LA CROSSE, Wis. - It's a change that could have a huge impact on Wisconsin public schools.
Gov. Scott Walker has announced he wants to expand the state's school voucher program as part of the budget he's introducing to the legislature Wednesday.
School vouchers allow students in under-performing school districts to use state money to pay for a private school education.
"Public education, which is a responsibility of the state, is really being redefined right before our eyes," said La Crosse Schools Superintendent Randy Nelson.
The changes in Walker's proposed budget would expand the state's school voucher program from two school districts to nine.
La Crosse would not be one of them.
The expansion would extend to districts that have at least 4,000 students and have at least two schools that receive D or F grades on state report cards.
La Crosse doesn't have any Ds or Fs; it has mostly Cs. But with its 6,714 students, it would qualify if two of those C schools slipped down a grade.
That could have a big financial impact on public schools.
"If they were to take the voucher from the state of Wisconsin, the $6,500 voucher, they'll be able to take that to the private institution and then the state will charge us $1,800 for every student who does that," said Randy Nelson.
Private schools like Aquinas Catholic Schools would then have to decide whether they want to accept those vouchers.
Aquinas president Kurt Nelson, Ph.D. said while he still has questions about the details, vouchers could extend the privilege of school choice to families with more moderate incomes.
"Families who are well off already have school choice. They can either move to a district that has better schools or they can choose to pay tuition. What we're really talking about with these programs are, how do we provide families with more modest means those same level of choices in their child's education?" said Kurt Nelson.
A major concern for public schools is whether private schools would be held to the same standards of accountability.
Kurt Nelson said it's a big question for him as well. He said the Catholic schools would likely have to use the same assessment test as the public schools, and he doesn't like those tests as much as the assessments his schools currently use.
If Walker's proposed expansion of the school voucher program goes through, it will be capped at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2014. The cap would double by the following year to 1,000 students.
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