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Walker: School choice will expand

By   /   April 25, 2013  /   News  /   18 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

WAUKESHA – Speaking to hundreds of school choice supporters in this Republican Party stronghold city Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker and two state Senate Republicans confidently declared Wisconsin’s school voucher program will expand.

“We have said that we will not support a budget that does not include an expansion,” Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, told some 200 attendees, including children, at Thursday’s school choice rally at La Casa de Esperanza, a Waukesha community center. “We are very clear about that. By the time this is done and the negotiations in the budget process (are completed), there will be an expansion.”

Vukmir said the process was “fluid” and that some changes from the governor’s 2013-15 budget proposal could come as a result of the negotiations on the budget.

Republican Sens. Mike Ellis of Neenah and Luther Olsen of Ripon have spoken out against the school choice expansion included in Walker’s budget proposal.


Gov. Scott Walker surrounded by students at school choice rally Thursday in Waukesha.

Walker’s budget calls for expanding the voucher program to school districts with two or more “D” or “F” schools on the state’s new school report card system. Nine districts would qualify for expansion if the governor’s proposal is signed into law.

“A lot of people talk about things they wish were in or out of a budget. I think in the end you’re going to see school choice in some form or another go forward with an expansion beyond just Milwaukee or Racine,” Walker told reporters after speaking at a school choice rally in La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha.

Democratic leadership has done a lot of talking about items they want to see out of the budget bill, most highly critical of the voucher expansion plan.

Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray told Wisconsin Reporter he has a lot of concerns about the expanded voucher plan.

“It seems like what I’ve seen here is they are ready to give a pretty big handout to schools that don’t have any accountability measures,” he said. “I’m not going to say no to vouchers, but I am going to say we have to put them on same playing field.”

With an enrollment of about 14,000 students, the school district is among the largest public school systems in the state and would be included in the voucher expansion.

Gray said he believes it would be “just a matter of time” before vouchers would be expanded to every school in the state.

Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, agreed there was “room for compromise” to expand school choice in the budget, although he said it was too early to tell if increased K-12 per pupil spending for public school students would be part of that compromise.

In his speech at La Casa de Esperanza, Walker regained some of the “rock star” status that he built on his recall campaign where he became a national sensation among conservatives. This time his adorning fans were not fiscal hawks, but grade-schoolers who swamped Walker after his speech like he were Justin Bieber.

The young students latched on to Walker for pictures and his signature, and the governor obliged, visiting with the youngsters for some 20 minutes as they at one point broke into chants of “Walker! Walker!”

It was Waukesha, after all.

Speaking to the audience, Walker said choice expansion was not political, but an “economic and moral imperative.”

“We need you to help us spread that message to other lawmakers at our state capitol,” Walker told the audience. “Because they need to understand this is not a political statement. This is not a political campaign. This is not a political effort. This is about children. This is about students in our state having that option.”

The governor also touched on statewide proficiency data released by the state Department of Public Instruction earlier this week.

DPI on Tuesday released test scores comparing Milwaukee Parental Choice Program students to Milwaukee Public Schools students, failing to account for disparate income levels between the students.

“The vast majority of families in that program are low income,” Walker said. “If you compare the same income categories of students who come from families in Milwaukee Public Schools with Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, you’ll find that in almost every category the kids in the choice schools outperform those in the public schools.”

He added he wanted all schools to perform better.

DPI’s release showed that 19.4 percent of MPS students were proficient or advanced in mathematics compared to 13.2 percent MPCP students participating in the Wisconsin Student Assessment System.

It also showed 14.2 percent of MPS students were proficient or advanced in reading, compared to 11.1 percent of MPCP students.

Data released by the voucher advocacy organization School Choice Wisconsin, however, showed that MPCP students outperformed MPS students everywhere except math, including reading, language arts, science and social studies when comparing only students in low income families.

Free and reduced lunch is available for students whose parents earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line, about $41,000 for a family of four. Until last school year, the income eligibility for the school choice program was 175 percent of the federal poverty line.

Walker increased eligibility for the choice program in the last biennial budget to families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, about $78,000 for a family of four.

Overall, students in Milwaukee underperform the statewide average for “economically disadvantaged” students – 30.5 percent of those students were proficient or advanced in math and 20.9 percent were proficient or advanced in reading, according to DPI.

“They’re trying to promote an agenda rather than report the data,” charged Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin.

DPI did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter requests for comment.

“By the end of this school year, Wisconsin will have spent nearly $1.5 billion on the Milwaukee choice program since it began in the 1990-91 school year.” DPI’s news release concluded.

More than 24,000 students are now enrolled in the Milwaukee choice program, with an estimated annual cost of $154.6 million.

Milwaukee Public School’s proposed budget for next year is $1.17 billion to educate close to 80,000 students.

Contact Ekvall at [email protected]


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.

  • Jack Lohman

    Perhaps if our politicians were not getting a piece of the action, in campaign bribes from the voucher people, I could support dabbling with our children’s education. But give me a break… money works!

  • Barry in Newburg

    Obviously either you or your spouse are union teachers. I have heard for 35 years public school teachers complain about class size being too big to manage. Well, with that being said, how does it hurt the teachers/their salary to have some students opt out of their often disfunctional class for ones in which they can/will learn better. You loose no money personally, have less students to “worry” about, less distractions, etc…I went to public schools where the “Professional” teachers went on an illegal strike back in 1977, for 6 weeks. If it were truly about “the kids”, why did they QUIT WORKING ON EDUCATING US??? The silence is deafening.

  • Jack Lohman

    100% Wrong. I’m a 75yo former business owner (Republican) that absolutely hates corruption in our trusted politicians. I wouldn’t tolerate it in my own board of directors and won’t tolerate it at the state level either. But Walker is the biggest recipient.

    I don’t like my pockets being picked. By teacher unions either, who seek smaller class sizes because it requires more dues-paying teachers, which somehow generates higher union-boss salaries. In time I see the profit motive as taking precedence over our kids, just as profits drive health care.

    But that said, I am not willing to bury my head in the sand. Private schools are being allowed because campaign bribes are being paid. You youngsters are going to pay a heavy price for it.

  • Becky

    The voucher program is good in concept but it is extremely far from being fair. There are so many loopholes that it will eventually destroy the Private School sector. Children who attend a Private School through the voucher program do not have to abide by the same rules as the children who pay. Yet another example on how the government doesn’t require the recipients of their assistance to be accountable for their actions. For example, children in the school choice program do not have to participate in the volunteer time that many Private Schools require to keep their costs under control. Why not? Schools aren’t asking for money, they’re asking for time & involvement with the school that is changing your life for the better! Another sad example, the schools aren’t allowed to select the students they accept through grade or discipline records. Again, why not? The children who pay must qualify, these children and parents work hard to make it into a Private School and stay there. Why are the people who receive a free ride not held accountable for anything???

  • Jack Lohman

    I agree Becky. Privatization “could” work, but that then allows our politicians to collect campaign bribes. Get rid of our moneyed political system and I could see myself more open to the idea.

  • cazie

    More sour grapes Jack?? Let parents and kids have a choice! Public schools are most interested in their union perks and pay for administrators. They also teach a leftist worldview. I, for one, would rather see my kids in a voucher school where they might learn to think for themselves.

  • Jack Lohman

    So be it. My kids are all out of school. And if you found out that private school teachers were not subject to the same background checks, you’d be okay with that?

  • cazie

    There was a somewhat famous case some years ago regarding a teacher involved in porn at school-it took thousands of dollars in taxpayer money and taking the case to the WI supreme court before we were able to rid the school system of him. He was protected by the union. Background checks only show what has been found out about someone-not what lurks within. I’m a state worker and see what union protection does to people-nothing good! Bad behaviors are promoted if they are the senior person, and it stifles incentive for anyone to give a hoot. I speak the truth.

  • Jack Lohman

    I have NEVER spoken in favor of school unions, especially those who protect bad members. Especially as a state worker you must know the effects of political corruption as it applies to privatization. And as a former business owner I can attest to the negative effects of profits. Pick your poison.

  • cazie

    I have had 3 small businesses myself. Why would you say profits have negative effects? Public sector jobs are accountable to no one but themselves-the state/Fed/municipal jobs come with guarantees without risk and are now like parasites on the taxpayer. Their union dues and the power associated with that have much more lobbying power and don’t ask members what their wishes or values are before aligning with the Democrats. I’ll pick private business anyday!

  • Jack Lohman

    Yes, “profits CAN have negative effects”. Have you not seen where insurance companies have denied patient care to increase profits? Or in your world is everything 100% good?

  • cazie

    Maybe if Obamacare wasn’t mandating to insurance, banks and all business it wouldn’t go down that way. Why did you get into business Jack? Wasn’t it to make as much money as you could. Nothing is 100%-but I’ll always be for free enterprise and Capitalism. I see what the school system is doing to kids-and it’s not good. They’re training them to be good little socialists..I work on a college campus now and see what the agenda is. Your’re foolish if you think traditional schooling is the answer.

  • Jack Lohman

    I am also for free enterprise and capitalism, just not CRONY capitalism where the politicians get a piece of the action for doing what they’ve been elected to do. And I am for educational changes, especially with online learning having been introduced. But I would NOT turn my kids over to the bankers, or another for-profit group with the hopes that they do what is right. But like I said, my kids are out of school, though I have grandkids and great-grandkids that I worry about.

    The real bottom line is that — if my politicians were not getting a piece of the action — they’d probably make the right decisions.

  • Franseenit

    Sorry Jack but to call our politicians ‘trusted’ really misses the truth. I agree with you on this voucher scam – they are going to weaken our school districts and then they will whine about underutilized school buildings, etc. I fear that this is simply to force more privatizing education and then only the rich will be educated – the GOP tried this very stunt in the 30’s – but then any young adult today has never studied history so how would they know that. Public education deserves attention by those who only see dollar signs in everything they do. Educators are not overpaid in my opinion. They do very challenging work – that will affect our country to the very core. Children are each very different and deserve our absolutely best teachers. Palatial surroundings are not the answer – safe, clean environments are adequate along with top notch teachers have facilities that work. Stop promoting class warfare and segregation!!

  • Franseenit

    If my memory serves me correctly, vouchers were created to help children living in poor school district and ‘bad’ neighborhoods to find a way out – to attend where there would be more classes available, where they would be exposed to more challenging classes. It just irks me that that concept became a point of jealousy for students who already had access to good schools – you keep draining good students our of neighborhood schools they will continue to deteriorate. Children are motivated when in classes with better students. What is wrong with continuing with the original intent of vouchers? This whole Walker scam will weaken even more schools as he DRAINS MONEY FROM THEM – we need not wonder why the public schools aren’t keeping pace. He and his cronies know exactly what they are doing – they want only privatized education. Check out Koch’s, Richard DeVos and his wife and others – they are the big push behind this. Hitler also took control of the schools!!!! and you are all falling for this???

  • Franseenit

    They have choice – every day people choose to send their children to private schools. My parents sent 11 to private school and I never once heard them whine about it. If that is your choice – pay for it yourself – it doesn’t give you the right to drain money out of the public school – That idea is simply all wrong – no accountability.

  • Anne D

    Private schools are also (almost exclusively) are religious in nature. What about separation of church and state? Also, the voucher schools are not being graded by DPI (because they’re not public) AND (voucher) children are not being assessed through the same tests as children being served in public schools. Believe it or not, I do believe that competition within the school system may improve schools, but I’m not sure that the voucher program is a step in the right direction.

  • Anne D

    However, each student has a dollar amount attached to them that is available to public schools, but does not transfer when families choose private schools (at least this is my understanding). Why not have that money travel with the children?