Legislators React to Major Education Policy Changes in Budget

MacIver News Service | May 20, 2015

[Madison, Wisc…] The legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approved a 29-page omnibus education package shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday that would increase funding for K-12 schools, expand the statewide school choice program and create a special needs scholarship for students with disabilities to attend the school or their choice.

After the motion was approved, legislators and special interests from both sides of the political spectrum let their thoughts be known.

On K-12 public school funding:

JFC Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette):

“Despite a difficult budget, our top priority is investing in public education. Our children are the future leaders of our state, and public schools are integral to the growth and success of students throughout Wisconsin. It is for this reason that we have committed to going above and beyond restoring funds to K-12 education.

“This budget, we are restoring funding by $150 per pupil in the first year and adding an extra $100 per pupil in the second year. That’s an added investment of over $200 million over the biennium. This funding increase will help ensure that our state’s public school system is strong and Wisconsin students continue to have access to high quality education.”

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha):

“Last night, legislative Republicans proposed an extreme plan for dismantling our public education system that not only harms education – it also undermines the will of voters. As part of an extreme budget proposal, Republicans will drastically change the system of educating children with disabilities without even holding a public hearing to shovel more funds to the private voucher school community. Overall, the net effect of the changes is the millionaires who fund Republican campaigns were popping champagne corks celebrating their great fortune last night.

“Republicans continue to mislead the people of Wisconsin by claiming they have made schools ‘whole’ while they are only funding one element of our school formula and draining public schools of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars they are giving to private schools. The Republican end goal to allow unlimited taxpayer dollars to go to private schools signals the end of public education as we know it in this state.”

On the expansion of school choice:

Rep. Terry Katsma (R-Sheboygan):

“I also commend the JFC for raising the current cap on the statewide voucher program and creating a path for the cap to be eventually removed. School choice is something that should be available to all families, not just those who can easily afford it, and I am glad to see the program continue to expand.”

JFC member Sen. Jon Erpebach (D-Middleton):

“Our public schools are being strangled by Governor Walker and his Republican friends and the reality is we are building a private school system in Wisconsin on the backs of public school kids. Monies are being diverted to voucher schools in this budget – it is undeniable. Vouchers schools don’t have the accountability of public schools; Republicans never delivered on their promise to create accountability for taxpayers and students in voucher schools.”

On the creation of a special needs scholarship:

JFC member Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa):

“We are finally creating true choice for our special needs students. Families have been trying to work within the open enrollment program to move their children out of a public school that has failed them. Unfortunately, they have had the door slammed in their face time and time again. We are now breaking that door down.”

Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown):

“For too long, too many children have been locked in schools that aren’t working for them. The system in place, open enrollment, has failed these families as children with special needs have their application denied at a much greater rate than other students. I am very pleased relief is on the way, and applaud Senator Vukmir for fighting for these families on the joint finance committee. Let’s knock open more school house doors for these kids and trust parents to make the best educational choices for their children.”

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee):

“Rather than giving schools that need help the proper resources they need to succeed, Republicans begin to dismantle the largest school district in the state, which could ultimately lead them to bankruptcy. On top of that, they introduce a new voucher that actually eliminates rights and legal protections of children with special needs. We only have one shot at educating our kids properly, there are no do-overs. The Republicans’ actions today are dangerous and jeopardize the quality of education our children will receive and ultimately how successful they are in the future.”