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Parents, school officials speak out against reduced aid to public schools in Walker budget

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BRILLION, Wisconsin — Parents and Wisconsin school administrators spoke out Wednesday against proposed reductions in aid to public schools included in Gov. Scott Walker's two-year spending plan.

Dozens of educators, parents and school board members urged lawmakers to fund public schools and stop the expansion of vouchers as the Legislature's budget committee held the first of four public hearings on Walker's budget proposal in Brillion, Post-Crescent Media (http://post.cr/1H3iTJz ) reported.

"I'm not just concerned, I'm appalled that education cuts are even on the table," Kathryn Carley, who has children in the Green Bay Area Public School District, told the committee. "Our schools are not failing as you have been repeatedly told. They are struggling to succeed with the little resources that you offer them."

School administrators decried the loss of per-pupil aid and told lawmakers how much their districts could lose.

Appleton, the state's sixth-largest school district, stands to lose almost $2.2 million in per-pupil aid during the 2015-16 school year, Superintendent Lee Allinger said.

The district used the cost-saving tools created by Act 10 — Walker's law that essentially abolished collective bargaining for public unions — but it's not enough to cover rising operational costs, said Don Hietpas, Appleton's chief financial officer.

"We cannot sustain excellent student programming and student activities if our revenues continue to be frozen," Hietpas said.

PHOTO: Lee Allinger, left, Superintendent of Schools, Don Hietpas, Chief Financial Officer, and Jim Bowman, Board of Education representative, right, speak during the Joint Finance Committee public hearing at Brillion High School Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Brillion, Wis. According to Allinger, the three were voicing initial reactions to Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget in the area of funding and significant policies and the impact on the Appleton Area School District. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Dan Powers) NO SALES
Lee Allinger, left, Superintendent of Schools, Don Hietpas, Chief Financial Officer, and Jim Bowman, Board of Education representative, right, speak during the Joint Finance Committee public hearing at Brillion High School Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Brillion, Wis. According to Allinger, the three were voicing initial reactions to Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget in the area of funding and significant policies and the impact on the Appleton Area School District. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Dan Powers) NO SALES

Nearly all of the administrators who spoke opposed expanding the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which allows low-income students to attend private or religious schools using taxpayer-subsidized vouchers.

The Republican governor's proposed budget would lift the enrollment cap on the program and take money from local public schools to pay for student vouchers.

"How do I explain (to parents) that ... the voucher program is literally taking money away from their child's classrooms to pay for the vouchers?" asked Michelle Langenfeld, superintendent of the Green Bay Area Public School District.

Voucher proponents described the program as essential for low-income families whose children otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a private education.

"During our open house last night we heard from more than one family that school choice was the only way that they would be able to send their child to Fox Valley Lutheran, which is their school of choice," said Martha Baldwin, director of operations at Fox Valley Lutheran High School in Appleton.

The Joint Finance Committee will hold public hearings through next week in Milwaukee, Rice Lake and Reedsburg.


Information from: Post-Crescent Media, http://www.postcrescent.com

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PHOTO: Committee members welcome the visitors at the start of the Joint Finance Committee public hearing at Brillion High School Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Brillion, Wis.  (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Dan Powers) NO SALES
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