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School hears voucher proposal

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Among the options the Hudson School Board heard to deal with overcrowded schools at their recent work session was vouchers to pay for private education.

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The idea was presented by Steve Hermsen, a Hudson resident who has been a critic of the district's financial operations.

Hermsen was invited by the board to present a school voucher proposal along with several other options the board was exploring to address the need for more space at Hudson schools.

Hermsen's proposal took the same format at the other options presented by Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten, listing advantages, disadvantages and the estimated cost of the option.

According to Hermsen, instituting a local levy educational tax credit (voucher) will provide an economic incentive for the development of non-government schools.

The advantages he cited include:

  • Creating a partnership between the private sector and the government in developing additional schools,
  • Helping create additional space at a reduced public-funded cost,
  • Meeting educational needs of students per the parents' wishes,
  • Helping reduce the "93 percent capture rate" of public school in Hudson Star-Observer,
  • Giving parents additional choices for their children's education,
  • Reducing or eliminating the need for redistricting,
  • Making Hudson a more attractive place to live,
  • Not costing taxpayers anything extra.

    Hermsen said he sees the voucher system used in the Milwaukee area as a model for Hudson. He points to two recent court cases that upheld that the Milwaukee voucher system is constitutional.

    When it came to disadvantages of his option, Hermsen believes there aren't any. When asked how many students might attend private schools if vouchers were available, he said there is no way of knowing at this time, but that he believed it would be a significant number.

    Regarding the estimated cost, Hermsen said there would be a reduction in the local levy relative to the number of students attending non-government schools.

    But school board president Dan Tjornehoj was skeptical. "Can we count on this to relieve our space issues? There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of assumptions with this option. There are no guarantees that students and parents would take advantage of it (vouchers) or that they would do so in numbers that would provide a solution to our space problem in either the short or long term."

    Tjornehoj said that he was glad Hermsen put the option of vouchers on the table and that he believed there was a good exchange between him and the board. "But there are still questions about it and more research to be done. Steve did a good job and he listened to our concerns and agreed to get more information. We will talk again."

    Tjornehoj said that he is concerned about putting public funding at the local level into private institutions and that no other school districts, save Milwaukee, have adopted school vouchers.

    "I think we could anticipate more legal challenges on this issue and that could tie things up for a long time and we don't know how many students would be affected. In the meantime, we have to have to make more room, especially at the elementary level."

    Board vice president Dick Muenich echoed Tjornehoj's concern about timing. "We don't have the time to wait and see if that would work. We need space now and we have to do the right thing by the students and families who attend school in Hudson."

    Bowen-Eggebraaten said she welcomed Hermsen's participation in the work session and that she believed there had been a good exchange between everyone there. "We are willing to listen and evaluate any solution that could provide additional space for student learning."

    Hermsen agreed that there had been a good discussion and said he will research the questions raised by board members and meet with them again.

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    Meg Heaton
    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
    (715) 808-8604
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