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Nusaiba Mizan
By Nusaiba Mizan March 30, 2021

Effort to tighten regulations on school’s state voucher program back in budget

When Democrat Tony Evers ran for governor, he promised to work to eliminate the state's school voucher program.

There are actually four school choice voucher programs -- ones focused on Milwaukee and Racine, plus one for schools statewide (the Wisconsin Parental Choice program), and a separate statewide program for students with special needs.

Under a 2015 law, Act 55, the 1,000-student limit for the statewide choice program was eliminated. In its place, the number of students in a district who can participate in the program was limited to 1% of that district's prior year total enrollment until 2017.

That limit increased by one percentage point each year beginning with the 2017-'18 school year, and will continue going up until it reaches 10% in 2025-'26. In 2026-'27, there will be no limit. Act 55 also removed the restriction on the number of private schools that can participate, and the family income limit was increased to 220% of the federal poverty level in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the number of students participating in the voucher programs grew.

In October 2019, for instance, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported students in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program -- the statewide program -- alone grew by 37% in the 2019-2020 school year. 

In his 2021-'23 budget, Evers is proposing an enrollment cap and a waiting list if the program cap has been exceeded.

It is unclear whether the Republican-controlled Legislature, which in recent years has backed expansion of the program, will go along with the changes.

For now, we rate this promise In the Works.

 

Our Sources

State of Wisconsin, "2021 Senate Bill 111."

Division of Executive Budget and Finance, Department of Administration, "State of Wisconsin Budget in Brief."

Christa Pugh (Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau). "Private School Choice and Special Needs Scholarship Programs," January 2021.

Patrick Marley and Molly Beck, "Tony Evers uses his vast veto power to raise school spending another $65 million, wipe out Tesla provision," July 3, 2019.

Annysa Johnson, "Cost of Wisconsin voucher programs nears $350 million as enrollment surges," Oct. 15, 2019.

 
Eric Litke
By Eric Litke October 15, 2019

Republicans stall attempted voucher changes

As the state schools chief, Tony Evers had some changes in mind as he pursued the governor's office in 2018.

The state's voucher schools program — long a point of partisan tension in Wisconsin — grew under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

On the campaign trail, Evers promised to take things in the other direction in a written statement to the School Administrators Alliance:

"As Governor, I would work with the legislature to phase out vouchers; if Republican control of the Legislature makes that impossible, then I would ensure the state adequately funds public schools and require voucher schools to use licensed teachers, adopt student safeguards like IDEA and non-discrimination protection, and implement needed transparency measures."

So far, his ideas have gone nowhere.

Evers' budget sought to cap enrollment in the school choice program at 2019-20 levels, require all choice school teachers to be licensed, require new choice schools be accredited by their first year and include information about choice school impact on property tax bills. The Republican Legislature blocked all four measures.

The Evers-O-Meter rates outcomes, not intent. But his promise didn't specify a timeframe, so he could still make progress on this later in his term.

For now, we rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

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