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School voucher budget item causes controversy

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MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Low-income students throughout Wisconsin could get state-funded vouchers to attend private schools in the coming years.

State Assembly Republicans put the item into the next state budget around 2 a.m. Thursday, just an hour before the Assembly approved it.

GOP leaders said they would expand Milwaukee’s 20-year-old school choice program to Racine this fall – but it would wait before doing the same in Green Bay.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed the actual language in the budget bill. It creates a formula for an undetermined number of cities to qualify for private school vouchers.

Jim Bender of the School Choice Wisconsin group said the formula would only make Racine eligible for vouchers right now. But Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said Governor Scott Walker could use his line-item veto power, and make vouchers available in all school districts as early as this fall.

Rossmiller said, “He could do great mischief with the language that’s in there.” And he said such a major changes deserves public hearings and lots of scrutiny – and it’s not something that should be sneaked into the budget in the middle of the night.

Walker says private school vouchers can teach poor children how to escape poverty. But those associated with public schools say it takes state aid away from them, and raises property taxes in their community.

The budget measure would make vouchers available in second-class cities where at least half the students can get free or reduced-priced school lunches. Wisconsin has 16 second-class cities.

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