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Wisconsin Expands Private School Voucher System

In yet another controversial move, Wisconsin's Republican-led legislature has approved a potentially major expansion of the state's voucher system.

Lawmakers gave their blessing to the school-choice proposal well after midnight on Thursday, according to reports, as part of their approval of a state budget that makes major cuts to K-12 funding. Gov. Scott Walker, who supports the plan, argues that the highly contentious changes he and legislators have made to collective bargaining earlier this year will save local districts money over time, to help them overcome losses in state aid.

The legislation would expand the state's voucher system beyond Milwaukee to allow school districts to participate if they met certain financial and other criteria. It would also expand eligibility for vouchers to families with greater household incomes, according to the state's department of public instruction.

Currently, Racine is the only new district meets those criteria laid out in the legislation, the department said, though others could become eligible in the future. Despite the legislative action, Republican legislators apparently have some misgivings about having created the possibilty of a broader expansion of vouchers, and are intent on approving an additional law to ensure that the school-choice program does not grow beyond Racine, according to the Miwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The measure now goes to Gov. Walker, whose office told me he will sign it. The voucher expansion drew a blistering response from Wisconsin state schools superintendent Tony Evers.

"Once again in the middle of the night, the majority party in the Assembly voted to expand taxpayer-funded vouchers for religious and private schools," Evers said. "Wisconsin is now set to expand vouchers for private and religious schools, while making a catastrophic $1.6 billion cut in funding for public schools."

Over time, he said, residents of affected districts, "and potentially all school districts, could end up with vouchers, without any voice or vote in the process."

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