Wisconsin News

Statewide school voucher proposal a ‘landmark moment'

LA CROSSE, Wis. - A 1 a.m. announcement could change the face of public education in the state.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal back in February included a plan to expand school vouchers from two to nine districts in the state.

La Crosse was not one of them.

But the plan is changing.

After 10 hours of closed-door meetings, the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee announced its proposal to expand private school vouchers statewide.

Committee members voted on party lines, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 12-4.

Walker's previous plan allowed students in underperforming school districts to use state money to pay for a private school education. The new plan from the Joint Finance Committee would open that option up statewide, regardless of where students live.

It's a decision that could change the face of Wisconsin education.


"There probably, in the history of Wisconsin schools, has never been a more landmark moment than what we saw with the Joint Finance Committee and this decision that was made," said La Crosse Schools Superintendent Randy Nelson.

Voucher schools would get $7,210 for each K-8 student and $7,856 for each high school student.

Private schools like Aquinas Catholic Schools would decide whether to accept those vouchers.

"I think we would definitely be interested in pursuing it further," said Aquinas Catholic Schools President Dr. Kurt Nelson. "DPI has a set of rules in place for the current program in Milwaukee and Racine. I'll be curious to see if those same requirements stay in place or if the criteria change at all as it goes statewide."

Randy Nelson said this is a fundamental shift for the state.

"What makes this a watershed moment is that while this idea of vouchers has been one that's been around for 20-some years, it is also one that has never really moved forward because of the balance between church and state. And what this really does, is it breaks down that wall," said Randy Nelson.

But the idea is that the wall isn't broken down as long as the state doesn't deliberately allocate funding for a religious-based school; the family chooses where the state's money goes.

"So this really empowers parents to have those choices of deciding, 'What's the best school for my child and what's going to best meet their needs?' So we're excited about that. Really, the money follows the child. It's not directly funding religious schools," said Kurt Nelson.

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