Recalling a famous headline in the New York Daily News more than forty years ago, here’s the message to school choice supporters from Governor Scott Walker and Senator Alberta Darling:
One needs to go back a decade, when Democrats controlled state government, to find a time when school choice had fewer champions in the Capitol.
In crafting his election year budget, Walker blew off longtime supporters in the school choice community. Figuring their support is “baked in,” he rejected overtures aimed at increasing the number of high quality choice options and giving more choice to working class families.
The governor instead has focused relentlessly on a plan he calls “historic” to provide hundreds of millions in new dollars to K-12 public schools. He has visited dozens of public schools during the year in what amounts to a non-stop series of campaign appearances. When questioned about school choice by some skeptical teachers in LaCrosse, he quickly pointed out that his budget had “nothing” in it for school choice.
Now comes Darling, who yesterday told the Wisconsin State Journal she’s prepared to blow up a compromise on choice eligibility that would make families eligible if their income is at or below 300 percent of the poverty limit:
“This voucher program is for individuals who cannot afford to send their children to (private schools),” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance Committee. “We just felt that that was too high of an income to have taxpayers to be paying for options for vouchers … We felt at 300 percent of (the federal poverty level), there are a lot of people who are not considered low-income.”
While the 300 percent limit already exists in Milwaukee and Racine (approved in 2011 with Darling’s support), she thinks parents elsewhere in Wisconsin should be eligible only if their income is less than 185 percent of the poverty limit. (Under the 185 percent limit, a family of four can make up to $51,955 to participate. Raising the income limit to 300 percent would increase that allowance to $79,900.)
Governor Walker and Senator Darling have been major beneficiaries of support from the local, state, and national school choice movement. The decision to turn their backs on those supporters is quite a disappointment.