Joint Finance Committee Passes School Choice Expansion Bills Thursday

MacIver News Service | May 5, 2011

[Madison, Wisc…] A pair of bills related to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program passed through the Joint Finance Committee Thursday morning, putting expanded voucher eligibility one step closer to becoming a reality in Wisconsin’s largest city.

The Committee met in Executive Session and heard two hours of debate over Assembly Bills 92 and 94 before passing both. Assembly Bill 92 will remove the student limit for the MPCP, which is currently capped at 22,500 students. This legislation would also expand the scope of participating schools in the program to include those withing all of Milwaukee County rather than just those within the city limits.

Assembly Bill 94 creates a new mechanism for delivering payment to schools that educate children with vouchers.

The day’s hearing was filled with debate, most of which came from three of the four Democrat legislators on the committee. Senators Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Robert Jauch (Doplar), along with Representative Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), dominated much of the meeting with concerns over the program’s impact in Milwaukee.

Taylor and Grigsby, both of whom reside in the city, expressed concerns over a lack of accountability with the MPCP, as well as additional costs to Milwaukee property taxpayers.

“We are creating, essentially, Detroit right here, and that’s alright with you,” Grigsby said.

Committe Co-Chair Robin Vos (R-Burlington), a strong supporter of the program, took a different approach, saying that School Choice empowers paretns.

“Why would we want to do anything to take away the rights of parents to decide what’s best for their children?” Vos said.

Vos and Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), repeatedly responded in favor of the bill with statements about the program’s significant savings for taxpayers statewide, as well as the reduced cost of educating students compared to traditional Milwaukee Public Schools.

Grothman pointed out that if money guaranteed success, then MPS would be the most successful school system in the state.

In the end, AB 92 passed on a 12-4 vote, with every Republican voting in favor and each Democrat voting against. AB 94 passed 13-2, with Taylor and Jauch joining the Republicans in voting for the bill. The next step for each piece of legislation will be to be heard in front of the Assembly in the upcoming weeks.