Boots & Sabers

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0618, 03 Mar 15

Keep Parental Choice Program expansion simple

My column for the Daily News is online. Check it out.

The Wisconsin Legislature will soon begin in earnest to craft the next biennial budget that will guide state government through the next two years. It has been a month since Gov. Scott Walker issued his budget proposal, and the Legislature will spend the next three months taking his proposals, vetting them through the fire of the legislative process, injecting many of their own proposals, and at the end they will send a budget to Walker’s desk.

One of the major proposals in Walker’s budget that is likely to be subject to a great deal of debate and revision is a dramatic expansion in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

The WPCP was launched in 2013 as a limited expansion of school choice throughout Wisconsin, excluding Milwaukee and Racine which have school choice programs. The WPCP is limited to providing vouchers for 1,000 kids (1,000 for next school year) from lowincome families to attend the private school of their choice. In the current school year, 25 schools participated and the 1,000 vouchers were issued using a somewhat convoluted lottery system.

Walker’s proposal is to remove the 1,000-voucher limit on the WCPC and allow for an unlimited number of vouchers. At the same time, Walker is proposing a way to fund the vouchers by reallocating state funds that would have been sent to the child’s corresponding public school. Finally, Walker’s proposal seeks to limit the availability of vouchers to only kids who were not already attending a private school.

Let us start with the good part of Walker’s proposal. The cap on school choice should be lifted. Period.

The whole reason for school choice is to provide the opportunity for families to send their kids to the school of their choice. Families who have the means already have this choice. The WPCP and other school choice programs seek to allow families of any financial status to choose the best school for their kids. If we ascribe to this ethos, then an arbitrary cap on the number of families who can participate is nonsensical.

The remainder of Walker’s ideas regarding funding and placing restrictions on the WPCP requires some work from the Legislature. The idea to limit vouchers to only those kids who have not already attended a private school is, like the cap, nonsensical.

The purpose of this restriction is to keep a budgetary restraint on the expansion of school choice. The reality is that there are many families who are of sufficiently low income to qualify for school vouchers, but sacrifice to send their kids to a private school. This restriction would forbid those families from receiving a voucher to prevent the taxpayers from picking up a bill that they are not currently paying. While the attempt at fiscal control is laudable, this is not the place to do it. Again, if we ascribe to the principle that school choice exists to provide all families — regardless of income — the opportunity to choose the right school for their kids, then we cheapen that principle when we seek to carve out exemptions and exclusions.

While the WPCP began as an extremely limited program with only 1,000 vouchers available for more than 750,000 school kids in the entire state, it is clear that it is going to be substantially expanded in the next budget.

This likely expansion is opening up opportunities all over the state, including here in Washington County. Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School has become the first private high school in the county to enter the WPCP. As the father of a past, present and future student of KML, I have paid close attention to the risks and rewards of the school entering the program. It is a great school and the prospect of more kids able to attend it is nothing but upside for the kids and their parents.

Much like with the debate over right-to-work, the Legislature should focus on keeping the expansion of WPCP simple. They should eschew attempts to complicate it with exclusions, complicated funding formulas, limits, caps, and other complexities that dilute the program.

School choice is a simple idea based on a simple principle. All kids should have access to the best education for them irrespective of their families’ financial means. A clean expansion of the WPCP advances that principle.

(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident.)


0618, 03 March 2015


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    Great article!

    Parents who want to send their kids to KML, who are overtaxed for the public school system, to the point of putting KML out of reach, deserve the right, and choice, to have a Christian education for their kids.

    The godless public school system should not be the only school choice for the poor and middle class.

  2. Mark Maley

    My brothers , sister and I all paid our way through Catholic private High Schools .

    If you want a religious education for your kids , pay for it .

    The public school is available to all through the taxes of many .

    Choose the religion you want to be taught to your kids, in the manner you want it taught and then pay for it yourself .

  3. Kevin scheunemann


    I feel the exact same way about all the liberal religions being thought in public school.

    The only way to fix the exclusive funding of the church of liberalism in public schools is to allow choice.

    I thought liberals loved choice? (Or at least pretend to love choice….)

  4. Mark Maley

    No one ( except you Kevin) supports school choice for religious schools because of religious liberalism.

    They just want their tax money to be used to fund the religious school of their choice .

    I understand why. I just think they should pay for it themselves .

  5. Kevin Scheunemann


    You would be surprised how many oppose religious liberalism. Not all treat abortion, for instance, as a sacred sacrament.

    If you don’t want to give parents the choice to escape the public school religions, then let parents opt out of the public school taxing system.

    When the overwhelming public school tax bill limits the parental/family choice to only the public school, that is a huge problem. I see the devastation caused by this problem constantly with great Christian kids and families.

    There is no doubt about it, public school can be a very corrupting influence on Christian values families hold in high regard.

  6. Dave

    Great Kevin. Then just take your kids to the religious school of your choice for indoctrination. Just don’t use my tax money to fund it. The founders of this state were concerned enough about the need for an educated citizenry in order to maintain a representative democracy that they made the state responsible for providing a public education for all children. The state’s success at meeting that mandate is questionable at this time. Siphoning off state dollars from public schools to private schools will only sound the death knell for public schools. We can’t afford to support two separate school systems when we are failing to adequately support the constitutionally mandated one.

  7. Kevin Scheunemann


    Cost to educate a public school student in WI: $12K+

    School choice voucher: @$6300

    If we vouchered every kid, we could cut school expenses in half!

    So each school voucher saves the taxpayers $6000 per year!

    I take issue with your indoctrination comment. Are you implying public schools DON’T indoctrinate our children?

    A teacher was just caught on a ten year test asserting conservatives don’t want to help the poor. (Punishing those on test who thought differently.) This is without getting into treating abortion as a sacrament in the liberal religion. Many public schools are teaching our kids to look down on America. Many in charge of public schools consider the U.S. flag a symbol of oppression rather than freedom. They also teach the evolution theory as fact. Teach the global warming cult exists while we all freeze to death and the Great Lakes see the biggest freeze in decades. All these things are the worst kind of indoctrination and parents deserve an escape from that.

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