The most effective argument against expanding Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program is how much it could cost, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Monday.
“We have to get out of the ideological warfare on this (issue) and let’s just talk dollars and cents, which resonates with just about everyone,” Burke said.
Burke’s comments were made to attendees of an invitation-only panel discussion at UW-Madison. About 40 people attended the event, which included National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García. The discussion was moderated by Wisconsin Education Association Council president Betsy Kippers.
Burke pointed to a $1.2 billion projected total annual cost of the voucher system if it expanded, which she said would likely be at the expense of programs and teachers in public schools.
“We’re all smart enough to realize that if there’s a certain amount of funding that is going to the voucher program, unless the taxes are raised to pay for that or it comes from another part of the budget, it’s going to come from the public schools,” Burke said.
“What we need to do is make sure every parent and every child has a great choice in their neighborhood schools.”
The cost estimate from the Department of Public Instruction is based on expanding vouchers to nearly 193,000 students from the current 27,000 level that costs $200 million annually, according to DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy. School districts lose per-pupil state funding when students leave the district to attend a private school with a voucher.
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In a statement, Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said, “Gov. Walker believes every child, regardless of their ZIP code, deserves access to a great education.”
Jim Bender, president of voucher advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin, said Burke’s comments were misleading because funding for the voucher program comes from state general purpose revenue.
“You can’t talk about taking money away from K-12, unless you believe that money belongs to K-12,” Bender said. “It’s not possessive of any one particular place.”
Eskelsen García, who expressed support for Burke, told the audience to look to her home state of Utah, where the Utah Education Association helped trigger a voter referendum in 2007 that successfully overturned a law that had passed in the state legislature that would provide any student with a school voucher.
NEA spokeswoman Staci Maiers said in an emailed invitation to Monday’s event that “Burke is getting ready to release her K-12 education platform, and she wanted to talk with real teachers and other educators — who are actually in the classroom with students — to find out how best to improve education.”
Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said there are no immediate plans for Burke to release an education plan, however.