Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty

Voucher Victory in Wisconsin by grassroothawaii
June 27, 2011, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Education | Tags:

By Cannon Brooke

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed into a 2011-2012 state budget [June 26th], the largest expansion to the state’s school choice programs. Walker’s signature dramatically expands the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which includes thousands of families from the state’s low-to-middle income bracket, allowing them to have a greater school choice in Racine County.

This victory includes language that will considerably increase the eligibility for new participants in the program while also removing a preceding cap on the number of applicants. The budget effectively allows students to attend the schools of their parent’s choice by giving them vouchers.

Traditionally, Democrats have opposed the use of vouchers, calling them a privatization of public education, while Republicans favor their use claiming it gives parents more choice. A school voucher (also called an education voucher) is a certificate issued by the government, which parents can apply towards tuition in a private school in lieu of a state assigned school.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program began in 1990 and was the first of its kind to provide an opportunity for students under certain circumstances, to attend at no charge, private sectarian and non-sectarian schools located in Milwaukee.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice outlines the major changes in the law as follows:

  • A large increase in the family income qualifications. Previously, only children from families qualifying for the federal free and reduced price lunch program were eligible to participate. Now, children from all families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $67,000 for a family of four, will qualify to receive a private school voucher.
  • Removing the cap on the number of students who can participate. In prior years, there was a hard cap limiting the number of students who could receive a voucher to 22,500. This expansion eliminates the cap. It is estimated that, with the new income guidelines, 84,402 Milwaukee families — or 65.1 percent of all Milwaukee families — will be eligible to participate in the program.
  • Once in, always in. In previous years, a student who received a voucher could lose eligibility for the program because his or her parents happened to increase their income in a given year. Now, once a student gets a voucher, that student will always be able to keep it, regardless of their family’s future income.
  • A sizeable increase in the number of private school options. Previously, children receiving a voucher could only attend private schools in the city of Milwaukee. Now, they will be able to attend any participating private school in the state.
  • Allowing parents to “top up” the voucher in high school. In previous years, high schools were required to accept the amount of the voucher, which is set at $6,442, as tuition in full. This meant that private high schools in the program were receiving barely half what traditional public schools receive to educate a child. Now, parents earning between 220 and 300 percent of the federal guidelines for poverty can add their own funds on top of the voucher, which will give them a wider array of options.

1 Comment so far
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Great news for Wisconsin! Governor Walker is doing some wonderful things there. Sure wish we had him in The People’s Republic of Hawaii.

Comment by giliar

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