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Voucher expansion clear hurdles on way to final vote

Jun 5, 2013 by

Madison — In a through-the-night push, Republican lawmakers sculpted some of the final contours of a state budget that would cut income taxes by $651 million over two years, expand taxpayer-funded private voucher schools across the state and increase state aid to public schools by $300 per student over two years.

Voucher schools


Lawmakers also want to expand school voucher programs beyond the borders of Milwaukee and eastern Racine County. The programs allow parents who meet income thresholds to send their children to religious schools and other private schools at taxpayer expense.


Under the motion approved 12-4 along party lines by Republicans on the budget panel:


■ Public schools would receive $150 more per student in general aid this fall and another $150 increase the following year. The plan would cost $289 million over two years, with $231.5 million funded with state taxes and the rest with an additional $52 million in higher local property taxes and an increase in expected revenues from the state lottery.

School districts would have the authority to spend this new money. Walker wanted to give schools $129 million in state aid but require all of it to go toward property tax relief, rather than be used for new expenses.


Under the budget committee’s proposal, total property taxes would increase by less than 1% per year, with school levies going up somewhat more than that.


■ A new voucher program would become available to all students outside Milwaukee and Racine. It would be limited to 500 students the first year and 1,000 students every year thereafter. Walker wanted no limits on the number of students in the program after the second year.


If there are more students seeking slots in the program than allowed, the proposal would allocate the available slots by lottery. The slots would go to the 25 schools with the most applications, with each school getting at least 10 seats.


■ The new program would be available to students in any school district. Walker wanted to make it available in districts with 4,000 or more students that were identified as struggling on school report cards issued by the state.


■ No more than 1% of the students of any given school district could participate in the new program.

■ Over 12 years, the negative financial impacts for the Milwaukee Public Schools from the voucher program here would be phased out.


■ The new program would be available to students of families making 185% of the federal poverty level or less — well below the income thresholds for Milwaukee and Racine. Those programs are available to families making up to 300% of the federal poverty level, with a higher threshold for married couples.


■ Voucher schools in all parts of the state would receive $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 per high school student — up from $6,442 currently. Walker wanted to provide $7,050 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and the same larger increase to high school students.


■ Starting in the following state budget, per-pupil increases for public schools and voucher schools would be linked. Thus, if one received a $100-per-student increase, the other would as well.


■ Private schools would have to have been in operation since May 1 to qualify for the voucher schools program. That provision is meant as a way to prevent fly-by-night operations from enrolling students at public expense.


■ Walker’s plan for creating a new way to authorize charter schools would be taken up as legislation outside the budget so it could be modified.


■ The bill would eliminate Walker’s $64 million proposal to reward schools with higher performance.


■ The state would provide $5 million a year for school districts with high transportation costs.


■ Schools would have to freeze for two years their property taxes going to so-called “Fund 80” programs for their communities such as athletic leagues.


■ A voucher school in Milwaukee could create a high school that is a “work-based learning program.” Students would have to work between six and eight hours a dayu for two days per week as part of their education. The employer would have to give each student 30 hours of training and a mentor.


Walker also wanted to create a statewide program for special-needs students, but lawmakers would abandon that idea as part of the proposal.

Tax cut, voucher expansion clear hurdles on way to final vote – JSOnline.

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