Despite hours of argument and various amendments directed towards curbing the growth of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, Assembly Bill 92 passed Tuesday night behind the strength of a 57-36 vote.
The victory was an important step towards removing the student cap of the nation’s first modern school choice program, as well as opening eligibility to private schools across Milwaukee County.
The session’s discussion of the voucher program started off with heated rhetoric regarding the status of Milwaukee’s schools, taxpayers, and children. This tension boiled to a head when Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) delivered a passionate speech that ripped legislators on both sides of the issue and questioned their commitment to students in the state’s largest city. His fiery rhetoric led the body to stand informal while both parties tried to regroup.
Upon the recommencement of the Assembly, both sides argued the merits of the bill. Issues such as local control, the state of Milwaukee Public Schools, and the fiscal benefits and effects for residents across the state were discussed at length over five hours of debate. Several amendments, most of which were aimed at limiting any expansion efforts, were introduced and soon after tabled.
Debate on the bill itself carried along on these same lines. Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) lamented the lack of control local leaders would have over educating students in MPS while questioning the accountability of the MPCP. In her same speech, she pled that more funding for Milwaukee’s public institutions was the answer, not the expansion of educational options. Milwaukee Democratic Representatives Margaret Krusick, Leon Young and Christine Sinicki also echoed these concerns in explaining their distaste for the legislation.
The expansion plan found support as well, particularly from Rep. Dale Kooyenga (D-Brookfield) and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (D-Horicon). Fitzgerald was particularly passionate, labeling MPS as “broken” and suggesting that the expansion of school choice was just the first step toward fixing the educational system there.
In the end, AB92 passed by a 57-36 margin. It will now head to the Senate for vote in the upcoming weeks.