EDITORIAL: Wait. Who gets voucher help?

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The concept of letting poor kids escape bad schools seems to have changed.

LETíS SAY THIS up-front: We support vouchers. But let us add: Details matter.

The quick launch of a statewide private-school voucher program was bound to raise a few questions at the outset.

And it has.

Starting with this one: What exactly is the goal the program is supposed to meet, and who is supposed to benefit?

THOSE WHO HAVE FOLLOWED voucher debates the past couple of decades will remember Wisconsin was a pioneer under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson. The voucher experiment had a clear and important mission. It was offered in the city of Milwaukee to low-income families ó mostly minorities ó to provide options for students trapped in poor-performing inner-city public schools.

Todayís voucher plan is different. Itís statewide, with higher income eligibility. And in last weekís announcement of qualifying schools, the Department of Public Instruction noted that two-thirds of the applicants seeking the tax subsidy already were attending private schools. About 25 percent were attending public schools.

Wait a minute. Are vouchers intended to help poor kids escape bad schools? Or just to have taxpayers pick up the tab for students instead of their parents, who had been paying for their private education?

CLEARLY, THIS NEEDS to be clarified before the program drops enrollment caps in the third year. We doubt this is the outcome taxpayers anticipated.

Left unchecked, this could result in two parallel school systems operating in Wisconsin ó with taxpayers picking up the tab for both.

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