LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Beginning this fall, 65% of Milwaukee families will now be eligible to take part in the district's school voucher program. The expanded program removes the cap on the number of Milwaukee students eligible, which is based on their family's income, and starts up a new program in Racine.
The voucher program allows students in those districts to attend a private school using public funding. The voucher is worth $6,400 and will be paid by the state directly to the school of the family's choice. But some people question the constitutionality of this practice.
Lisa: "Public dollars in a religious, private school. Is that allowed? How can that happen?"
Governor Scott Walker: "Sure. The same reason the GI Bill allows you to go to the University of La Crosse or allows you to go to Marquette University. For an educational purpose, as long as it's accessible to anyone, which it is, it applies."
Some educators believe this issue will continue to be challenged across the country.
"I think what's been tested nationally, state-by-state, and I think for a long time to come.... it's going to be tested state by state... and that's going to be the constitutionality of that," said Randy Nelson, La Crosse School District superintendent. "Especially if those public dollars are being used to defray expenses for private or religious schools. This is not a new battleground in politics, and I think it will continue to be one state by state down the road."
In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Milwaukee school voucher program in 1998. So, some experts don't expect the program's expansion to be challenged in a courtroom.
As a result, plans for the voucher program will continue to move forward, and Governor Walker says the program has benefits for the entire state.
"In Milwaukee's case, they're spending about $15,000 per pupil. The state subsidizes a good chunk of that," according to Governor Walker. "So, that as the family that opts for the choice school takes the voucher and goes there, that's that much less the state has to pay to the Milwaukee Pubic School system. That money goes back into the school aid formula, and so that's more money distributed around to other schools around the state."
"Certainly, there sounds like there is validity to that financial argument... that this cost minus this cost equals a savings," said Nelson, "but I think that part of what misses the point here is that the cost to educate every child is not the same. And every student that comes to us has different needs, different situations and for some students there are significant costs to support that student's education."
And while there is still a fear among some educators that the school voucher system could be expanded to other parts of the state, Governor Walker says he has no intention of stretching the program beyond Milwaukee and Racine.
"You get to a smaller school district... if there's a bunch of kids that leave, they're not able to account for those dollars," said Walker. "They still have the same overhead. That's why we're not looking to expand to other places."
"Certainly that makes me feel better that hopefully they're being very thoughtful about how they would go forward with this," said Nelson.
And as they move forward, the governor says the school voucher system in the state's Southeast corner will impact the entire state.
"The other big benefit is just the fact that, long term, we improve the quality of education particularly in those low income areas whether it's at a choice school or by improving the public schools long term that means less cost when it comes to the economy, less cost when it comes to social services. It's a benefit to the whole state," said Governor Walker.