Gov. Walker’s proposed education budget would expand school vouchers to nine other communities. His budget would slightly increase funding to school districts, but, because he would not lift the revenue caps, districts would be required to lower property taxes resulting in zero increases for school district spending per child. Other provisions are not particularly public school friendly.
One expects that pro-public education supporters would pan much of Governor Walker’s education budget. But key moderate Republicans are balking at the plan as well, notably Senators Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) and Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). So what is Walker thinking? Does he actually think he can get this education agenda through the Wisconsin Senate?
The first theory is yes, he can win. He has the votes in the Assembly. In the Senate all the Democrats are united against vouchers with the exception of Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee). But as one pro-public education lobbyist told me, both Ellis and Olsen talked tough against the Governor before only to cave in later. In the end, moderate Republicans can always say that they are voting to the whole budget in general even if there are particular elements they don’t support. Some of those elements could be the Governor’s education agenda.
Then there is the pile of money theory. Walker and the rightwing have so much money that they can flood the airwaves with ads extolling the virtues of their budget. Shouldn’t every parent have the right to choose their child’s school? Wouldn’t you like a tax refund? The danger of this strategy is that the public might actually pay attention to the issues. The more they are educated into the voucher program, the less likely they are to support it. Ellis has already made it known that the one reason he likes the idea of having communities vote on whether they should institute vouchers is that no community, given the choice, has ever voted in favor of vouchers. So big money being poured into the Walker education agenda might actually backfire. But rightwingers often believes that if they talk loud enough and long enough, they can convince people on the other side, or at least wear them down until they cry uncle.
The most common theory is that Walker’s education budget is just a starting point which will allow him to swing to the center showing his willingness to work will all sides. Perhaps the Republicans will increase additional funding for public education by, let’s say, $150 per child. Walker hopes some pro-public education supporters will kiss his feet for coming around on school funding. But the big money will still go for school vouchers.
Maybe nine additional cities will not be added to the voucher system, but the Governor might get his statewide special education voucher system, more money will go to existing voucher schools and additional entities will be authorized to charter schools.
By this past Friday, Gov. Walker was already talking compromise. “There’s never been a budget passed without modification … I expect there’ll be improvements made,” Walker told Wispolitics. In the same article, Olsen floated the idea of vouchers for students assigned to individual “failing” schools rather than being applied to the entire district.
Supporters of privatizing public education have spent decades piecing together small victories. Pro-public education supporters may cheer if Walker doesn’t score a touchdown in expanding vouchers to nine additional cities, but in the end, the voucher proponents will have moved the agenda just that much closer to the goal line and a state-wide voucher system.