Senate Squashes Further Voucher Expansion in Wisconsin

The 2011-2013 Wisconsin state budget laid out provisions for the state’s landmark voucher program to expand from Milwaukee and Racine in the future. A voice vote today in the Senate squashed that.

The Wisconsin State Senate voted today to cut off any hopes of expanding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program beyond the two cities it currently serves. An uncontested voice vote pushed the bill through the chamber Tuesday afternoon. It is expected to have a similar reception in the Assembly in an upcoming session. Governor Scott Walker has suggested that he will sign the bill into law when the time comes.

This move was a premeditated follow-up to this summer’s budget talks at the Capitol. The geographic expansion cap was a concession that lawmakers made in order to progress towards a finalized 2011-2013 budget. Unfortunately, this budgetary progress means setbacks for parents across the state. Eliminating any expansion for the voucher program – notably to Green Bay, where efforts to introduce school choice ramped up in 2011 – limits the options that families statewide will have when it comes to choosing the right school for their children.

Previously, second-class cities (cities with populations under 150,000 but with more than 39,000 residents) could potentially apply for a voucher program if they met certain criteria. This included aspects like having a majority of students eligible for free or reduced lunch and additional state educational funding for low-income families. Racine qualified under these tenets in 2011, allowing for the creation of that city’s voucher program.

Unfortunately, today’s Senate vote represents the first step towards ending any similar expansion. In a state that is known for its bold education reform, Wisconsin is taking a step back from the progress made just months earlier. For now, the freedom of choice for families that can’t afford private school will be limited solely to parents in Milwaukee and Racine.