An Associated Press (AP) article in Green Bay Press Gazette reports that a bill that would guarantee Wisconsin’s divisive school voucher program doesn’t expand without legislative approval looks all but dead after Republican leaders said Friday they don’t know if their caucus supports the measure. The GOP-authored legislation sailed through the Senate in the fall of 2011 but has languished in the Assembly for months. State Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers has been pressing for a vote before the legislative session ends in mid-March 2012, but Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald’s spokesman said GOP leaders don’t know if they have the votes to pass it.
The program had been limited to students in Milwaukee schools. But Republicans included language in the state budget in the summer of 2011 that created new qualifying criteria based on a city’s size, poverty levels and per-pupil spending. The new benchmarks enabled districts across Milwaukee County and in the city of Racine to join the program. Rep. Robin Vos said the budget language was never meant to expand vouchers beyond Milwaukee County and Racine.
However, Vos and Senate President Mike Ellis co-sponsored a bill that would limit voucher participation to school districts in the program when the legislation took effect. Any schools that would want to get into the program after that would need separate legislation. Ellis said the bill would give lawmakers more options, allowing them to extend vouchers for students at a failing school in an otherwise successful district.
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, 1/27/12, By Todd Richmond (AP)
[Editor's Note: Wisconsin Association of School Boards explains in its Legislative Update E-newsletter that, during a late-night Assembly floor debate in June 2011, language was incorporated into the state budget setting four criteria into law to allow expansion of the voucher program into school districts other than Milwaukee. "When the provision was enacted only Racine met all four criteria;" explains WASB, "however, Green Bay and Superior already meet three of the four criteria and if the budget language remains in place, it could readily result in extending the program to these (or other) school districts." The legislative fix proposed by Ellis and Vos has not yet been advanced by the Assembly. WASB John Ashley urged action in a Jan. 10, 2012 letter to state legislative leaders: “School board members and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards stand ready to work with you to accomplish during the January-February floor period what was promised last June."
In May 2011, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press (AP) report on 620 AM WTMJ announcing that the Wisconsin Assembly, in a 57-36 vote, had approved the bill expanding the state’s private school voucher program, which then covered only the City of Milwaukee, to cover all of Milwaukee County. The new voucher provision also eliminated the 22,500-student enrollment cap that had been a part of the old program.]