Gov. Scott Walker told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that he is proposing Wisconsin's voucher school program expand in such a way that nine districts would immediately qualify, including Madison and Green Bay.
The expansion would only be allowed in districts that have at least two school buildings receiving a D or F grade on state report cards and have at least 4,000 students.
"Our goal, our incentive, is really less about choice schools and more about public schools in general, or schools overall, which is to give an incentive to make sure that every one of our schools are improving," Walker said.
Walker provided details of the plan in advance to the AP before releasing it publicly on Monday. It will be included in his budget delivered to the Legislature on Wednesday.
The plan is certain to unleash a tough fight.
The other seven districts that would immediately qualify under Walker's plan are Beloit, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Sheboygan, Superior, Waukesha, and West Allis-West Milwaukee.
Vouchers offer parents whose children attend poorly performing public schools financing to put their children in a private or charter institution.
Walker's current proposal offers any child in eligible districts the chance for a voucher. Walker said Monday he would consider scaling back that plan to target families sending their children to underperforming schools.
Walker said he sees vouchers as a way to improve schools.
"The best thing for them would be to make sure that there are no schools that fail to meet expectations, because if they have no schools that fail to meet expectations, then there won't be a choice program in Madison," Walker said.
Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education members blasted Walker's voucher plan, saying the governor's proposal would drain resources from schools and be devastating for public education.
"I see this as the beginning of the march toward privatization in our state, and I think that's something that everyone in our community should be concerned about," said Arlene Silveira, a school board member.
"This is a purely political and financial maneuver by a governor who is probably the Joseph McCarthy of education in this state," said Marj Passman, a school board member.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he also opposed expanding the voucher plan.
"There is really very little evidence that vouchers improve the quality of education for the kids who participate," Soglin said.
Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers said he is "deeply disappointed and saddened" by Walker's education budget proposals that include an expansion of the voucher school program and a small increase in aid for public schools.
Evers said in a statement Monday that Walker's budget won't increase spending on public education because he doesn't allow the revenue limit that governs spending to increase.
Evers also noted that while 40 percent of the budget is dedicated to public education spending, only 20 percent of the new money Walker intends to spend would go for that.
Walker's proposal would increase aid to schools by 1 percent but also allow the private voucher program to expand beyond Milwaukee and Racine.
The governor is introducing his budget proposal on Wednesday.