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Madison School Board candidates 2017

School Board candidates Nicki Vander Meulen, left, Kate Toews, center, and Ali Muldrow participated in a forum at West High School in Madison on March 16.

Madison School Board candidate Ali Muldrow might be Republicans’ best advertisement for school vouchers in a part of the state that opposes them.

Whether Muldrow and her supporters realize that, though, is not entirely clear.

At a candidates forum last week, Muldrow seemed to endorse the use of vouchers, although she said public dollars shouldn’t go to religious schools.

Vouchers are a source of consternation in liberal, Democratic, teachers-union-friendly Madison. While “school choice”-advocating Republicans have repeatedly made more of them available in more places, Democrats see them as a way to strip funding from public education and undermine one of their main political supporters.

So it wasn’t terribly surprising that the day after the forum, Muldrow sought to clarify her stance. Turns out, she doesn’t support vouchers.

“Last night I was speaking to the need for compassion towards vulnerable families who feel underserved by the current school system and need new and better options,” she said in a statement. “However, I believe this is an argument to strengthen and reinvest in public schools — not privatization in any form, including vouchers — to make our schools more equitable and inclusive for vulnerable families.”

All of this might be written off as a rookie mistake. She is a first-time candidate for local office, after all, not a longtime federal office-holder with millions of campaign-messaging dollars at her disposal.

But Muldrow’s school-age daughter attends a private school, and that raises the kinds of questions you hear a lot from the pro-voucher crowd.

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Like: If public school isn’t good enough for Muldrow’s child, why does she think it should be good enough for children whose parents aren’t capable of sending them to private schools?

Muldrow told me she moved her older child out of the public schools because of “experiences that were not only negative, but were particularly racialized” and that with vouchers, “private schools retain the ability to discriminate and don’t have to provide the same services to students as public schools.”

That doesn’t mean she’d be OK with vouchers if private schools acted like public schools, though.

“I categorically oppose vouchers in all forms,” she said.

I don’t really have a problem with vouchers; they’re just another incarnation of government using taxpayer dollars to buy public goods or services from the private sector — from Pell grants to help pay tuition at private colleges, to county contracts with social services providers, to weapons and uniforms for the armed services.

A parent’s decision to send her kids to private school also shouldn’t preclude her from being a member of a public school board.

Muldrow said she doesn’t think her family is “entitled” to public money to send her daughter to private school, and that “private schools do not need to depend on public funds to support low-income families.”

And if every child who could benefit from private schooling was able to get a scholarship or had a family with the money to cover tuition, Republicans wouldn’t have much of an argument for vouchers anymore.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter

(@ChrisRickertWSJ).

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