School choice is on the move in Wisconsin, at least in Milwaukee County.
The state Assembly has approved a bill that will increase the number of voucher students in Milwaukee, and increase the number of private schools they can choose from.
But an idea recently suggested by Gov. Scott Walker, to spread voucher opportunities beyond Milwaukee to Green Bay, Racine and Beloit, received a cool reception from Senate President Mike Ellis, as well as several other Republicans.
Ellis also questioned a reform, embedded in the governor's budget proposal, that would lift income restrictions from voucher programs so all families would be eligible to participate.
That leads me to wonder if some Republicans, once committed to the concept of public school reform, have lost their nerve in the face of obnoxious union rallies and recall efforts.
I also wonder if Walker might have received a more positive response if he had targeted the entire state for voucher eligibility, in the same manner as Indiana. Only expanding to three cities may not sit well with legislators from areas that would not benefit.
School choice is best for all families and students. Every child is unique, and parents are best equipped to choose a school that fits their needs.
The state of Wisconsin provides a certain amount of money for every K-12 student in the state. What's wrong with letting parents spend that money at the school of their choice?
Walker sought to build momentum for school choice expansion with his keynote address to the National Policy Summit of the American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C. last week.
He focused on the idea that all students have the right to equal access to a quality education.
"Every kid, no matter where they live, no matter what their background, no matter what their parents do for a living ... deserves the opportunity to have a great education because they each have limitless potential," Walker told his audience.
"We have 100,000 kids that we serve in the city of Milwaukee. Roughly 20,000 go to choice schools but that means that 80 percent of our families are looking at some other option and the majority of which are (using) public schools ... many of which fail to live up to the standard we expect for each and every child in that community and in our state.
"We fail as a country, we fail as a nation, we fail as a society if any of our kids slip through the cracks. We have to make sure every single one of them have the same opportunities we'd want for our children and grandchildren."
Walker referred to studies that show Milwaukee children in the voucher program are 17 times more likely to graduate from high school than their counterparts in Milwaukee public schools.
"If you look at the kids who come into the Milwaukee parental choice program, they more often than not come in (with lower learning levels) than kids in the Milwaukee public school system. But in the end, one of the most important outcomes is that they're 17 percent more likely to graduate by the time they're done.
"One of our greatest challenges is keeping kids in the system all the way to graduation ... It used to be that just graduating was enough to get a job, but these days you've got to have a two-year or four-year post-secondary education component just to get a job in our society. If you're not making it through graduation you're going to be another statistic."
Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers’ union, is trying to recall several Republican senators from office and destroy the GOP majority in the chamber.
The union’s president, Mary Bell told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that research "does not support broadening choice."
I believe the only research that matters is the research conducted by the parents of every individual student in Wisconsin and America.
If they find a school that fits their child's needs - be it public, public charter, private or religious - they should have a right to use their share of state money to enroll their child in that school.
Somehow our society has been blinded into thinking that government-run schools have an exclusive right to K-12 students. State constitutions mandate that governments provide an education to every student in their jurisdiction. That does not mean those students have to attend government-run schools.
By providing the means for students to finance an education, the state has met its constitutional responsibility. At that point the state should step aside and let parents decide where that education will take place.
As far as I can tell, the only reason for enforcing geographic school boundaries is to provide a guaranteed clientele, and guaranteed jobs, for unionized teachers. That's not a very good reason to keep any kid trapped in any school that's not meeting his or her needs.
Scott Walker seems to understand that. The union doesn’t and it’s unrealistic for us to hope otherwise. Will legislative Republicans?
Leaders should be going bold in their attempts to save children from failing public schools. This is not the time to be pussyfooting around, making sure the adults aren’t offended by reforms that put the interests of children first.