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OPINION - A bad school choice deal

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Governor Walker got a bad deal on school vouchers. And it was a deal he negotiated with fellow Republicans. This indicates to me that the Governor was in danger of having school choice stripped out of the budget completely. I believe he took “something” instead of “nothing”.

The deal, as we know it, involves the voucher program being expanded state-wide instead of just districts with failing schools. That might be good, except for two details. First, the program would be limited to only 500 students next year, and 1,000 the year after that. It’s a very, very small program. Second, no school district would lose more than 1% of its students to the voucher program. This is significant, since it takes away the incentives for districts with failing schools to improve. Losing large numbers of students, and the state funding that goes with them, was a big worry and a catalyst for change.

I have two additional thoughts about this tentative deal, and both are optimistic on an otherwise cloudy day for school choice. As a statewide program, the number of kids participating could be increased by future legislation. That depends on who controls the legislature. Hopefully, the governor has a side-deal on state tax credits for private school tuition. That would also be a statewide initiative – and would expand a program that currently has income limits that exclude most of the middle class.

The most disappointing thing about the voucher “deal” is that some Republicans are exposed as hypocrites. School choice is good in theory, but only for someone else -- not in their school districts. True school choice in Wisconsin, sadly, has to wait for another day.

Chris Conley
5.30.13