Parents consider impact of public school voucher expansion

MMSD looks at later start times for middle schoolers

Parents are now considering what Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to expand school vouchers in the state will mean to their families.

The governor proposed Tuesday night to lift the statewide cap on the voucher program and allow any family below 185 percent of the poverty line to pull out of public schools and go to private schools with taxpayer dollars.

In a small class of first and second-graders, Isabela Sierra is one of 10 students at Lighthouse Christian School in Madison on a state-funded school voucher. Lighthouse is the only school in Dane County currently getting vouchers for low-income families under the capped 1,000-student system.

Isabela’s parents, Marcio and Tia Sierra, are the pastors and director of the school. When they received the voucher, they said they used the tuition to help others get in to the school.

“The voucher was just a blessing,” Marcio Sierra said. “There’s a lot of parents who want to bring their children here and not necessarily because they’re against the public school. It’s just they like the values, like the system, like the small setting and classrooms.”

Anna Moffit has three kids in public school at Thoreau and Midvale elementary schools in Madison, including first-grader Felix, who has autism.

“There is no private school that will ever accept my son,” Moffit said. “If I lose our public school then my son has no school.”

Moffit said she’s concerned about the quality of some voucher schools and simply pulling money out of public schools.

“My main concern is that right now we are at a 20-year low in funding for public education so our public schools are already in a state of crisis,” Moffit said.

Sierra disagrees and said vouchers are really about choice.

“We pay taxes also,” Sierra said. “Nothing against public schools, but we decided we wanted our children to come here. So why not use the vouchers and receive the help from the state like every other parent is receiving help?”

The plan faces an unclear future in the Legislature, with both Republicans and Democrats concerned about the funding structure in the plan.

The governor defended the plan in interviews Wednesday, calling it “a workable” plan.

Madison’s Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham blasted the school choice proposal in a statement Tuesday night.

Wednesday she said changes proposed would make it difficult, if not impossible, to do what is right for the district.

“When the announcement like the one that that we heard last night occurs, there’s no doubt that it feels like a punch to the stomach,” Cheatham said.

Cheatham called the political environment at the Capitol unsettling and distracting, and said the expansion of vouchers is very concerning to the future of the school district’s budget.