As he had previously announced, Gov. Tony Evers’ budget address Thursday night called for freezing enrollment in the state’s voucher school programs.
This is what most people would characterize as a non-starter.
“I’ve said all along that addressing the pressing issues facing our state starts with education,” Evers, who previously served for about 10 years as state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a statement earlier in the week. “We have to fully fund our public schools, and we have to make sure voucher schools are accountable and transparent, not just for kids and parents, but for Wisconsin taxpayers, too.”
Last week in this space, we suggested that much of President Donald Trump’s angry rhetoric, especially on Twitter, is an act of playing to his political base.
Gov. Evers’ call for freezing voucher-school enrollment is no different. In this case, the base is the rank-and-file membership – or, perhaps, just the leadership and the most active members – of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, aka the state teachers’ union.
WEAC and its union locals have been among the most vocal opponents of voucher schools, arguing that the voucher program takes money away from public schools and gives it to private schools.
It does. But it’s fair to say that is how the Republicans who have controlled the Wisconsin Legislature since 2011 want it.
Their dissatisfaction with the performance of state public schools – initially in Racine and Milwaukee, and now statewide – led GOP legislators to establish a program enabling some students to transfer to private schools, taking their per-student state funding with them. That same dissatisfaction led those same Republicans to expand that program.
“Wisconsinites should have more choices when it comes to the education of their children, not fewer,” state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told the Capital Times in a Feb 25 report. “Republicans in the Legislature have spent years helping build the voucher program. We will not support a budget that includes this proposal.”
We hope this is just Gov. Evers’ opening position, and in fact he’s willing to negotiate with Republican legislative leaders on education in Wisconsin.
Because the Republicans know a proposal to freeze voucher-school enrollment isn’t going anywhere. We suspect the governor knows that, too.