School Choice & Charters

Wis. Officials Flex New Power Over Milwaukee Vouchers

By Alan Richard — October 05, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Wisconsin is clamping down on its program that allows private schools in Milwaukee to receive state-financed tuition vouchers. In the process, the state is wading into the debate over the role states should play in overseeing private schools that accept taxpayer money.

This summer, state officials denied 21 schools access to the vouchers, which provide about $5,900 per student in tuition aid for private and religious schools to children from low-income Milwaukee families.

The excluded schools did not meet the rules of a state law passed in March that requires new schools in the voucher program to submit budgets, obtain building and safety permits, and provide financial training for employees.

Beyond the new rules for schools applying to accept vouchers for the first time, the law also requires financial reports from the more than 100 schools that were already receiving the tuition aid.

In July, Wisconsin state officials used their new oversight powers to boot two private schools from the program. It was the first time that a voucher school had been banned from the program.

The new rules are Wisconsin’s first significant steps toward greater oversight of private schools that use the vouchers. But some leaders want the state to go much further.

“It’s a bare minimum,” Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s deputy state schools superintendent, said of the new rules.

What’s more, sentiment has developed even among some private school supporters that some additional accountability may be appropriate.

Some state legislators, including school choice supporters, want additional safeguards such as criminal-background checks for employees in the participating private schools.

Oversight of recipients of state-sponsored tuition aid is also a concern for state leaders elsewhere.

In Florida, lawmakers this year failed to pass accountability measures for private schools that use their state’s school choice programs. No resolution was reached following debate on standardized testing and other proposals to ratchet up academic accountability for private schools that use state-sponsored vouchers. After two scandals erupted, however, Florida’s education commissioner put new financial controls in place. (“Supporters Debate Fla. Voucher Rules,” Jan. 14, 2004.)

Wisconsin state Rep. Scott R. Jensen, a Republican who helped write his state’s 14-year-old Milwaukee voucher law, said school choice proponents in Wisconsin, Florida, and other states still are figuring out ways for private schools to be accountable for public money and academic quality, while staying free of too much regulation.

“I don’t think a consensus has yet emerged,” he said.

Voucher Surge

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, vetoed a plan earlier this year to require criminal-background checks for employees in Milwaukee private schools using the vouchers. He said any plan to improve private schools in Milwaukee also should include help for public schools.

“Choice must be tied to more aid for public schools,” said Melanie Fonder, his press secretary, explaining Gov. Doyle’s position. (“Milwaukee Voucher Schools to See Increased Accountability to State,” March 24, 2004.)

Wisconsin also is seeing an enrollment surge in the voucher program that could force more changes in the law and an expansion of school choice in Milwaukee.

Voucher enrollment in Milwaukee easily topped 13,000 earlier this year. State officials expect the number to reach the maximum allowed under state law—around 15,000 students—in 2005.

That means Wisconsin legislators must raise the enrollment cap, eliminate the cap, or find a way to dole out vouchers under the cap.

“The program will crash if we don’t raise the enrollment, or eliminate the enrollment cap, because of the clumsy rationing system that is in the law,” Rep. Jensen said.

Under current law, Wisconsin would set voucher-enrollment limits for each private school in the program. “Hundreds, if not thousands of children will be thrown out of the schools they love” if that provision isn’t changed, Rep. Jensen predicted.

A state education department proposal to give preference to students already enrolled in the voucher schools, their siblings, and kindergartners drew fire at a public hearing on Aug. 4.

"[State officials] have put forward a fairly reasonable plan for which there is no legal authority,” Mr. Jensen said of the proposal.

Howard Fuller, an education professor at Marquette University and a former superintendent of the Milwaukee school system, agrees that the enrollment cap for the voucher program should be lifted.

“With what we’re trying to do in this community, to educate all of the children, this cap is an unnecessary and also a damaging type of policy,” he said. He added that he supports financial accountability and criminal-background checks in the private schools.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Wis. Officials Flex New Power Over Milwaukee Vouchers

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Opinion The Biden Administration Is Right: Charters Need to Be More Accountable
The proposed changes to the federal Charter School Program are just common sense, write Jitu Brown and Randi Weingarten.
Jitu Brown & Randi Weingarten
3 min read
Illustration of students and teachers holding puzzle pieces.
<b>F. Sheehan/Education Week and iStock/Getty</b>
School Choice & Charters What's Behind the Fight Over the Biden Administration's Stance on Charter School Funding
Proposed new rules for federal charter school funding have drawn the ire of many in the charter school community.
8 min read
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest as thousands of public school teachers, administrators and supports march through the streets of Sacramento during a protest held at the California State Capitol urging state legislators to provide more funding for public schools in Sacramento, Calif., on May 22, 2019.
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest during a march in Sacramento, Calif., that advocated for more funding for public schools in 2019.
Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP
School Choice & Charters Opinion Families May Like Their School But Want More Options. That’s Where Course Choice Comes In
Educational choices have grown inside each school as a result of the pandemic. Families should take advantage of this.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Mich. Public School Advocates Launch Effort to Stop DeVos-Backed Proposal
The former secretary of education is backing an initiative that advocates say would create an unconstitutional voucher system.
Samuel J. Robinson, mlive.com
4 min read
Student with backpack.
surasaki/iStock/Getty