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Republicans miss chance on education

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Republicans miss chance on education

Waukesha Freeman Page 6A Opinion 4/4/2013
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The loss Tuesday night by State Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) in the race for state superintendent for Public Instruction is yet another reminder of how Republicans in Wisconsin are determined to give away education as an issue.

Pridemore lost to the incumbent, Tony Evers, a career education bureaucrat with a preference for higher taxes and spending and no real educational reform. He was a recall petition signer and is opposed to the expansion of vouchers for school choice.

Evers even told the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee that the scorecards developed by his department for grading Wisconsin’s schools would not be ready for actual policymaking for eight to 10 years.

Unfortunately, the more conservative candidate in the race found himself on the defensive on guns in the schools and on his support for state “nullification” of federal laws. By the time the media reported the quirky decision to put certain writers (including yours truly) on a banned-by- Pridemore list, his campaign was already over.

Tuesday’s election was a terrible missed opportunity for Republicans and conservatives to make the case for true education reform. Evers should have been vulnerable this cycle. Instead, voters were only given a choice between the incumbent and a seriously flawed candidate unable to articulate a broader education reform message.

Another missed opportunity for Republicans and conservatives is taking place right now in Madison. Some state Senate Republicans are threatening to derail the expansion of private school vouchers to nine total school districts in the state.

Parental school choice in Wisconsin is a great story, and it’s a story where the heroes are mostly Republicans. The Milwaukee school choice program began under Gov.

Tommy Thompson, and it made Wisconsin a laboratory of educational reform.

The program has been a success. Parents participating in school choice are more satisfied with their child’s education than those going with the traditional enrollment.

Graduation rates for children in voucher choice schools are higher, and they are more likely to go on to posthigh school education and succeed.

Meanwhile, parental choice private school vouchers have been a bargain for taxpayers. The state currently gives $6,442 for a private school voucher, while a public school education in Wisconsin costs over $11,300 per pupil on average.

Private school parental choice vouchers recently were expanded to Racine Unified School District students, and under Gov.

Scott Walker’s proposal will expand to seven more school districts, including Waukesha.

The criterion is that a district must have two or more schools earning the equivalent of a D or F grade on the report card created by Evers and the DPI.

Walker’s proposal also includes a modest increase in the amount of the educational voucher to $7000, $7,800 for high school students. Lest you think that is at a cost to the public schools, they are about to get $129 million more from the state while expanding the voucher program will only cost $73 million.

Unfortunately longtime (too long, actually) senators Mike Ellis of Neenah and Luther Olsen of Ripon want to kill voucher expansion before it has a chance.

Ellis and Olsen are instead proposing to raise spending on the state’s public schools $382 million. That’s larger than Walker’s proposed income tax cut.

Ellis and Olsen would pay for it by taking $100 million from somewhere in the budget and allowing local property taxes to go up $153 million.

In one fell swoop, these two Republican senators, and any other senators that agree with them, would cave to the Democrats and the much-weaker teachers unions on the education issue. They would also capitulate on the tax issue with their proposed tax shift from the state income tax to the local property tax.

Republicans talk about reaching out to minorities and the disadvantaged. Walker’s education budget gives Republicans something to talk about, a record of achievement helping their communities. Now the Republicans are looking at giving away any advantage they have all for a few lines of praise from the left-wing Capital Times and the Shepherd Express.

The senators’ colleagues should remind Ellis and Olsen that, even after redistricting, Republican majorities are awfully hard to hang onto when the voters no longer trust the senators to live up the party’s ideals.

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