More private school vouchers could mean less money for public schools

Walker proposes unlimited number of private school vouchers

One day after giving his budget address, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited La Crosse to talk about his major proposals.

Walker wants more school choice when it comes to the statewide education program.    

Walker is calling for an expansion to the private school voucher program, also known as the school choice program. He wants to allow more students the opportunity to transfer from a public to a private school.

But at the same time, Walker wants to keep the public schools funding as is which is causing some big concern among public school officials.

La Crosse School District Superintendent Randy Nelson wasn’t surprised by Walker’s announcement.

“We knew there was going to be some sort of expansion,” said Nelson.

Walker wants to allow an unlimited number of students, whose families earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, to use taxpayer dollars to attend private schools.

“The public school in some areas of the state isn’t always the best option for their sons or daughters,” said Walker.

In the proposal, the state money a student receives would follow them to the new school.

“For any of the schools that are here, it won’t cost a penny,” said Walker. “It’s only logical. If they are providing education for 20 fewer students then why should they be paid for the 20?”

But Nelson said it’s more complicated than that.

“If 20 students came out of grade four at one of our elementary schools, absolutely, but that is not the way that it works,” said Nelson. “Depending on where those students come from, one student from third grade, one from fifth and one from seventh, those might be three students, but that is not enough for us to reduce a teacher or a staff member in that particular school.”

While this is a concern for Nelson, he is even more worried about Walker’s proposal to keep public school funding the same.

“What that means for us is two more years of cutting programs, cutting benefits and cutting salaries,” said Nelson. “I think the real question for all of us is how long can we continue to do this without really compromising the quality of education we are providing our children.”

Public school students can transfer to a private school with a voucher at any time, while private school students already in the system can only use a voucher when going into kindergarten, first grade or ninth grade.

If approved, the expanded private school voucher program would begin this fall.

The Legislature will be working on Walker’s proposed $68 billion budget for the next several months.