Governor Tony Evers will propose an enrollment freeze for the state’s school choice voucher programs and independent charter schools as part of the state budget, according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Evers, the former chief of the state’s education agency, is seeking to freeze the number of students who may enroll in private voucher schools across the state, including in Milwaukee where the nation’s first voucher program began nearly 30 years ago,” the newspaper reported. “The governor’s budget also proposes to suspend the creation of new independent charter schools until 2023 and eliminates a program aimed at Milwaukee that requires county officials to turn persistently poor-performing schools into charter schools without district officials’ approval.”

The governor’s state budget proposal will be introduced on Thursday.

Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) criticized Evers for having the wrong priorities for education, noting how Evers’ plan would hurt students in Milwaukee.

“One of the most pressing issues facing Wisconsin is the graduation rate of Milwaukee Public Schools,” Kooyenga said in a statement Monday. “In the 2017-18 school year their graduation rate was 66.7 percent. For North Division High School in Milwaukee it was 34.1 percent. Wisconsin’s statewide graduation rate is 89.6 percent.”

Kooyenga said the situation in Milwaukee deserved better from the governor.

“You would think that Governor Evers would have a sense of urgency on the issue and be open to ideas that have proven to be effective,” Kooyenga said. “When it comes to improving educational outcomes in Wisconsin we need to be willing to try new approaches and not just pass kids by with the status quo.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) also questioned why Evers’ education budget proposal attacked the state’s voucher and independent charter school programs.

“For nearly ten years Governor Evers helped to implement the choice program as the head of the Department of Public Instruction,” said Fitzgerald. “He has turned his back on the very families the policies he enacted sought to help. Why are some of the first targets of his budget minority families, low-income students, and parochial schools from around the state?”

The numbers support Fitzgerald’s criticisms. In an op-ed for RightWisconsin, WILL Research Director Will Flanders points out that a substantial number of minority school children will be hurt by Evers’ education plan.

“According to the most recent data from the Department of Public Instruction, 50 percent of students in independent charters are African American on average, and 34 percent are Hispanic,” Flanders wrote. “79 percent come from low-income backgrounds. These are not individuals who can afford to move to another area to access a better school. The question must be asked: why does Evers want to eliminate the only path to options for these families?”

According to the MacIver Institute, currently “more than 81,000 students across the state are able to attend a private school or public charter school of their choice.”

“In Milwaukee alone, there are more than 28,000 students currently enrolled in the {Milwaukee Parental Choice Program}, which has grown from just a few hundred students at its inception in 1990,” the free-market think tank reported.

Interestingly, the proposal was intended to be an ambush of school choice supporters with the cooperation of the Journal Sentinel.

“Evers’ aides provided the budget proposals related to voucher schools and charter schools to the Journal Sentinel on the condition they not be shared with stakeholders until publication,” the newspaper reported.

Despite Evers’ hope that school choice supporters would not be able to respond, criticism of Evers’ education plan has been swift.

One charter school organization described Evers’ plan as, “an all-out assault on parents.”

“It is not the job of the governor of Wisconsin to protect the teachers’ union and the status quo by denying parents the options to choose the school that fits their child’s needs,” said Ty Babinski, President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families. “This is an extremely disappointing development and we hope the legislature rejects such callous statism, completely.”

Evers’ education proposal was also sharply criticized by CJ Szafir, Vice President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).

“Instead of working with the legislature to help high-performing schools expand, Governor Evers has doubled down on politics, siding with special interests over children,” said Szafir in a statement Monday. “Independent public charter schools and private schools in the voucher program are the highest performing sector in Milwaukee, and some are among the best performing in the state when it comes to educating low-income students. Stopping these schools only serves to help the teachers’ unions – not students.”

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, agreed with Szafir.

“It is unfortunate that Governor Evers wants to limit access to some of the best schools in Wisconsin,” Bender said. “Recently, data released on both ACT scores and the DPI report cards show that both independent charters and private schools in the Parental Choice Programs are outperforming their peers. In Milwaukee, the best schools that serve students in poverty are almost exclusively choice and charter. Plus, the get those results at a fraction of the cost.”

Bender also said Evers’ education policies are driven by teachers union politics, not results.

“So, today’s move was based on politics, not academics,” Bender said. “The governor felt the need to appease those who view public education through a political lens. But these folks, much like this proposal, do nothing to actually improve education for anyone.”

Given the impact on minority students, Szafir implied Evers’ education plan was similar to other Democratic governors in the segregationist south.

“Time and again, Evers has said ‘what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our future.’ But this is a move that takes Wisconsin backwards,” Szafir said. “School choice is driven by demand for high-performing schools – particularly in Wisconsin’s large cities. Artificially freezing enrollment and preventing expansion would only serve to put Evers squarely in the schoolhouse doors, blocking enrollment by low-income, predominantly minority students.”

Szafir added the legislature should write their own education budget.

“Evers’ budget would end school choice as Wisconsin knows it,” Szafir said. “The legislature should start over and focus on how to give parents more educational opportunities and expand high-performing schools.”

As the Journal Sentinel also reported, Evers is also eliminating another program that the was designed to help children escape failing schools, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP). The OSPP was an attempt by Republicans in the legislature to allow county executives to remove consistently failing schools from failing school districts and appoint a new administrator for those schools with the intention of making them charter schools. Milwaukee Public Schools successfully fought off the attempt to implement the law the first year by frustrating Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Mequon-Thiensville Schools Superintendent Demond Means’ attempt to take over just two failing schools.

Milwaukee Public Schools then avoided the OSPP law the following two years after the criteria changed for the state’s school system report cards, lifting the district’s grade from failing to “meets few expectations.”

Meanwhile, many children still remain trapped in failing schools. “Out of Wisconsin’s 2,110 public schools, 344 either ‘fail to meet expectations’ or ‘meet few expectations’ on the state report card,” the MacIver Institute reported. “For Milwaukee Public Schools, 72 of its 154 public schools, almost half, received one or two stars.”

Szafir, apparently concerned about Evers’ history of writing education policy, said WILL would carefully review the education portion of the state budget if Evers’ plan survives.

“As state superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers has a history of bending the law, at times to the detriment of school choice,” Szafir said. “If this budget passes, he can expect it to be carefully scrutinized to ensure it is constitutional and consistent with the rule of law.”