A new coalition of conservatives, policy groups and advocacy organizations has begun developing a package of education goals for the coming legislative session — with expanded school choice as a top priority — that could play a considerable role in the upcoming race for governor this November.
Officials with the Wisconsin Coalition for Education Freedom say the goal is to give parents and students more options. But the proposals also stand in stark contrast to priorities laid out by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — setting up an education policy battle in the Nov. 8 election, in which Evers, a former educator and state superintendent who has opposed expanded private school vouchers, faces businessman Tim Michels, a Republican who has pledged to expand school choice offerings across Wisconsin.
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“The election is critically important,” said Susan Mitchell, a longtime advocate for school vouchers and founder of School Choice Wisconsin. “Gov. Evers, both as (Department of Public Instruction) superintendent and as governor, has repeatedly opposed the expansion of these programs. Tim Michels has made public a completely opposite sort of perspective, so it matters a lot in terms of getting things done.”
The coalition, launched Thursday, includes conservative groups Americans for Prosperity, Badger Institute and law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, as well as education stakeholders such as American Federation for Children, virtual education company K12/Stride, School Choice Wisconsin and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying organization.
The group did not provide specific legislative proposals, but officials told the Wisconsin State Journal the two biggest priorities will be “school choice for all families” and legislation seeking to establish a “Parental Bill of Rights,” letting parents sue a school district or school official if they don’t allow parents to determine the names and pronouns used for the child while at school, review instructional materials and outlines used by the child’s school and access any education-related information regarding the child, among other measures.
Evers vetoed a GOP-authored bill last session that would have extended those powers to parents, stating in an April 15 veto message he opposed it “because I object to sowing division in our schools, which only hurts our kids and learning in our classrooms.”
He also vetoed a measure that would have vastly expanded private school vouchers by eliminating the income limits in the statewide, Milwaukee County and Racine County private school voucher programs, as well as create a temporary education expense reimbursement program for public school students. A fiscal report estimated the bill could raise property taxes as much as $577 million.
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