Fuller: Milwaukee voucher can serve more without going universal

Howard Fuller will never support a universally accessible voucher, and he will oppose any effort to lift all income restrictions to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. But that doesn’t mean he won’t consider reviewing the elibility requirements that have been in place since Wisconsin established the voucher program more than 20 years ago.

In an interview today with redefinED, Fuller said there is a way to expand the program to serve more Milwaukee students while remaining faithful to the cause for social justice that inspired the program in the first place. Currently, families new to the program can earn a household income no greater than 175 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a family of four totals $38,937. Yet, as Fuller notes, the median household income in Milwaukee is $34,898. Gov. Scott Walker can capture more low-income and working-class families by following other means-tested models proven in other public services without establishing a universal voucher, which Fuller says would ultimately subisdize the wealthy.

As an example, he pointed to Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program, which provides health care to state residents who earn less than 300 percent of poverty, which is about $67,000 for a family of four. “That would capture over 80 percent of the households in the city,” Fuller said. “So if your real objective is to expand the level of support, you could do that, and still retain a focus on low-income and moderate-income families.”

Earlier this week, Fuller told legislators that if they passed Walker’s plan to eliminate the income threshold, “I will become an opponent of a program that I have fought for over 20 years.” On Monday, redefinED will feature a podcast of the interview with Fuller, who also shares why choice without regulation or accountability is not enough and why he thinks the school choice movement nationally could be coming to a critical juncture for him.

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit