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Walker: Performance should govern voucher growth

Published On: Jul 08 2013 10:04:51 AM CDT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said this week that future expansion of a new statewide voucher program should be based on whether students perform at least as well at voucher schools than they did in public school.

At issue is how to measure performance, the Wisconsin State Journal reported (http://bit.ly/14QMS0R ). Republican lawmakers say work on an accountability bill is underway, but Democrats say they're not convinced the GOP's talk about accountability will translate into real action

Vouchers allow public school students to attend private and religious schools using a taxpayer-funded subsidy. Enrollment outside of Milwaukee and Racine is capped at just 500 students next school year and 1,000 for every year after that.

The performance of voucher students should dictate the degree to which the program expands, Walker said.

"If the students are performing at or better than they were in the schools they came from, then that would be a compelling case to offer more choices like that to more families across the state," Walker said. "If the majority are not performing better, you could make a pretty compelling argument not to."

Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said work on an accountability bill is wrapping up. He said he hopes hearings will be held in late summer and early fall, with a bill sent to Walker by the end of the year.

"I hope that everyone comes away happy that this is the right thing to do," Olsen said. "The voucher people want a bill like this because they're only as good as their weakest school."

He said the bill will apply the report card system for public schools to voucher schools as well. It will also amend the report card for public schools.

The report card released last fall didn't measure high school student growth because it was based on a single test taken in 10th grade. The state budget the governor signed over the weekend expands high school testing to include grades 9 and 11. The accountability bill will make sure that future report cards include those tests, Olsen said.

Democrats have been openly skeptical about the progress of an accountability bill. Earlier this year Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, compared talk of a bill to the cartoon character Lucy van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

School Choice Wisconsin, a group that has pushed for an expansion of the voucher program, said the biggest sticking point for an accountability bill thus far has been making sure private schools are treated fairly. The group's president, Jim Bender, said if failing public schools are given funds to help improve, failing private schools should be treated the same way rather than be cut from the program.

"We are engaged in the process as long as there's equitable treatment, good data and specificity in statute," Bender said.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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