WILL’s Research Director, Dr. Will Flanders, writes at Real Clear Education:
But in a number of other states with conservative leadership, progress on ESAs has been much slower. In Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, for example, efforts to advance school choice have failed in the legislature this year.
The case of Wisconsin may prove particularly illustrative. There, a very modest ESA bill that would only have been open to a small subset of gifted and talented students was not even voted out of committee in the Republican-controlled legislature. That bill would have provided $1,000 to the families, on top of their regular school aid, to pay for educational supplements such as tutoring, text books, or online courses. But a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans skeptical of school choice put an end to it.
From a historical perspective, this is surprising since Wisconsin has long been at the forefront of education reform. In 1990, private school tuition vouchers were little more than a theory put forth by economist Milton Friedman. Yet, Republican Governor Tommy Thompson worked across the aisle with Democratic leaders like Representative Polly Williams to create the nation’s first voucher program in Milwaukee. It was without precedent. The move was politically risky for all involved, but a bipartisan passion for providing better educational options for the Milwaukee families most in need overrode short-term political concerns. Since then, the program has grown dramatically from just over 300 children in 1990 to more than 27,000 today.