Legislation Pushes Forward with Choice in Racine, Abandons Green Bay

MacIver News Service | June 16, 2011

[Madison, Wisc…] A proposed parent petition school voucher program in Green Bay will not be included in the biennium budget for 2011-2013. After being introduced last Friday in a Joint Finance Committee hearing, the proposed expansion was removed from the budget bill as it was discussed Wednesday afternoon in the Assembly.

While expansions of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that would remove geographic limitations for schools, increase the income limits, and allow students in Racine to receive vouchers remained intact, Green Bay ended up on the cutting floor. Addressing reporters, Rep. Robin Vos (R – Rochester) suggested that the program lacked sufficient support amongst administrators and lawmakers alike. However, Vos failed to address evidence that the majority of parents in the city were in favor of such a program.

Green Bay is a city that has seen a growing trend of educational problems in recent years. Statistically, the district’s students trail the state averages in several categories, including average WKCE scores, high school completion rates, schoolwide suspension rates, and most significantly, student economic status.

Additionally, the Green Bay Area Public School District is just one of four districts in Wisconsin have failed to meet federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards over the past two years. The other districts are Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine. By the next school year, two of those three cities listed will have choice programs to help students leave failing schools.

While the expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program will open up new worlds of opportunity for some Wisconsin students, Green Bay’s students will have to wait. Their public schools might not face the same challenges that pupils and educators have in Milwaukee and Racine, but the growing trend of missing AYP suggests that Green Bay’s schools aren’t providing a high level of education for all students. Combine this with the growing count of economically disadvantaged families in the area, and you’re left with a problem. Students who can’t afford to choose a private school that works for them are stuck in their traditional neighborhood school, regardless of its ability to educate children.

Expanding charter school legislation will help broaden Green Bay’s horizons, but not nearly as much as a parent-triggered school choice program would have. While Wednesday’s legislation cleared a path for some students in eastern Wisconsin, children in the state’s third-largest city were left behind. Help may be on the way, but for now this will go down as a missed opportunity for the families of Green Bay.