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Lawmakers Break Promise Not to Fund Vouchers at the Expense of Public School Students

SUN PRAIRIE—Public school advocates all over the state have united again around the latest partisan maneuvering at the Capitol that will have a direct negative impact on public schools. The Republican majority seems poised to break a promise made last summer that public school children wouldn't be hurt by the expansion of the private school voucher scheme.

A last-minute amendment to Assembly Bill 751 would change the way the private school tuition entitlements are funded. Public schools would lose millions more dollars in teachers, programs and services as money comes directly out of their classrooms to pay for students who already attend private schools. Sources say the Education Committee is likely to take up that measure as early as Wednesday, Feb. 10.

This last-minute move gives education supporters little time to share their concerns about a game-changing proposal that never had a public hearing.

Another bill limiting when districts can go to referendum (in order to offset state aid cuts going to private schools) could be voted on soon. Assembly Bill 481 (and its partner Senate Bill 355) severely and negatively impact local control.

Taxpayers around the state are furious.

'All of the conversations, all of the polling, points to the fact that the people of Wisconsin do not want this. They want fully and fairly funded public schools. They do not want the failed experiments of Milwaukee forced on them,' says Jenni Hofschulte, a Milwaukee Public Schools parent. 'Legislators in Madison insist on expanding [vouchers], knowing it will dilute educational opportunities for all children statewide. It's wrong.'

Chris Hambuch-Boyle, an Eau Claire school board member, speaking as an individual said, 'Districts like Eau Claire that were good stewards of our tax dollars are being penalized for that now and have no leeway to pay for these vouchers. How does this help the 875,000 kids in public schools?'

Even districts without vouchers feel the impact. Steven Sedlmayr, superintendent of the Alma School District, explained, 'The tax bills are out and people are finding that the money's going directly to kids going to private schools. Property taxes are going up because of what [Republican legislators] did. It all boils down to hurting the kids in the public schools even more to pay for students to go to private schools.'

Kathryn Carley, a parent volunteer with Green Bay Advocates for Public Education, urges other parents to hold legislators accountable for doing what's right for children. 'This brazen attempt to take away parents' ability to support their child's school — when the state does not —shows how willing these lawmakers are to put their own private interests above our state's future. They strangle our budgets and rob our children of opportunities, expecting us to eventually give up the fight. Wisconsin parents are watching, and we will be voting come November.'

In Appleton, Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education (FCAPE) urged their neighbors to contact legislators. Like other advocacy groups around the state, they're calling on legislators to reject any amendments to the special needs vouchers trailer bill (AB 751) and to vote against any bill that limits local control of local schools (like AB 481/SB 355). What's at stake is nothing short of democracy, said Ann Muenster. '(Rep.) Robin Vos and those who will profit from robbing our public schools betray the public's trust.'

'When people in Madison play political games with our schools, kids lose and communities lose every time,' said Wisconsin Public Education Network coordinator Heather DuBois Bourenane. 'The time to speak out locally and come together as a state is now.' She urged all who agree to contact their elected officials (http://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/) and to connect with the Network at http://WisconsinNetwork.org or by emailing hdb@WisconsinNetwork.org.

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