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Milwaukee Vouchers Expansion Signals Cracks in Government Education

12:00 PM, Jul 1, 2011 • By JOY PULLMAN
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Despite the Wisconsin political circus of late, state Republicans have expanded the oldest voucher program in the nation within a much-needed deficit-cutting budget. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the bill Sunday. It included a provision axing the cap on Milwaukee's school vouchers program (previously set at 22,500) and expanding it to the entire district and the neighboring Racine school district.

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While Milwaukee and Racine residents have mostly registered excitement, the Racine Unified School District has sounded an alarm, announcing it will consider a lawsuit to stop the potential 250 children allowed in the program's first year from leaving its 21,000-student system. (The Racine program is capped at 500 students in its second year, and the cap expires in 2013.)

The district might better sound an alarm about its students, who register well below their peers' averages in every school subject at every grade level on state standardized tests. This outcome, of course, costs taxpayers $11,000 per year per child in the district, while the vouchers are limited to $6,400 or less.

This provision is the largest expansion in school choice in Wisconsin history, at a time when states across the country are following suit. Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice bet Jay Mathews of the Washington Post that at least seven expansions of school choice would occur in a year from their bet. Mathews is now underwater by 14, and the year isn't up.

Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz argue in the latest issue of National Affairs that centralized federal and state control of education and healthcare forebodes ill for the nation if it grows in tandem with those sectors of our economy, which are currently driving what economic growth we have and likely to continue doing so.

The Milwaukee vouchers expansion, as with the other cracks in government funding and control over education in the past year, says that foreboding may yet pass.

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News at the Heartland Institute.

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