Howard Fuller, one of the leaders of the early school choice movement in Milwaukee’s African American community, issued a statement Thursday asking the state legislature to raise the income limits to qualify for a private school voucher in the state’s school choice program. In the Racine and Milwaukee school choice programs, the income limit for participation is 300 percent of the federal poverty line.

“Unfortunately, the statewide choice program uses the much lower income limit of 185% of the federal poverty level,” Fuller wrote. “This means a single mom with two children making $38,000 a year in West Allis or Beloit or Wausau is ‘too rich’ to qualify for the program. She must find a way on her own to pay for a better education for her children.”

Fuller said raising the income limit for the state program would provide consistency statewide. “It is important that we update the income cap to fit the reality of today’s economic environment for low income and working class families,” Fuller said.

We agree.

In the state budget impasse, Republicans in the state senate are only proposing to increase the income limit to 220 percent of the federal poverty level. Assembly Republicans support making the income limit 300 percent of the federal poverty line.

Unlike Dr. Fuller, we don’t see the need for any limit on income. The purpose of sending education tax dollars to Madison and to the local school districts is to educate children, not to fund “school districts.” The money should follow the child to the best provider of education possible, and that decision should be made by parents. Not school districts, not DPI Superintendent Tony Evers and not the teachers unions. Parents ought to be able to decide the best educational provider for their children, and the money that is intended to educate those children should follow.

However, given politics and the often weak-kneed defense of school choice by state Republicans, we recognize that there will be limits on school choice in the near term. But Fuller is right. Why should a child who would qualify for a private school education in Milwaukee be denied participation in a school choice program because he or she happens to live in Green Bay? Let’s make the school choice programs uniform across the state. Zip code should not determine the quality of a child’s educational choices.


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