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Wisconsin Governor Again Seeks Choice, Both for Milwaukee and Across the State

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Gov. Tommy G. Thompson has once again asked Wisconsin lawmakers to provide parents with greater choice in the selection of their children's schools.

"We cannot be content with the status quo, nor can we be complacent when we know that not all of our children are receiving the best possible education," he said in his State of the State Message last week.

Noting that "some of our students, particularly those in Milwaukee's central city neighborhoods, are being left behind," Mr. Thompson asked the legislature to adopt a two-part proposal that he had unveiled at a White House meeting on choice last month. (See Education Week, Jan. 18, 1989.)

Under the proposal, students in grades K to 6 who live in Milwaukee County could use state money to attend any public or nonsectarian private school in the county. The program would be open only to those students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals under the federal school-lunch program.

Last year, the legislature declined to act on the Governor's pro4posal to extend choice to both nonsectarian and parochial private schools. At the White House meeting, Mr. Thompson said he had scaled back his program in response to "political realities."

The second part of the new proposal would create a statewide choice plan allowing students to transfer between districts that agreed to participate in the program.

Tuition Assistance

Mr. Thompson also outlined proposals that would help parents pay for their children's college costs.

Under one proposal, the top student in every public and private school in the state would be granted free tuition at any University of Wisconsin or state vocational campus for up to four years.

If a student wanted to attend a private college in Wisconsin, the state would match the level of the institution's own scholarship grant, up to a maximum of $1,700 a year for four years.

The Governor also called for the creation of a college savings-bond program that would allow parents to buy state-issued securities that would be exempt from federal and state income taxes.

Also in his address, Mr. Thompson asked the legislature to create "drug-free school zones." Under his proposal, those convicted of distributing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school would be required to serve a minimum sentence of three years before being considered for probation or parole.

Students and others convicted of possessing illegal drugs in one of these zones would have to give up their driver's license for six months and perform 100 hours of community service.--ef

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