Last month, Ruth Conniff of The Progressive magazine warned that the voucher expansion proposal in the state budget might be significantly more modest than the final product in the document signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

At the time, the governor had proposed expanding vouchers to nine school districts across the state, a specification that Conniff suggested might be struck in favor of a statewide expansion when the budget arrives on the governor's desk to be signed.

Since then, a different compromise has emerged and been approved by the Joint Finance Committee. The voucher expansion would indeed be statewide, but participation in the program would be severely limited. Only 500 students could participate statewide (outside of existing programs in Milwaukee and Racine) in the first year; 1,000 students in subsequent years.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, the chair of the Senate Education Committee and a skeptic of further school choice expansion, told WisPolitics he was confident the deal would remain in tact and would not be amended when it gets to the floor of the Assembly, Senate or the governor's desk.

"Well, they shook my hand. Where I come from, in agriculture, that means you've got a deal," said Olsen at the time.

Some worry the story is far from over. With the stroke of his veto pen, Walker could simply cross out those limits when the budget lands on his desk. Although the broad power of the Wisconsin gubernatorial veto has been curtailed somewhat in the past few decades, it remains an effective way to fundamentally rewrite legislation.

Although Walker has been publicly supportive of the voucher deal, his original expansion plan did not cap enrollment after the second year, though it did limit the program to nine school districts. So, if he supports a much more ambitious expansion of school choice, will he exercise his gubernatorial prerogative on behalf of that goal?

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, says she wouldn't put it past him.

"I'm not privy to the man's inclinations. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if he did that," she said Monday.

The cons are obvious: Reneging on the deal could infuriate Republican moderates in the Senate, including Olsen and Senate President Mike Ellis. Working with the moderate wing of his party in the future might become problematic for Walker. In the run-up to his re-election campaign in 2014, he doesn't need to lose GOP support.

The pros are simple: It would further endear Walker to the national conservative movement and put another feather in the cap he wears as a likely presidential candidate.

And despite the outrage such a budget veto move would provoke from Democrats and GOP moderates, the large majority the GOP enjoys in the Assembly would likely prevent anti-voucher forces from mustering the necessary two-thirds in both chambers of the Legislature to override the governor's veto.

Scott Wittkopf, chair of the Forward Institute, a recently-founded progressive policy advocacy group, suggests that Republicans expect the governor to rewrite the compromise they hammered out.

"I ... believe that the 'deal' on the voucher program was designed to make it easier for the gov to do just that, giving the moderate Republicans plausible deniability," he wrote in response to a question I asked on Facebook.

So far, the governor hasn't revealed any veto intentions.

"Governor Walker will review the budget in its entirety when it reaches his desk," said spokesman Tom Evenson when I asked whether the governor was committed to the current voucher compromise.

Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, one of the strongest proponents of vouchers, says he plans to request that the governor veto one aspect of the proposal: the income cap that limits participation to families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

But he is skeptical that the governor will make any substantial changes with a partial veto.

"It looks like there's been a deal," he said.

Furthermore, he points out, supporters of school choice see the current proposal as a way to get their foot in the door.

That certainly seems to be the way Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, sees it.

"The (enrollment) caps are something that are problematic but I think the Legislature will come back and address this in the future," he said.

So will he be pushing for a big win via veto this year?

"We have not discussed making that type of request," he said. "Anything like that would be discussed after the final version of the budget is passed."

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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(12) comments


Maybe journalists and opinion mongers should encourage Walker to pull a Doyle trick and start working on his own version on a Frankenstein bill?

There, that should stir up a hornets nest from the extremes on BOTH sides.


WeinerWeiner. What's left is what the Alsos will get and the haves will continue to have more. A free public education for everyone.

Comment deleted.

Perhaps a good example here would be when the Patriot Act went in law. People were made aware of the negative effects that could happen if this law took place at the time. That, per your logic, would have been Fear Mongering and not journalism or recognition of government's inability to limit itself. And look what the Intelligence Agency is up to today.

So choose your phrases a little more carefully because like bad words, you can't take them back.


Why make primary education any different from post-sec? Let the tax dollars follow the student and let the patents decide where their children are educated.


Why make people pay for non-public eduction? Let the tax dollars follow the schools, not the student. Unless a voucher school follows the same rules as a public school that uses tax dollars (oversight, grade assesments, open enrollment, etc) then voucher schools are nothing more than give-a-ways of tax dollars to schools that most parents wouldln't want to give to.....i.e. religious schools, political schools, corporate schools, etc.


FactsOrFiction, your comment is laughable. The schools in this area all have teachers spouting and pushing their liberal left agenda


Well, you logic is impeccable. You've proved to me that you are correct. While your opinion seems to be based on....your still sway me with impeccable logic.

Fact or Fiction
Fact or Fiction

Find your own ID


sorry...i'm ashamed i didn't know there was a similar name.


The Wisconsin State Constitution that established public schools forbids public funds to pay for sectarian education. I think this voucher system is contrary to the Wisconsin constitution. I do not want my hard earned tax dollars to go to fund parochial education. If I want my kids to have a christian, jewish, muslim, or wiccan education, I will use my constitutional right to do so and pay for it out of my own pocket. I do not want the state meddling with religious teachings.

Comment deleted.

"'s what seals your fate as the minority in state politics, for years to come."

Uh, no. Gerrymandering is the cause of that fate. Democrats got more votes but Repubs still have the majority. Reublicans lost, and yet won because of the way they rigged the system. Even on a national level, Dems got more votes in the 2012 House races but Repubs maintain the majority. You can't win on the issues, so you game the way votes are counted.


If he learned from his predecessor he could turn the voucher program into just about anything.

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