06/20/2013 07:38 pm ET Updated Jun 21, 2013

Wisconsin Assembly Votes On School Voucher Expansion; Decision Upsets Critics


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.



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