“This is a big deal.”

That’s how Journal Sentinel education columnist Alan Borsuk described the expansion of Wisconsin’s nascent program of special education vouchers in his end-of-the-year report on major K-12 news from 2017,  

With a huge lift from State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), the legislature strengthened the special education program originally enacted in 2015. State Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown) was a key Vukmir ally of in getting the program off the ground.

As explained by Borsuk:

[W]ith all Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, [the Legislature] eliminate[d] complex rules for getting a “scholarship” for special education students attending a private school…[I]t will be much easier to join the program and there will be no cap on how many students can participate. Schools can potentially receive $18,000 or more a year per student. The program is small now…but my bet is that participation will grow quite a bit in coming years.

With National School Choice Week kicking off today, it is fitting to credit Vukmir, Jagler, and legislative Republicans for extending a lifeline to parents seeking options for children with unique learning challenges. According to Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin, “Leah, as a member of [the Joint Finance Committee], was really the key legislator down the stretch.”

Vukmir’s role builds on her decades-long pedigree as a strong backer of expanding parental education options. Long before her 2002 election to the Assembly, she was immersed in the school choice coalition that first produced results in the 1990s.

As I wrote previously at RightWisconsin, Vukmir played a pivotal role in 2006 when a vital measure to lift the Milwaukee school choice enrollment cap faced a pivotal vote in the state Senate. Then-Senator Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) from Wauwatosa was a holdout. Vukmir played hardball, telling Reynolds she would run against him in a GOP primary if he didn’t get on board. He buckled and the measure squeaked through the Senate.

While the national Club for Growth inexplicably derides Vukmir’s record, tens of thousands of Wisconsin parents have her to thank for an expanded array of options in choosing where to enroll their children.