Earlier this month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said he would support only a limited expansion of the state's voucher program, but late last night, the state’s Republican assembly voted to steeply increase the program’s budget -- a move some suspect had to do with the politician.
The governor is a staunch supporter of voucher expansion, and Christina Brey of the Wisconsin Education Association Council says she believes he influenced the assembly on their vote, despite the fact that he had said he would stick to what was previously agreed upon.
“I think it’s a given that since it is Scott Walker’s budget and he hasn’t been shy about the fact that he supports voucher expansion,” Brey told The Huffington Post. “I can say the assembly … have traditionally always followed the governor's bidding.”
At the same time, she notes that no one in the assembly has explicitly said that Walker influenced them.
School voucher programs allow students to attend private and often religious schools using public money. However, critics argue that by drawing students away from public schools and the funding that they bring, they decrease resources for public schools. Furthermore, while only children with families who make below a certain income are currently eligible for the Wisconsin voucher program, some critics worry that, like in other states, this income cap will be eliminated.
The vote over Wisconsin's vouchers comes after lawmakers reached a budget agreement that put a hard cap on the program's expansion. The agreement allowed 500 students to participate in a statewide voucher program in the first year of the 2013 – 2015 budget and 1,000 students to participate in the next year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes. In regards to the deal, Walker said "people should remain confident that the cap aspect of the agreement will remain," reports the outlet.
However, Wednesday night, the assembly voted on an amendment that would create a window by which 600 more students could enroll in voucher programs, according to a government memo.
These 600 students will effectively cost taxpayers an additional $4.2 million dollars, according to the memo -- money the state can't afford, schools chief Tony Evers says.
"Our children are caught in an ideologically driven expansion of school vouchers that is financially reckless and academically unproven," Evers said at a press conference, according to the Journal Sentinel.
In a Thursday press release, he voiced his opposition to the budget, calling it a " bad deal for public school students, the middle class, and Wisconsin."
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Wisconsin's Senate is expected to vote on the budget on Thursday evening, the Associated Press reports. If it is passed, it will head to Walker's desk.
UPDATE, May 21: The Wisconsin Senate passed the budget in a 17-16 vote just after midnight on Friday.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Let's Get It On: Wave Election Sweeps In Conservatives
In 2010, a surge of Tea Party momentum and backlash against Democrats helped elect conservatives including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/02/AR2010110208185.html" target="_hplink">became the state's first Republican governor since 2002</a>. Walker promised to cut taxes and create 250,000 new jobs, but <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/19/AR2011021904205.html" target="_hplink">a deeper look into his past</a> also showed a politician who had inflamed tensions with unions before.
Welcome To The Jungle: Clashes With Unions
After taking office, Walker <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/11/us-wisconsin-budget-unions-idUSTRE71A7FP20110211" target="_hplink">announced a number of controversial proposals</a>, including eliminating collective bargaining rights for state employees and reducing public employee benefits. <a href="http://www.wuwm.com/news/wuwm_news.php?articleid=7768" target="_hplink">He said the reforms were necessary </a>to prevent thousands of layoffs. Facing anger from unions, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/11/scott-walker-unions-wisconsin-national-guard_n_822225.html" target="_hplink">Walker threatened</a> to mobilize the state's National Guard in response to any disruptions. The announcement <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/wisconsin-governor-scott-walker-backlash-public-workers_n_823901.html" target="_hplink">was met with backlash</a> across the state.
Hush: Wisconsin Bans Collective Bargaining
The fight over Walker's proposed budget was contentious, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/20/wisconsin-democratic-senators-illinois_n_825748.html" target="_hplink">with Wisconsin Democratic state senators crossing state lines </a>to Rockford, Ill. in an attempt to stall the vote. In March 2011, Walker signed the budget, significantly <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-03-12-wisconsin-law-analysis_N.htm" target="_hplink">curtailing collective bargaining rights</a> for union-affiliated public employees. Thousands of protesters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/wisconsin-budget-protests_n_824213.html" target="_hplink">gathered in Madison</a>, and labor leaders and Democrats <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/11/scott-walker-signs-wiscon_n_834508.html" target="_hplink">vowed to fight back</a>.
We're Not Gonna Take It: Foes Organize
In the months following his signing of the bill, Walker's opponents organized, announcing their intention to recall the governor and his supporters. They <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/05/wisconsin-protesters-walkerville-tent-capitol-scott-walker-budget_n_871523.html" target="_hplink">erected a tent city</a> and believed they'd <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/07/scott-walker-wisconsin-election-supreme-court_n_846042.html" target="_hplink">won a surprise victory over</a> a conservative state supreme court judge, before amended voting totals from one county reversed the victory. Walker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/16/scott-walker-mistakes-policies_n_900820.html" target="_hplink">continued to defend his policy </a>but said he had made mistakes in the political execution.
Fake Empire: State Senators Face Recall
Wisconsin Democrats scored a victory in their attempt to unseat Republican state legislators when they defeated six "fake" Democrats <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/14/scott-walker-recall-_n_898116.html" target="_hplink">running in the party's primaries</a>. Four of the six Republicans targeted for recall <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/12/scott-walker-wisconsin-recall-election_n_925331.html" target="_hplink">held onto their seats</a> in the general election.
Let's Get It Started: Recall Effort Makes Ballot
Petitions to recall Walker and his lieutenant governor <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/27/scott-walker-recall-signatures-wisconsin-governor_n_1304091.html" target="_hplink">gathered nearly a million signatures</a> each, far exceeding the 500,000 needed. Election officials <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/scott-walker-recall-wisconsin-election-signatures_n_1389229.html" target="_hplink">ordered a recall election</a>.
Us Against The World: The Fight Moves Forward
Democratic candidates faced tough odds from the start. In an April 2012 report, HuffPost's Amanda Terkel <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/scott-walker-recall_n_1401143.html" target="_hplink">noted</a> that only two sitting governors had been recalled in U.S. history. Four Democratic candidates competed in the May primary, headed by former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Better Man: Tom Barrett Wins Primary
After a tough primary, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/tom-barrett-wisconsin-recall-primary-scott-walker_n_1501568.html" target="_hplink">Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett</a> bested three other Democratic candidates in an early May primary. Barrett's victory set up a rematch with Gov. Walker, whom he lost to by about five percentage points in the 2010 race.
Don't Stand So Close To Me: Walker, Barrett Neck And Neck
Less than 48 hours before the recall, Public Policy Polling (PPP) released a final poll, showing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/03/wisconsin-polls-scott-walker-recall-tom-barrett_n_1566788.html?ref=politics" target="_hplink">Walker with a narrow lead</a> over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. <a href="http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/06/walker-leads-by-3-points.html" target="_hplink">PPP</a>, a firm affiliated with the Democratic Party, compiled a final poll showing Walker at 50 percent support, three percentage points ahead of Barrett's 47 percent.
The Man Who Can't Be Moved: He Survives
After a whirlwind day of voting that featured <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/wisconsin-recall-overwhelming-turnout_n_1572386.html" target="_hplink">swarmed polling places</a> around the state, media outlets <a href="https://twitter.com/mpoindc/status/210186998009434112" target="_hplink">called the race for Walker</a> less than an hour after polls closed. Full election results <a href="http://elections.huffingtonpost.com/2012/wisconsin-recall-results" target="_hplink">here</a>.