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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

How Milwaukee Could Play A Role In Education Under President Trump

Steven Lilley/Flickr

One of the big unknowns under the new presidential administration is what will happen with education. What we do know is that both Donald Trump and his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, support school vouchers.

Milwaukee boasts the longest-running voucher program in the country. Could that make the city’s initiative a template for the country over the next four years?

Milwaukee education guru Alan Borsuk knows Milwaukee’s voucher scene well. As a longtime reporter and columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Borsuk has his ear to the ground to hear people’s concerns and hopes for education under President Trump.

One of the main concerns nationwide is Trump’s proposal to put $20 billion into promoting school choice programs around the country. 

Borsuk wonders how that proposal will pan out.

“$20 billion to come from where? To go to where? Over what period of time,” he asks. “I’m very interested in where the $20 billion might come from, because either it’s got to be new money – and that seems like a stretch to me, Trump wants to cut taxes and so on -- or it’s got to come from somewhere that exists.”

Borsuk says Trump will have the support of his nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, as he moves toward increased choice. DeVos, part of an active family of philanthropists in Michigan, has been heavily involved in her state’s charter school movement, as well as voucher programs nationally.

She was also recently chairperson of the American Federation for Children, an influential pro-voucher group.

“She’s also been involved over time a lot in Wisconsin, in pro-voucher political campaigns here, donations to candidates,” Borsuk says. “The American Federation for Children had its roots as an organization in Milwaukee, so she has strong ties here.”

READ: At DeVos' Senate Hearing, Questions Of Choice, Charters, 'Other Options'

Borsuk says he isn’t sure whether Milwaukee’s history with vouchers will position the city or state of Wisconsin as a model for budding choice programs around the country.

One the one hand, I would think Wisconsin would benefit less than a lot of places because we have such a developed school choice picture,” he says. “Are we a developed scene that doesn’t need a federal boost? Or are we a model that they’re going to really want to tout and build up? I could picture either.”

Frankly, more easily I could picture that they’re going to concentrate on places that don’t have school choice to the degree Wisconsin has now,” he adds.

Education reporter Rachel Morello covers topics like the upcoming state superintendent’s race and legislative budget battles with Alan Borsuk on Lake Effect.

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