Before she backtracked Thursday, Senator Alberta Darling sounded as if she was on board with the school choice deal hammered out by Capitol leaders in closed door sessions:
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said she supported the framework and believed that other Senate Republicans would, as well. Darling said she expected that her panel would vote on the framework on Tuesday.
"It's a compromise and in a compromise everybody's got to give," Darling said.
True enough. But what did Mike Ellis give up in this "compromise"? We know what supporters of choice gave up:
1. Walker's increased funding for existing choice schools was slashed.
2. Expansion of choice to major cities like Green Bay was dropped.
3. Special needs scholarships were dropped.
4. All but a token statewide expansion (500-1000 students is token at best and unworkable).
5. Any ties of school choice to failing schools or failing districts were dropped.
5. Agreed to a hard cap and limited participation to families below 185% of poverty level.
6. Agreed to limit participation to 1% of students per district -- putting choice out of reach for 99% of kids even in failing schools/districts. (!)
7. Expansion of charter schools was dropped.
8. Shifted funding to GPR, which makes future funding much easier to cut.
9. More spending on public schools.
What did Ellis give up?
This wasn't a negotiation, it was a rout.
Capitol insiders try to spin it this way: Ellis wanted an even bigger increase in funding for public schools ($250 per pupil more; he got $150); and didn't want any expansion of choice at all.
They rationalize the weak expansion of choice by saying that at least we have a foot in the door and future legislatures could raise the cap. (Really? If you can't raise it now, why shold anyone think a future legislature would?)
But here is the kicker: Referring to supporters of the special needs scolarships, an insider says "I don't feel like they have made their case here. I don't think enough lawmakers here care. And that's never a good sign."