The added funding comes from a $250 per student special funding stream for school districts in the second year of the budget, according to the legislation package proposed by Republican co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee.
At the same time, the 1,000-student cap on the statewide voucher program would be lifted and students with disabilities would be eligible to apply for vouchers for the first time under a separate program. No more than 1 percent of a school district’s enrollment could receive vouchers, however.
The plan assures that private schools receiving school vouchers would receive about $7,200 for each K-8 student and about $7,800 for each high school student, the committee leaders said Tuesday. Walker’s proposed expansion would provide schools considerably less per student.
The voucher expansion would be paid for in a manner similar to the state’s open enrollment program for public schools — tax money would follow a student from the public district to the private voucher school. The plan could ultimately cost school districts about $48 million over the biennium, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo drafted last week for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The package also proposes to adopt Walker’s budget language that prohibits the state superintendent from promoting the Common Core State Standards, and from adopting new academic standards created by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, though there are none in the works.
Special-needs vouchers would allow parents of children with special needs to use taxpayer money to send their child to a private school. Standalone bills have been defeated twice in recent years, in large part because every established advocacy organization for those with disabilities have opposed the bills in public hearings.
Their chief concern: Private schools are not obligated to follow federal disability laws. They point to examples in other states where, in their view, under-qualified operators have declared themselves experts and started tapping taxpayer money to serve such students.
Critics also say the proposal would erode taxpayer funding for public schools.
The GOP proposal would also phase out the Chapter 220 school integration program, put the Milwaukee County executive in charge of some low-performing Milwaukee Public Schools, create an alternative system for licensing teachers and require that high school students take the civics test given to those applying for U.S. citizenship.
Another provision would allow home-school students, virtual school students and private school students to participate in public schools’ athletic and extracurricular programs.
The plan would also reshape how the Racine Unified School Board is constituted, requiring it to have members representing different regions of the school district. Some of the students in that district are represented by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).
Republicans were able to come up with more money for public schools and voucher schools in part by making a $105.6 million payment to public schools in July 2017 — outside of the two-year spending plan they are developing. That means the payment wouldn’t be counted in the budget lawmakers are writing, even though taxpayers would ultimately bear those costs.
The funds will restore a $127 million cut next year that was proposed in Walker’s budget, and will provide an additional $100 per pupil in state aid the following year.
“It was really a challenge, but it was everybody’s first priority, and we made it,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.
Darling and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Republicans also plan to move forward with a statewide expansion of the voucher program, capped at 1 percent of the students in each district.
The expansion would be modeled after the state’s open enrollment system, and would increase the amount of per-pupil aid for taxpayer-funded voucher schools to $7,200 per K-8 student and $7,800 per high school student.
That expansion will change the amount of funds that public schools receive, but Darling and Nygren declined to say by how much it could be.
“We don’t want the schools to suffer,” Darling said. “What we want to do is have the strongest education system we can for every child.”