University of Wisconsin system and the Technical College system to establish independent charter schools without the approval of local school boards.”(49 percent total favor, 20 percent strongly favor,  36 percent oppose)

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.