Passed Budget Includes School Voucher Expansion Loophole


The Wisconsin state budget is on its way to Governor Scott Walker’s desk after it passed the state Senate on a 17-16 vote Thursday night. It includes an item added just this week that could blow a hole in the enrollment cap for voucher schools.

While the new statewide expansion of voucher schools in this budget would be capped statewide at 500 students in the first year and 1,000 in the second, this provision could offer a way around that.

Here’s how a larger expansion would work: There are no caps on private voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine. If a school there were to set up a so-called “satellite” school elsewhere in Wisconsin, Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang says it might be exempt from the statewide enrollment caps. Lang says it would depend on how the state Department of Public Instruction interprets the law.

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The item in question was quietly added to the Assembly budget Wednesday. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chris Larson said the consequences could be huge.

Larson: “Some folks may have known about this, but the majority of the legislature did not know what the intent was behind this amendment that could end up affecting statewide vouchers in a whole new way and blowing the caps off of it before the caps really have a chance to be implemented.”

Thursday night was the last stop for this budget in the legislature. Walker will now review it for potential vetoes. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said attorneys were reviewing it to make sure it’s what lawmakers intended.

Fitzgerald: “If it’s outside of the scope of that original agreement that we struck with the Assembly and the governor, then I’m sure they’ll give it a lot of consideration when it comes to the veto.”

The rest of the budget was largely unchanged compared to what passed the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Republican Dale Schultz bucked his party on several amendments and voted no on the overall budget, but no other Republicans joined him.