Time is running out for the Legislature to limit the expansion of Wisconsin's private school voucher program.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers have said they would change state law to prevent the program from expanding beyond Milwaukee and Racine, but on Thursday the Assembly passed up another opportunity to take up a bill to limit the program.

During the floor session, Democrats tried to bring the bill up for a vote, but Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald told them they were "jumping the gun" and that there was still time before the session ends in mid-March. 

"We'll see what happens," he said.

Fitzgerald's spokesman John Jagler declined to elaborate on why the bill hasn't come up for a vote, but reaffirmed the bill is not dead.

If the law isn't changed, vouchers could be available in Green Bay and Menasha as early as the 2013-14 school year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Madison likely wouldn't become eligible in the near future because of the city's high property values.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, would limit the voucher program for now to Milwaukee and Racine, preventing school districts that overlap other "second class" cities, such as Madison, Green Bay, Appleton and others, from joining the program without further legislative review or local input. Currently school districts in those cities would qualify for vouchers if they meet additional criteria.

Students living in eligible districts can receive $6,500 a year in state funds to attend a private or religious school.

State Superintendent Tony Evers has twice called on the Assembly to pass the bill saying Republican legislators promised to make the changes during last year's budget deliberations. And last week lobbyists representing school boards and superintendents called on Walker to urge Assembly Republican leadership "to pass this legislation and honor your promise to the people."

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor "has always supported this bill, has done so publicly and communicated that support to the Legislature."

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Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, the Senate president, said he, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, author of the bill, and a Walker aide agreed last summer to approve legislation to limit the program to Racine.

"It's a very delicate situation," Ellis said. "There are certain people in the Assembly who don't agree. They want a wide-open voucher program."

Ellis wouldn't say who is opposed to the bill, though he said Vos isn't one of them.

"He's running into a roadblock," Ellis said of Vos, who didn't respond to a request for comment. Vos told reporters Thursday there was still a month in the session and he presumed the bill would pass.

Rep. Steve Kestell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, which approved the bill 6-3 on Nov. 16, said he thought the bill was a done deal.

"If it doesn't pass some people are going to have some explaining to do," Kestell said.

Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, one of the three Republicans who voted against the bill in committee, said the voucher issue continues to divide Republicans.

"It has not been a clear-cut situation if that vote is scheduled that it will have enough votes to pass," Mikalsen said.

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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