Tag Archives: School Choice Wisconsin

Supreme Court deals Walker a blow on education case

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt Gov. Scott Walker a loss yesterday in upholding a ruling that preserves the independence of the state’s elected education secretary and denies the governor power of veto over the Department of Public Instruction.

The court’s conservative majority was split on whether to overturn its unanimous ruling from 20 years ago that solidified the state superintendent’s independence as head of the Department of Public Instruction. The high court’s 4–3 decision rejects arguments made by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel and upholds two lower court rulings.

The state constitution “requires the Legislature to keep the supervision of public instruction in the hands of officers of supervision of public instruction,” Justice Michael Gableman wrote for the majority. “To do otherwise would require a constitutional amendment.”

Superintendent Tony Evers has opposed overturning the law, saying the case was about preserving the office’s role as a nonpartisan constitutional officer in charge of implementing and overseeing education policy.

Evers hailed the ruling, calling it a “victory for public education and the future of our state.”

“More than anything else, this ruling provides much needed stability for our schools and the students they serve,” Evers said in a statement. “I hope we can now get back to focusing on what works best for our kids.”

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson did not address the court’s ruling directly in his reaction. Instead, he said Walker would “continue to advocate for policies that prioritize student success.”

“Governor Walker is dedicated to challenging the status quo when it impedes the ability of parents, school boards, and students to get the best educational outcomes,” Evenson said.

Justice Department spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the agency is reviewing the decision and has no immediate comment.

The case focused on a 2011 law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker that gave the governor veto power over administrative rules pursued by the state superintendent. That raised questions about whether the law amounted to a violation of the 1996 state Supreme Court ruling that the office was independent of the governor’s control.

The state Justice Department argued that if the court’s 1996 ruling prohibits the Legislature from making a change to administrative rules, then the decision should be overturned. The department’s attorney argued that if the state superintendent is unhappy with the governor’s decision relative to rules, he can always go back to the Legislature and try to get it reversed.

The law is unconstitutional because it does not allow DPI and the secretary “to proceed with their duties of supervision without the Governor’s, and in some circumstances the Secretary of Administration’s approval,” Gableman wrote.

The 2011 law required all state agencies to get approval from the governor before drafting new administrative rules — the legal language that enacts agency policies and laws passed by the Legislature. Under previous law, the rules were written by state agencies and reviewed by the Legislature, but not the governor, before taking effect.

Parents and members of the teachers’ union, with backing from organizations representing school administrators and school boards, filed a lawsuit in 2011 challenging the portion of the law that gives the governor the ability to block rules at DPI. They argued that the law gives the governor more power than the independently elected state superintendent, contrary to the court’s 1996 ruling.

The 1996 ruling arose from a case challenging then-Gov. Tommy Thompson’s attempt to transfer powers from DPI into a new Department of Education under the control of the governor. At the time, the court unanimously ruled that the state superintendent is in charge of education policy in Wisconsin and that the governor and Legislature can’t give “equal or superior authority” to anyone else.

Those supporting the governor’s position and opposing Evers include School Choice Wisconsin, a group that advocates for taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools, and the state chamber of commerce.

Gableman was joined in the majority ruling by Justices David Prosser, Anne Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson. Those dissenting were Chief Justice Pat Roggensack and justices Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley.

The dissenting justices argued that those challenging the law had not proven that it was unconstitutional.

Scott Walker’s voucher plan could cost public schools an additional $48 million

Public school districts could face an additional $48 million hit over the next two years under the voucher program included in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget, according to a new memo from state financial analysts.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo obtained by The Associated Press provides new details about Walker’s proposal to lift the 1,000-student statewide cap on voucher participation and create a program similar to open enrollment.

Under the plan, any public school student could apply for a voucher. Private school students enrolling in kindergarten, first grade or ninth grade would also be eligible.

Similar to open enrollment, students would receive funding from their district of residence to attend a voucher school under the proposal. The memo sets out that voucher students in kindergarten through 8th grade would receive $7,210, and high school students would receive $7,856.

Public school districts currently pay $6,635 for each student who moves via open enrollment to another public district.

More than 3,540 students applied this year to receive a taxpayer-funded voucher to attend private and religious schools in the third year of the statewide program, more than triple the enrollment cap of 1,000, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said in a recent report. That number is up 4 percent from last year.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, requested the memo. His spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voucher supporters say the program gives students in struggling public schools an opportunity to offset the cost of attending a private school.

Jim Bender, president of the group School Choice Wisconsin, said public school districts already pay to have students who move via open enrollment in other public school districts. He said applying additional payments for voucher students wouldn’t add much more to each district’s budget.

“It doesn’t seem to be causing any heartache when students go between public schools,” Bender said.

Opponents, primarily Democrats and public school advocates, say the program isn’t accountable to taxpayers and is part of a broader agenda to defund public education.

Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a statewide teachers union, said the state should support its public schools so students across the state have access to quality education.

“This week it was announced that 86 percent of voucher applicants for next year don’t even go to public school now,” Kippers said in a statement, referring to DPI’s report. “Meanwhile, public school students have fewer teachers and less one-on-one attention.”

The voucher program began in Milwaukee in 1990, the first city in the country to offer the taxpayer subsidies to help poor children leave struggling schools. Since 2011, Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature have expanded it.

Walker and Republicans created a voucher program in Racine, eliminated enrollment caps there and in Milwaukee and raised income limits to allow middle-class students to participate.

The number of students applying from public schools decreased from 633 last year to 526 this year, a difference of 107.

All applicants in the statewide program, whether they attend public or private schools, must meet income requirements. A single parent with three children can earn up to $44,828 per year. For a married couple with two children, the cutoff is $53,310 annually.

To qualify in Racine, an applicant’s family income must be less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That equates to $71,637 for a family of four.