School Vouchers Multiply in Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin State Budget

March 7, 2011; Source: Journal Sentinel | In Milwaukee, state budget cuts have implications for traditional public schools and their private school competitors. Governor Scott Walker, currently presiding over a standoff with public sector unions, has cut funding for public schools in the state budget, but has not touched money slated for vouchers to pay for students to go to private schools.

Walker's budget proposal would drop the cap on the number of total vouchers, expand the voucher option beyond the City of Milwaukee to pupils from the Milwaukee suburbs, and lift the income restriction, enabling kids from higher income families to take advantage of the vouchers. (Though private schools can charge pupils an additional tuition fee if the family's income is 325 percent or more of the poverty level, some of the private schools say that the per pupil voucher payment is not enough.)

The Walker proposals have not generated universal applause. The teachers unions are concerned about the standards and accountability of the private schools. Budget hawks question whether it is appropriate for the state to be subsidizing kids from wealthy families. The public schools are wondering why they would get cut while voucher schools and charter schools are held harmless or even advanced. Because the private schools are often nonprofits, the question of how nonprofit schools affect public schools is at the heart of education policy in Wisconsin and in Walker's state budget.—Rick Cohen