Monday, June 27, 2011
Rock the Schoolhouse
The video above gives you a summary of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's view of unions and the need to give parents choices. (It's put together by a school choice advocacy organization called EAG Foundation.) I know the emotions around collective bargaining, but it is big education news that Walker took the additional step this week of tripling the size of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program—the original voucher program that stimulated so many states in the 1990s to start deep and difficult education reforms.
The Wisconsin victory for school vouchers is hardly the only one in the country. The number of states moving ahead with legislation expanding parental choice is now approaching a dozen.
The Wisconsin budget provision will both expand the Milwaukee program and set up a new program in the state. 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.
According to the ABC-affiliate WISN, this budget provision was actually part of a “compromise.”
There was concern Friday from the state teacher's union that Walker could use his veto power to expand the school choice program beyond Milwaukee and Racine, but Walker said he won't.
“We made a very clear commitment as part of the compromise. We worked on a number of compromises from recycling to restoring senior care, and when it comes to school choice, it will only be expanded to help people in Racine and middle- and low-income families in Milwaukee,” Walker said.
Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.