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Wisconsin State Capitol

The State Capitol in Madison.

MICHELLE STOCKER — The Capital Times

Area public education officials say the proposed statewide school voucher expansion would deal another blow to districts already reeling from past budget cuts.

“It obviously diverts much-needed funding,” said La Crosse schools Superintendent Randy Nelson, calling the expansion part of “a national movement, it appears, to privatize our public schools.”

The state Joint Finance Committee approved the voucher expansion early Wednesday as part of the proposed 2013-15 budget.

A provision to make  private tuition tax deductible will further siphon state funds, he said.

Nelson described public schools as “good soldiers” when the state slashed almost $1 billion for public education two years ago.

“We lined up and said, ‘OK, we get it. You’ve got to balance the budget,’” he said. “It is just surprising that it’s happening again.”

Private schools, however, praised the move.

“It’s nice that it’s not just bound by where you live,” Aquinas Catholic Schools President Kurt Nelson said, calling the tax deduction “a huge help to our families.”

The change would “certainly expand the opportunity for parents to consider enrolling their child at Luther,” Onalaska Luther High School principal Paul Wichmann said.

The proposed voucher expansion is similar to a deal made public last week, extending the program beyond just Milwaukee and Racine but capping statewide enrollment at 500 students for the coming school year and 1,000 for 2014-15. Enrollment can’t go higher than 1 percent of the students in a public school district.

But legislators before Wednesday’s vote had not previously openly discussed the tax deduction, which would take away an estimated $30 million a year.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat on the Joint Finance Committee, blasted the “middle-of-the- night, last motion,” adding, “I don’t think people were able to weigh in.”

She criticized the move as “misplaced priorities” and “privatizing education.”

But Nelson of Aquinas had hoped for a higher cap.

“I think the 500 is a little low,” he said, “particularly when it’s a statewide program.” Aquinas  could add up to 232 students under the 1 percent cap, he said.

He disputed the idea vouchers represent a state endorsement of religious institutions.

“The voucher is going to the parents, and parents are making the choice,” he said. “We see it as the state isn’t cutting a check to private or religious schools.”

La Crosse Superintendent Randy Nelson didn’t buy that logic.

“At the end of the day, the taxpayer dollars are subsidizing that religious institution,” he said. “For a long time, we thought that was wrong.”

He also sees the move as an organized attack on public education.

“Given the fact that Wisconsin is only the fourth state in the union to adopt a voucher program … we seem to be trailblazers on this in a state that, by virtually all academic measures, has strong schools,” Randy Nelson said.

“That’s what makes me think that there are bigger things in play. It appears that there’s a significant amount of political influence on the issue coming from outside our state.”

State Rep. Lee Nerison, a Westby Republican who previously spoke against a statewide voucher expansion, wouldn’t say Thursday whether it would be enough to swing him away from party lines. He instead focused on the proposed enrollment caps he said “scaled back” the program.

“You only get one vote,” Nerison said. “There’s a lot of other things in the budget, too; there’s always things in the budget you don’t like.”

Rural school districts that have a smaller community tax base and depend more on state aid will be especially hard hit, Westby Superintendent Charles Norton said.

“The pain is a little bit stronger for us,” he said. “We are down to the bone. There is no fat, so to speak, to reduce.”

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(44) comments

hammer

It makes me sick to my stomach to see the governor dismantling our fine public schools brick by brick.

LAXTEA

You are simply parroting the teacher's union hysteria. Competition will either IMPROVE the government schools or shrink them. It's your choice.

Opus

Education isn't about "competition". You simply can't accept that public dollars are for public education.

Balancr

Another eventual kiss of death for the GOP.

LaCrosseBadger

I'm an athiest who would love to send his kids to Aquinas if I can make it work financially. Yes they'll hear Catholic theology to some extent but the bottom line is Aquinas repeatedly beats the pants off our public schools in terms of academics and outcomes of its students and the good outweighs the bad. Fine, have public schools be the default but let parents (not 1%, but ALL parents) have freedom to decide where their kids go. Can you imagine how awesome Aquinas (and Luther, and probably some alternative schools which would spring up) would be with public tuition vouchers plus parents who care enough to spend money on their kids' education?

ChopChop

If you want to send your kids there then you pay for it!

Just me

Excellent post Badger. I thought that the United States is the land of Freedom of Religion or no religion for that matter.

I personally do not want private schools to take any money from the government because it will only lead to the government adding regulations to the schools and telling them what they can or cannot teach.

LAXTEA

The government took that same money from the private sector. You were OK with that though?

comonsense

laxtea big spending republican. How much is this going to cost ?

LAXTEA

Not a republican, never have been. But this will not "cost" anything. If you take a kid out of the government schools which cost ~12K per year to "educate" him/her and give them a $7K voucher and send them on their way the government schools come out $4K ahead no? Maybe it's not about the money, maybe it's just about the fear of their monopoly falling apart and teachers actually having to perform for a paycheck?

Opus

"Yes they'll hear Catholic theology to some extent but the bottom line is Aquinas repeatedly beats the pants off our public schools in terms of academics and outcomes of its students and the good outweighs the bad."
Care to back up that statement about "beating the pants off our public schools" with any data?

LAXTEA

Of course Aquinas does a better job educating, every rational person accepts that. Let's go back to the communist theories WHY it is so like "they don't have to accept the minority kids".

Opus

No LAXTEA, you have to do better than that.

FUBAR

A school can "beat the pants" off of any school when you get to pick and choose your students. Aquinas is not taken the kids from the bad part of town, well maybe if they are good at sports they will.

FUBAR

Again, private schools outperform public schools because they get to pick and choose their students. They don't have to accept the troubled kids from bad neighborhoods. Both of my kids attend public school and I feel that in most cases the teachers are doing a fine job and some do not. I feel the biggest problem in the Public School system is the inability to remove teachers who have settled for mediocrity. Teachers should be evaluated every year and removed from their teaching positions if they don't meet the standards. Removing the teacher's union would fix the Public School system.

Talulah3

I would put the top 20% of students from both Logan and Central up against the top 20% of Aquinas students anytime, and I say this as an Aquinas graduate.Aquinas is not all it is cracked up to be.

ChopChop

So, more taxpayer subsidizing of private, for profit, religious "education". It's just more republican "capitalism". The right wing just can't race to the bottom fast enough!

Bill Payer

So will this mean private schools will have to play by the same rules as public schools if they accept public money? Will schools like Aquinas have to open their books? Allow the public into their board meetings? Hold referendums when they want to remodel/expand? Do staff members become WRS eligible? Do they have to ban prayer in school?

LAXTEA

Not at all. We are simply subsidizing the student's education like pell grants and every other entitlement program for students. We don't ask for an audit of your books to see where you spend your money just because you get foodstamps. We don't tell you where you have to go to church just because you get a welfare check.

Just me

For all those that are opposed to school vouchers, what if a public school teacher says something in a public school that either endorses a religion (even athiest views) or political group? If you are consistent that no religion should be endorse by the government, the teacher either has to be fired or the public school has to have its funding pulled.

Opus

A very silly argument, Just me.

Just me

Why?

People are arguing that if the private schools receive funding that they should have to open the books and be more open to the public which I agree with. However, they do not want to have the public schools kept to the same standards. I just want people to be consistent in their arguments. If they do not want to fund private school by vouchers because the do not want to fund religious beliefs then they have to hold the public schools and the public school teachers to the same standards.

Opus

The problem with your argument, Just me, is one of interpretation. Especially in our charged political climate, anything a teacher says about any current event can be interpreted as pushing their own personal political agenda. The same can be said about religion. If the accusation is found to be true, administrators step in with reprimands or dismissals if warranted.

The real issue here is the use of public tax dollars being used for private education. It is not about the education of our children it is about Walker gaining more political clout.

Just me

@ Opus

Once a teacher says "I believe ...", "The Democrats/Repulicans are right/wrong ..." etc., they have crossed the boundaries between teaching our children facts and teaching personal beliefs. This is wrong.

Frangel45

Opus - not really! They want my tax dollars they play by the public rules - and this tuition tax deduction is absolutely WRONG!! The arrogance of these proponents is unbelievable. I haven't spoken to one friend or neighbor who is in favor of this whole outrageous idea.

LAXTEA

Interesting headline from the Fibune. "Public criticism and private praise"? Are you talking about who the criticizers are PAID by? The public employees are frightened of any market forces in their "profession", while privately employed people understand that competition is good.

Opus

I believe they were referring to the administrators that were quoted in the article.

Public school employees are not "frightened of any market forces". The voucher program has nothing to do with "market forces." What it really is about is buying influence for elections. Why else would public tax dollars be used for private enterprise. Education has NOTHING to do with competition.

You really are a simpleton, LAXTEA.

LAXTEA

Listen to them shriek when you mention school choice! They are terrified of having to produce results.

You are close. Public Education has nothing to do with competition. But private schools are competition for them. When people see the results from private schools more and more will opt out of the government indoctrination.

Deadwood subscriber

True fact: laxtea supports redistribution of wealth.

lookout

Mr Nelson of Aquinas school says the money goes to the parents, it isn't as though the state is writing a check to the private religous schools. Does he think people are stupid. The money would go to some religious schools, some would go to for profit schools. So the state is in affect giving people who want to start a for profit school an open check where the money will never stop. Making a few people alot of money of the tax payer. The state would also be supporting religion which is suppose to be seperate from any state or federal government. JUst because the checks go to the parents, doesn''t mean the state isn't supporting them. Their just doing it in a round about way. It's like a card trick meant to try an fool people.

takka

Wake up Wisconsin before it is too late. Dump Walker and his Tea Baggers!!

Simon

veteran your benefits are next

The Veteran

Maybe none of this would have happened if the teachers would have had more concern for the students rather than their union benefits.

hammer

Small-minded comment.

shameless

Are you surprised? The Vet adds little to any conversation.

CelticMan

Kurt Nelson -- great job espousing the Catholic values of protecting the least of your brothers. How about the poor, less-educated parents who are unable to jump through the hoops to enroll their kids? What about the learning-disabled kids that you have no staff to educate? What about the kids whose parents can't contribute to the foundation, who can't support your churches, etc.? What about the kid whose behavior is awful, so bad that you want to send him back to a public school?

Oh, yeah, all those kids get sc#re#we#d even worse because they gut stuck in the stripped-down public schools that have lost funding, good role model students, parents who do care and participate more, etc.

Oh, yeah, those behavior problem children? You can just send them back to the public schools after the "Third-Friday count" and keep the funding.

Those EBD/LD/CD kids? You can take the money, provide no services, and then when the parents catch on, they switch their kids back, but you keep the $$$

LAXTEA

^^ Hissy fit ^^

shameless

^^Small minded web developer^^

Just me

While I'll admit that there are some great public school teachers out there, I can no longer support the system because of the teacher's union. They have fought for their needs rather than the needs of the students.

Frangel45

Just me - OMG when will you ever come up with another organization to whine about. I have never been a union member but let me remind you that unions have done a lot to create a once prosperous United States economy. They prevented the abuses oppression that companies are once again engaging in with workers. Get over this hate of the unions and public schools. Our country is heading to a very slippery slope of poverty and uneducated people. This is what brings down successful civilizations - when was the last time you cracked an honest history book?

Just me

Did I say I was against all unions, Frangel45? I do not believe I did, but I did say I was against the teacher's union.

Celtic mention, "good role model students, parents who do care and participate more, etc." Maybe the good parents that care and and have the good student role models are tired of being undermined by the public school system and the teacher's union. Parent's that teach students to be respectful of authority and work hard in school may also teach things such as abstinence as well which means they are probably against sex education in the public school system.

They may also believe in hard work and doing well in school and that 2 + 2 = 4, but the public school system thinks that it is more important that a student feels "good" about himself or herself.

P

Mr Bluejeans

Of COURSE private/religious schools are delighted with this move. Free $$$$ from Uncle $cotty to promote religion at public expense.

I find it hard to understand how this will benefit public education .... oh, wait, this isnt an attempt to IMPROVE public education, just make it dysfunctional enough voters will abandon it all together as *unworkable* (a conservative goal for anything associated with government). It remains to be seen if private education is any better for the future of our democracy - well educated kids - compared to a good quality public education available to everyone.

This is the educational equivalent to living in a gated community, where you dont have to sully yourselves by associating with *those types*. This is the antithesis of democracy, a backhanded way for public support of religious education.

hammer

Perfect.

Frangel45

Mr. Bluejeans - Yes, you have it exactly right. We must defend public education and not allow those well off to siphon off tax dollars to augment the tuition costs of private education - this is another entitlement that the rich want. Conservatives have wanted to do away with public education as long as I can remember - there was a big push in the 20's and 30's and now again. I can't imagine why they think a class system such as this will create is good for our economy and country. It all comes back to greed and selfishness which the tea party and conservatives wear well.

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