Three Republican state senators announced Thursday they will only vote for Gov. Scott Walker’s budget if it includes a provision to expand the voucher school program.
Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, and Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, said in a statement their vote “depends solely” on expanding the state’s program that gives public school students a voucher to attend a private school.
“I have and will continue to support educational initiatives that create better options for parents and their children,” Vukmir said in a statement. “If schools are failing to meet expectations, it’s realistic for parents in those districts to be given a viable alternative for their kids.”
Farrow said like much of Walker’s budget, the Legislature will make adjustments to his proposal. Scott Rausch, a spokesperson for Farrow, said the senator is considering changes that would allow the expansion to receive the support of other senators, such as tying it to some mechanism other than school report cards.
At least three other Republican senators have criticized the voucher school expansion. Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, have said they oppose the expansion.
Since their announcement, Farrow, Gudex and Vukmir have not met with the legislators opposed to the expansion, Rausch said.
“Hopefully we can get them on board,” Rausch said. “We hope to have that discussion soon and reach a compromise with them.”
Walker’s budget proposes expanding voucher school programs to nine school districts, including Madison’s, and in districts that have more than 4,000 students and at least two schools that did not meet performance standards in the statewide report card system implemented last year.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Vukmir said lawmakers are also considering other changes to the budget proposal such as limiting the expansion to certain areas, increasing funding to public schools and using alternative measures to determine expansion, not the report cards.
“Everything is pretty much on the table, so it’s pretty open,” Vukmir said. “Report cards are one avenue we’re exploring and one area where you find common ground.”
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate criticized the three “Scott Walker Republicans” for their support of the voucher school expansion in a statement, which he said comes from the donations they have gotten from voucher school advocates.
Tate charged them with supporting a 30 percent funding increase in voucher schools while keeping public school funding flat.
“The plan to defund Wisconsin’s public schools has gotten a cold shoulder from Democrats and Republicans alike, so the special interests backing the disastrous plan are now calling in the favors that have come with hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Tate said.
Brian Pleva, American Federation for Children Wisconsin government affairs associate, said in an email to The Badger Herald the senators represent a few of the areas that Walker wants to expand voucher schools to in his budget.
“I applaud them for standing up for the families in their districts who want more educational freedom,” Pleva said. “It would be unfortunate if senators outside of these districts prevented the families living in those districts from getting the right to a quality education.”