GREEN BAY — Several area Democratic lawmakers want the Assembly to pass a bill that would stop the expansion of the school voucher program in Wisconsin.
The program uses taxpayer money to pay for private education for students in struggling school districts.
School vouchers were limited to Milwaukee schools, but are now available throughout Milwaukee County and Racine.
Other cities, like Green Bay, could at some point be eligible, under current law.
The Senate has already passed a bill which would give lawmakers the final say on expanding the program.
So far, Republicans leaders in the Assembly have not scheduled a vote on the bill.
With just two weeks left in the legislative session, Democrats are looking for action on the bill this month.
"We think it is more important than ever that we fix this loophole," said State Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh).
State Democrats are publicly calling on Assembly Republicans to pass a bill that would stop the expansion of the school voucher program.
"It's simply unconscionable that we would see this imposed by the state on communities, on families, on school districts, without any public input, without any public hearings on whether these communities actually want them," said Hintz.
The legislation would close a loophole in the state budget that could allow public taxpayer funded vouchers to be used for private schools if they meet certain criteria.
The criteria include property values in the district, cost of education per pupil, number of students living in poverty and whether the city is considered by the state to be second class.
Democrats say more than three dozen cities - including Green Bay, Appleton and Menasha - could at some point be eligible for the program under the current law.
"We're very concerned if this loophole does not get closed," said Menasha Superintendent Robert Kobylski.
Kobylski said his district is very near to meeting the criteria that could create a voucher program.
He said right now, 200 students in the area attend private schools.
Hintz says because of a change in income requirements, those students could receive voucher program money if the bill isn't passed.
"It would have serious consequences. $1.2 million is essentially equal to approximately 18 teachers. In addition to that, we'd be looking at some serious program reductions as a result of that," said Kobylski.
No one could tell FOX 11 exactly why the bill hasn't been voted on yet, even though several Republican legislators we talked with support it.
"I really don't know why the Democrats are making an issue out of this. We have more than two weeks left before the end of session. There are a number of bills that have a lot of support that have yet to get to the floor, and there's no reason for me to believe this isn't going to be done before the end of session this year," said State Rep. Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh).
"There's a lot of us in town who would love to not see this bill pass, but that's up to the Legislature," said school voucher advocate and former Republican State Representative John Gard.
Gard added no matter what lawmakers decide there's still hope for school choice in Northeast Wisconsin.
"Some people want to use this as sort of the death knell of school choice in Green Bay, whether that bill passes or not, we're still going to continue to try to reach out to people in this community and pass a good voucher program for the Green Bay area," said Gard.
Late Thursday afternoon, seven Republican lawmakers from Northeast Wisconsin issued a statement. It said that the 2013 budget will provide the best opportunity to define if and how the voucher program is expanded in Green Bay.
Representative Hintz said he hopes to bring the bill to the Assembly floor for a vote on Tuesday.
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