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School leaders blast governor's voucher plan at hearing

Joint Finance Committee holds 3rd of 4 scheduled public meetings

LAKE DELTON, Wis. - Local school administrators at a public budget hearing Wednesday said Gov. Scott Walker's private school vouchers and funding proposals would cost their districts millions of dollars.

The comments came during the third of four public meetings held by the legislature's Joint Finance Committee about Walker's proposals. The committee will return to the Capitol next week to begin working on the budget.

Vouchers are a policy decision that doesn't belong in the budget process, said Tim Schell, director of instruction at Waunakee School District.

"Budgets are about leadership and about choice," Schell said during the hearing, held at the Kalahari Resort in Lake Delton. "In your time of choosing as a panel, act wisely for the future of Wisconsin and Wisconsin's children."

In Madison, where vouchers would take effect because there is more than one school deemed to be failing, administrators said Walker's plans would cost $37 million over five years.

"The current state budget proposal threatens Madison schools by cutting resources and taking away local control," Madison board member Ed Hughes said at a news conference that included new district superintendent Jen Cheatham.

But some parents at the Lake Delton hearing said they supported vouchers because they "let the parents make the decision" where to send their kids to school.

If the proposal went into effect today, Walker's plan would allow parents in nine districts -- including Madison and Beloit -- to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

"I think the key has been that more lawmakers have heard from families, both those who benefited from existing vouchers and from those who'd like to benefit," Walker said.

The voucher plan and a funding proposal that doesn't include increases for public schools face scrutiny in the state Senate, with two Republicans expressing concerns.

"I'm still cautiously optimistic that either what we propose or something close to that will be in (the final budget)," Walker said. He said he was open to exploring other options.

School leaders blast governor's voucher plan at hearing

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, has offered an alternative plan to provide private school parents with a tax credit. He said it goes further than Walker's proposal.

"A lot of these public schools are spending (thousands of dollars) of taxpayer money a year," Grothman said. "The idea that we'd help a parent who sends their kids to private schools with $1,500 or $2,500 is almost nothing."

Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, told WISC-TV last week he was "skeptical" the plan would gain enough support.

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