School voucher debate heats up on Capitol City Sunday - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

School voucher debate heats up on Capitol City Sunday

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state budget passed by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday includes a provision which expands school choice to the entire state of Wisconsin.

Even though the expansion would be on a very limited basis for the next two years, it is still the most controversial part of that budget.  Its also the featured topic of debate on Capitol City Sunday this weekend.

The provision, which must still be passed by the State Assembly and Senate, would expand the program to the entire state by 500 students in the 2013-14 school year and to 1000 students the following year.

"With the caps being so tight it will depend on what kind of demand is felt around the state and how legislators react to that in the future," said Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin.

"Once we have this statewide expansion of vouchers, I see this as the dismantling of public schools," countered Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wausau), who is a former public school teacher.

Rep. Wright says she has no doubt the caps will eventually be eliminated, allowing unlimited taxpayer-funded vouchers to go towards private schools.

"Why should all taxpayers pay for a few people's choice?," asked Rep. Wright.  "I agree that all parents should have a choice, but right now they do have a choice within the public school system.  They can choose their neighboring school, they can choose a neighboring school district."

But Bender says open enrollment is not the answer for every student.

"In fact 40 percent of students with special needs that try to transfer from one school to another in the public school system are denied that right to do it," said Bender.

Then there is the argument of accountability and whether private schools will be held to the same standard as public schools.

"If this is the right move, then why don't private schools agree to certified teachers?," asked Rep. Wright.  "That's very simple.  Why don't they agree to mandatory reporting?" 

But Bender says the cold hard truth is that parents like school choice, even if the public school establishment doesn't.

"Because if parents are given that ability to control what's going on in the education of their children, then you take it away from the status quo and there are people who do not want to see that power taken away from the status quo," said Bender.

Capitol City Sunday airs at 9:00 a.m. right here on WKOW 27.

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