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A chance for bipartisanship

At the recent state Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, town hall meeting, many people expressed concern about new Wisconsin laws meant to encourage the spread of voucher schools to rural Wisconsin. It is not just a big city program anymore. Wiscons...

At the recent state Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, town hall meeting, many people expressed concern about new Wisconsin laws meant to encourage the spread of voucher schools to rural Wisconsin. It is not just a big city program anymore. Wisconsin now requires local school districts to pay voucher schools around $7,500 per qualified voucher. As a result, the number of voucher schools increased substantially this year. Most of these are church affiliated.

At the town hall meetings, I didn't hear anyone defend the rural expansion, though one person spoke up for the two decade-old urban voucher program. Rep. Quinn didn't defend vouchers much either. He said he felt they had some merit because they are limited "to families below 185 percent of poverty." He expressed his own reservation that the program may be seen as state money going to churches. In any case, he shouldn't be surprised at the broad opposition to expanding voucher schools in rural Wisconsin, since 98 percent of respondents to his 2015 survey gave vouchers a resounding "No!"

Voucher schools in rural Wisconsin are a local control issue. We are fortunate to have good public schools and good church schools around here. Voucher expansion to rural areas has the potential to dramatically change all that without bringing any additional state money our way. It's just Madison Republicans telling us that public schools need to start paying church schools, not because our public schools are bad, but because they said so.

The only people defending voucher schools are those that profit directly from them and those with a deep hope that voucher schools can be used to eventually shut down what they call "government schools."

Surprisingly, some of those folks live in Barron County. Our local Republican Party has posted a cartoon that declares public schools "a foe to be defeated." Seriously, check out their website. I doubt the moderate Republicans who attended Rep. Quinn's town halls support that kind of extremism, but their party leadership owns it now.

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Judging by what I heard at his town halls, Rep. Quinn doesn't support those radical beliefs either. He certainly should be inspired by what he heard from the folks who spoke up. A way forward for him, and for the rest of us, would be to assist Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Delta, in her efforts to require a local referendum before a public school has to make voucher payments. That would be good bipartisan work in the interest of rural Wisconsin and his legislative district.

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