A legislative committee has decided to ignore advice from one of its nonpartisan policy experts and keep Republican Governor Scott Walker's plan to create up to nine school voucher programs in the proposed 2013-15 state budget.
The voucher expansion plan was among 58 items the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says have more to do with state policy than state spending. The bureau traditionally prepares a list of non-spending items before the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee makes changes to the state's two-year master spending plan so it can decide whether the items should be pulled and introduced as separate legislation.
But the GOP-controlled legislature's decision to keep a policy issue like expanded school choice in the budget shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The program has wealthy and generous friends who have spent nearly $10 million mostly to help elect Walker and other Republican candidates for statewide office and the legislature, a recent Democracy Campaign report shows.
In addition to the $2.35 million in campaign contributions and outside election spending Walker has received from school choice backers, Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee has accepted nearly $58,000 in contributions from school choice supporters. And the American Federation of Children, a group that fights to preserve and expand school choice, spent an estimated $1.3 million to help Darling and other incumbent Republican senators win their 2011 recall elections.
The state budget is the only proposal the legislature must approve every two years while stand-alone bills fail or die by the hundreds. Though controversial, Walker's plan to expand school vouchers is tucked among hundreds of spending initiatives and pet programs favored by most legislators and they have to approve the state budget one way or the other.