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Group pushes for expanding school-choice program in state

Published On: Feb 05 2013 07:17:58 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 05 2013 10:39:51 PM CST

BELOIT, Wis. -

Parents in Beloit could have the choice of sending their children to their neighborhood school or a nearby private school.

For decades, parents in Milwaukee have had the choice of sending their children to a public school or have those same state dollars pay for them to go to a private school.

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity said expanding the school-choice program statewide will allow all students an opportunity to go to a good school.

"We're just talking about it in general terms, and we want to hear from the communities. We want to talk to people in each community and hear what they think about it, and hopefully educate them on why it's a good idea," said David Fladeboe, deputy state director of the Americans For Prosperity Foundation.

Beloit was the first stop on the group's mission to encourage communities to consider the program.

"Just by geographical diversity and everything else, Beloit seemed to be a good place to start with," Fladeboe said.

Opponents of the school-choice program said it takes money away from public schools

"There's really no cry from the people of Beloit for a voucher program. There's no local demand. The demand is being fabricated by this out-of-state group that has no real connection with Beloit," said Ted Lewis with Rock Valley Educational Professionals.

Rock Valley Educational Professionals represents about 2,000 area teachers, including teachers in Beloit.

"The teachers are very offended that an outside group that doesn't have any local connections is trying to (push) something that has no local support," Lewis said.

Both sides are pointing to Milwaukee's school-choice program, but for different reasons

"It's cost effective. They're getting a good education, good graduation rates, and they're meeting proficiency standards. Could it be better? Absolutely. Recently it was added to Racine, and they are seeing some early successes, and we'd like to see the program expanded," Fladeboe said.

"Not only have those voucher schools not performed as well as the public schools, they've drained resources from the public schools, hurting those schools. So the experiment has failed in Milwaukee we don't need to expand it to Beloit," Lewis said.

While at an event Tuesday in Whitewater, Gov. Scott Walker weighed in on the issue.

Walker said he plans to invest more money in public schools. The exact amount will be unveiled later this month.

"My number No. 1 priority, both my kids went to public schools, is to support public schools, but in the rare instances when there's not a viable alternative, where families would otherwise be forced to go to a failing school, those are the limited number of cases we'd consider choice expansion."

After the Beloit stop, Americans For Prosperity is heading to Kenosha.

Opponents of expanding the school-choice program recommend citizens write to their local officials letting them know their stance on the issue.

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