Walker wants vouchers in nine more Wis. school districts, including Superior

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Madison, Wis.
AP Photo/Andy Manis

SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is proposing an expansion of the state's school voucher program to nine additional cities, causing a deep vision over education funding.

Walker's plan to expand vouchers, in which taxpayers are paid a subsidy to send their children to private school, has been a lightning rod of criticism since the governor proposed it last month. Even Senate Republicans, who say they support growing the program, have said it won't happen as Walker proposed.

But a new statewide poll shows the public can be swayed in its opinion of the program.

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Almost half of Wisconsin residents say they haven't heard enough about voucher schools to form an opinion, according to the Marquette University law school poll. Some 27 percent of respondents said they have a favorable view of voucher schools while 24 percent have an unfavorable view. But a full 43 percent said they hadn't heard enough about them to form an opinion.

"There probably is still more room for political leadership on both sides to try to put forward convincing arguments and move opinion in their direction," pollster Charles Franklin said.

The initial poll question about vouchers only asked for favorability perceptions without addressing what voucher schools are. In a follow-up question, respondents were told that vouchers are payments from the state using taxpayer money to fund parents' choices of private or religious schools.

With that cue, 51 percent favored it in some form while 42 percent opposed it.

Walker is a staunch voucher supporter.

Under his budget, vouchers would be allowed in any district with at least 4,000 students and two or more schools that receive grades of D or F on report cards. Vouchers began in Milwaukee, were expanded to Racine last year, and under Walker's proposal would be allowed in nine additional districts. Those are: Beloit, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Sheboygan, Superior, Waukesha, and West Allis-West Milwaukee.

School leaders in all nine districts have spoken out against the plan, saying it would devastate their budgets and shift students into private schools that aren't held to the same accountability measures as public schools.