NEWS: School Choice Won't Expand to Green Bay

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison¬†– A private school voucher program won’t expand to Green Bay and the state will not turn down nearly $40 million in federal money for expanding broadband access in rural areas, under budget amendments expected to come before the state Assembly Wednesday.

Guarded by dozens of police and watched by protesters in the public galleries, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Assembly began debate Wednesday afternoon on Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-’13 budget plan, which balances a deep budget hole through cuts to schools and local governments.

“We said it’s time for government to go on a diet, and that’s exactly what occurs in this budget,” said Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, in a speech that was briefly interrupted by a protester’s shouts.

The two-year, $66 billion budget would close a $3 billion shortfall without relying on tax increases, raise spending of state and federal money by $1.1 billion, or 1.8% over two years, and leave the state with an estimated $300 million surplus in its main account two years from now. It would cut state aid to schools by $800 million over two years and put tight limits on property taxes to help clear the way for sizable tax cuts for manufacturers, multistate corporations and investors.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) denounced the “historic and drastic cuts” in the bill.

“It is painfully obvious to most Wisconsinites that this budget is an attack on middle-class families,” Barca said.

Also Wednesday, Walker signed a bill to repay more than $200 million improperly taken from a medical malpractice fund. Under the measure the state would repay the money to the fund by June 30, 2012, along with an estimated $35 million in interest.

The state Supreme Court last year ordered the money repaid after finding that lawmakers and then Gov. Jim Doyle in 2007 illegally raided the fund, which is intended to compensate victims of medical malpractice and their families.

In other budget action, Republican leaders said they would make changes needed to preserve federal money for public transit, nix a plan to limit access to state officials’ ethics statements and scale back a proposal to force local governments to use private contractors on road projects. So far, Republican leaders have still not released the amendment with those and other proposed tweaks to the budget bill.

Earlier this month, the Legislature’s budget committee included a provision in the state budget proposal that would have brought the voucher program – now available only in Milwaukee – to Racine and Green Bay.

But Vos said the Assembly will take Green Bay out of the bill when it takes up the budget later Wednesday. The plan to expand the program to Racine remains in place in the budget bill, which also must be passed by the Senate and signed by Walker.

Jim Bender, a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin, said he was disappointed about the decision on the Green Bay voucher plan but stressed his group was pleased with other changes in the budget for school choice.

“We were hoping for lightning to strike,” Bender said of the Green Bay program. “It’s looking like that’s not going to happen.”

Republicans were working out what they hoped were their final changes to the bill Wednesday. In many cases, they were revisiting changes made to the bill by the Joint Finance Committee in recent weeks.

Read more here: