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Milwaukee Plan Will to Send Low-Income Kids to Private Schools With PM-Workplace Schools, Bjt

March 26, 1990

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Gov. Tommy Thompson planned to sign a first-of-its-kind bill that would let 1,000 low-income Milwaukee students use public education funds to enroll in private schools.

Under the plan, the state would pay up to $2,500 - the per-capita state education allotment - for full tuition in non-sectarian private schools for each student who chooses to leave the public-school system next fall.

The amount spent would be subtracted from the budget for the city’s public schools, which have nearly 100,000 students.

The Legislature sent the bill to the governor on Thursday.

At the Bush administration’s invitation, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Annette ″Polly″ Williams, D-Milwaukee, has spent the past few months traveling around the country to tout the plan as a model for school choice.

″Money talks,″ Ms. Williams said. ″For the first time, poor people will get respect because they can take their $2,500 to a school of their choice and say, ’I want my children educated.‴

Thompson, a Republican, has hailed the school-choice bill and said he plans to sign it soon.

″We as a state have acknowledged that private schools play an important role and provide an effective option in the education of our children,″ Thompson said Thursday.

But Robert Peterkin, superintendent of Milwaukee schools and supporter of some kinds of school choice, said the bill the Legislature passed is ″a threat to education.″

The bill, he said, could upset the city schools’ racial desegregation plan. He also complained it would drain resources from inner-city schools and do nothing to improve schools that lose students.

″The concept that the competitive marketplace will magically make the public-school system improve is simplistic,″ Peterkin said. He had no immediate plans to challenge it in court, however.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, initially also opposed the proposal. But the union changed its position when the governor promised not to use his partial veto power to expand the program, said Thomas Fonfara, Thompson’s education advisor.

Fonfara said the union’s decision was the key to winning legislative support for the plan.

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