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Sunday, November 27, 2016

School Choice in Wisconsin and the Nation

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

At The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Alan J. Borsuk notes that Betsy DeVos is in line to be Education Secretary and says that  Wisconsin offers parallels to what is happening nationally.
Just as the once-every-two-years state budget gets rolling, Republicans have gained a more dominant hand in the Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker is a strong choice backer. And the makeup of the state Supreme Court makes legal challenges to anything the Republicans do difficult.
We already have hefty private school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine and a growing voucher scene in the rest of the state, plus a new special-education voucher program, and a convoluted but fairly lively charter school scene, particularly in Milwaukee. What more could be done?
It’s a time when school choice insiders are pulling out their wish lists and brain storming. The special ed vouchers and the statewide voucher program could be given bigger pushes. Maybe something could happen to increase the number of charter schools statewide, but charters always seem to play back-up to private schools in state politics.
Ideas such as “education savings accounts,” discussed in this column recently, are increasingly likely to emerge. Such accounts could offer parents more flexible ways to select education programs for their children, potentially including several providers. No one so far has gotten specific about what this could mean, but there’s serious interest.
If Washington unleashes a lot of money for school choice, that might bring some new federal aid to Wisconsin to support ideas like these.
Public school leaders and advocates nationwide are generally appalled by the DeVos pick and what it portends.
They have several reasons to be concerned in Wisconsin. Here are two:
What will any increase in school choice options and funding mean for state aid to public schools?
And will the Trump administration put together that $20 billion school choice fund by cutting other federal education programs, as some suggest? Reducing major areas of federal spending (particularly the Title 1 program for low-income students and federal special education aid), could mean less money for public schools, especially those serving large numbers of poor or disabled children.