Governor Tony Evers is getting pushback again for his latest plan to freeze out Wisconsin’s popular parental school choice program.

The Democrat, as he did in his last budget plan, is proposing to freeze enrollment in schools participating in private school choice program beginning in the 2024-25 school year at 2023-24 levels. Evers asserts his plan would “allow families continued access to private schools while affirming the state’s commitment to robust funding for Wisconsin’s excellent public schools.”

Said excellence is in question, which is why the Badger State’s parental choice program is so popular.

Evers will roll out what is expected to be a big-spending biennial budget proposal today. He is scheduled to deliver his budget address before the Legislature this evening.

The governor, a close ally of the state’s teachers unions, has long been at war with Wisconsin’s storied school choice program. He served a decade as Wisconsin’s superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), his campaigns richly funded by teachers unions.

Since his State of the State address last month, Evers has released periodic details of his 2023-25 budget proposal, much of which — like his freeze on school choice — will most certainly be removed from the Republican-controlled Legislature’s budget proposal. GOP leadership has already said it expects to rebuild Evers’ budget plan from the ground up.

Evers failed in his attempt to cap school choice in his last budget, a move, as the governor and the public education industry know, would be fatal for many private parental choice schools. The Legislature nixed the plan from the budget the governor ultimately signed.

“While it’s not surprising, it is certainly disappointing to hear Governor Evers’ plan to freeze private school choice enrollment,” said Will Flanders, Research Director for school choice advocate the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ model does not meet the educational needs of every student, and school choice clearly offers important options for Wisconsin families and better academic results.”

The institute’s recent Apples to Apples report shows Students in the state’s school choice programs continue to outperform their public-school peers. Meanwhile, proficiency rates in Wisconsin’s public schools have plummeted. Enrollment in the private parental choice program has grown to nearly 50,000 students statewide,

Evers has announced he plans to dump $2.6 billion into K-12 public education, on top of the unprecedented billions of dollars in federal COVID aid Wisconsin schools have yet to spend.

Among his ed spending pitches, Evers proposes:

  • $1 billion over the biennium through the state’s general equalization aid formula, the second largest proposed direct investment in state general aids since the 1995-97 biennium.
  • A more than $1 billion increase in special education aid over the biennium, which would increase reimbursement rates to 60 percent in both years of the biennium.
  • Granting districts a sizable increase in revenue-raising authority, with per pupil revenue limit increases of $350 in fiscal year (FY) 2023-24 and an additional $650 in FY 2024-25—the largest per pupil adjustments since revenue limits were imposed.
  • A low revenue ceiling increase of $450 per pupil in FY 2023-24 and an additional $750 per pupil in FY 2024-25, increasing revenue limit “equity” among school districts.
  • A combined increase of $1,000 per pupil over the biennium

Evers is looking to grab much of the record $7.1 billion surplus in funding a smorgasbord of grow government and left-wing initiatives.

By comparison, the governor’s budget would deliver just $1.2 billion in tax cuts, well below what Republicans have called for. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said he wants to see at least half of the surplus go back to taxpayers — all taxpayers, not just targeted groups as Evers proposes.

Fiscal hawks are warning that the itch to spend could prove difficult to resist, for Democrats and Republicans alike.

State Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said Evers and “financially challenged” legislators have been making it “snow money” with their “spending gifts for special interests and bigger government advocates.”

“I would not be shocked if Governor Evers gives his Biennial Budget address on Wednesday night dressed as Santa Claus,” Nass said. “As the inflation crisis continues for Wisconsin families and job losses start to mount as a potential recession nears, the disconnected mood in the State Capitol is one of joy and glee as elected officials excitedly roll around in nearly $7 billion dollars inappropriately taken from Wisconsin taxpayers.”

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Tony Evers” by Campaign of Tony Evers for Governor. CC BY 3.0. Background Photo “Classroom” by 12019.