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Still no deal on school funding, vouchers

Co-chairs say it has been difficult to find agreement among Republicans

MADISON, Wis. - State lawmakers have delayed a vote on controversial education proposals in the state budget.

Two major issues were on the agenda for Wednesday, including school funding and expanding school choice programs. But the state's budget writing committee continued its work by delaying most education issues and the co-chairs say it has been difficult finding agreement among Republicans.

"We've got members from rural communities, members from declining enrollment communities, members from high poverty communities," said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. "All those different factors make it difficult to build a K-12 budget that as many of our members as possible can support."

Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, has been a key voice in the discussion, especially on the issue of allowing parents to get vouchers in districts with failing schools.

"Neenah for instance, I have 13 buildings and if two of those buildings get a D or an F (in the DPI report cards) then anyone in the Neenah school system is eligible to go into the choice program even though the school they're leaving is not a failing school," said Ellis. "That's totally unacceptable."

While there's still no agreement on a school choice plan, Ellis says Gov. Scott Walker has compromised on additional school funding.

"(Public schools) would get $150 (per student) the first year and $300 more in the second," said Ellis. "And we would raise the revenue control and do all of those things with only a minimal impact on the property tax."

The governor wouldn't confirm the agreement, but said an announcement would be made soon.

"I'm confident in the end we're going to have the ability to put more money in the public schools in the state and the ability to have more families than do today have the option to send their son or daughter to a school if they want an alternative," said Walker.

That's not enough for Democrats, who say schools should get $275 a year.

"We're hoping we can get $275 and pull all voucher expansion out of the budget," said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. "I think that considering the contention there is around vouchers, is to have a policy debate on its own. Let's not jam this through the budget."

The governor and Ellis say they think they could have a deal by the end of the week. Co-chairs of the finance committee are hoping to finish their work next Tuesday and they'll likely now have to take up school funding, taxes and medical assistance, all controversial issues, on the same day.

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