Gov. Scott Walker’s ambitious plan to expand taxpayer-funded private schools faltered in the Legislature on Wednesday, with several influential GOP lawmakers making clear the proposal would need major changes to pass.
The lawmakers from the governor’s own party largely acknowledged that some expansion of voucher schools will pass the Legislature in the coming months. But the legislators – who included the top two Senate leaders and chairmen of the Legislature’s education committees – said the expansion would be different from the proposal Walker laid out in his budget bill last month.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said a majority of GOP senators do not support Walker’s proposal as currently written. Fitzgerald said that he called a meeting held Tuesday with Walker’s aides, Assembly Republican leaders and representatives of voucher schools to see if a compromise proposal might be worked out.
“Some people in our caucus looked at what the governor proposed and said, ‘Hmm, let’s maybe think about that,’ and I must say the governor was open to that. He’s not dug in on anything,” Fitzgerald said of changes to the governor’s budget.
Walker is seeking to increase funding for voucher schools, expand them to nine new school districts in the state and allow special-needs students from around the state to attend private schools at taxpayer expense. At the same time, he wants to provide $129 million in new state aid to public schools over two years but keep schools’ spending in state aid and property taxes flat, ensuring that the state money will be used to lower local property taxes.