(WORT) — Shortly before midnight during last Thursday’s marathon floor session, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) introduced an amendment that he said would correct a “technical flaw” in last year’s state budget.
According to Vos, this flaw allowed school districts to raise property taxes to compensate for any reduction in funding for students taking part in the state’s recently expanded voucher program.
The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program subsidizes private school tuition by redirecting state funds reserved for public school students to private schools in the form of voucher.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the 142 school districts that lost students through the voucher program this school year generated a total of $5 million in revenue beyond the amount lost in aid for those students.
Vos says his amendment simply prevents school districts from pocketing the difference for children they don’t teach.
“The bill that we’re adopting today ensures that we do not have property tax payers paying for a skim to allow districts to keep the revenues when they’re not educating the child,” said Vos on the Assembly floor Thursday night.
But opponents say the amendment changes the way private schools get funded and further limits the ability of public schools to keep their doors open.
Representative Sondy Pope Roberts (D-Cross Plains) says the amended bill was one of the most important votes the Assembly cast during its last day in session. She criticized Vos for introducing it just before midnight, calling it “dishonest politics and terrible policy.”
“They said [the voucher program] would be paid for by the state and the school districts wouldn’t take a direct hit,” said Pope. “But this changes that.”
Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) blasted the amendment as a handout for special interests.
“These private schools don’t have to abide by federal law that requires special curriculum and certain accommodations for students with special needs,” Taylor said.
Policy Director of Wisconsin Family Ties Joanne Juhnke says advocates for those with disabilities overwhelmingly oppose vouchers for students with special needs.
“Students who take special needs vouchers lose their rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” said Juhnke. “[The law] does not apply in private schools the way it does in public schools.”
The amendment introduced by Vos was approved in the Assembly 56-37 with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition. This sends the bill back to the Wisconsin Senate which approved an earlier version of the bill on Tuesday.
According to Vos, Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) has agreed to have the Senate consider the amended bill when they reconvene in March.