There are two very different views of school choice in Wisconsin. And both were on full display Tuesday at the Capitol in Madison. 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and a host of Wisconsin Republicans told a crowd at the statehouse that school choice in Wisconsin is as strong as it’s ever been. 

“I was for school choice before it was cool,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “I watched this movement grow over the past 30 years. I’ve seen firsthand the thousands of promising lives that have been touched back in my home state of Indiana and in states across this country.”

Pence said school choice started in Wisconsin 30 years ago when former Gov. Tommy Thompson started the state’s choice program in Milwaukee. Former Gov. Scott Walker expanded the program statewide. And current Republican leaders want to expand school choice in Wisconsin even more. 

‘”Is it fair that in Milwaukee students can apply to the best schools in the state when right here in Madison they have limited choices?” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asked. “Wisconsin has one of the highest racial achievement gaps in the country. Right here in Madison, where school choice hasn’t taken root, the gap is the worst. This state needs more school choice, not less.”

But about a half-hour after Pence and Vos and others extolled the successes of school choice, a group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a piece of legislation to roll back choice programs. 

“Sadly, in Wisconsin, there has been a decades-long sustained attack on public education by puppet politicians who are happy to take money from their huge donors and sell out the educational future of Wisconsinites,” Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, said at a Tuesday news conference. 

Brostoff is pushing a piece of legislation that not only would phase out Wisconsin’s voucher program, but as well require the state to limit class sizes to 18 students, which would force schools across the state to hire more teachers. 

“Lower class sizes have clearly and consistently been linked to better educational outcomes,” Brostoff said. “And specifically have been linked to reduce the racial gap that Wisconsin suffers.”

But the vice president said ending school choice would hurt the very children that Democrats say they want to protect. 

“Many of the children who benefit the most come from our underserved communities,” Pence said. He continued, saying school choice has benefited minority communities. “Thousands of African American and Hispanic parents, who wouldn’t have been able to do so otherwise, have been able to choose where their children go to school here in Wisconsin.”

More than 43,000 students are enrolled in nearly 350 schools through Wisconsin’s voucher program. There are another 60,000 students who take advantage of open-enrollment for public schools, and another 12,000 or so students are attending charter schools in the state. 

“We all want to end the emphasis on the adjective that comes before school, whether religious, private, charter, magnet, home, or traditional public,” DeVos said. She added the focus should be “on what truly matters – students and their learning.”

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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