In December 2017, Wisconsin Senator Alberta Darling announced proposed legislation that would establish “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) for low-income gifted children. Sen. Darling (R-River Hills) was joined by co-sponsors Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee. The proposed bill would establish a fund of $1000 for up to 2000 families who have a student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches (household annual income at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four). Eligibility is limited to students who score in the top 5% on standardized tests OR are otherwise identified as gifted and talented “by an education official.” The funds would be administered by DPI, and parents could use the money for public or private education expenses authorized by DPI.
For two contrasting views on this potential legislation, see the links below. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is in favor; the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) is opposed. The PRO arguments tend to focus on how the funding could help low-income gifted students find more challenging opportunities; the CON arguments tend to focus on how this is a new attempt to spread the use of public funds for private education.
While WATG is a private non-profit and supports parents' rights to find the best education for their children, most members are public school employees and are deeply supportive of public schools' efforts to provide appropriate levels of challenge to all students with gifts and talents, including efforts to eliminate excellence gaps for low-income students. WATG is glad to see a call for greater state attention to students with gifts and talents, and works in every budget cycle to increase the amount of state funding for these students so that their potential for themselves and for society is not lost.
This proposed legislation has not yet been officially submitted to the legislature or any education committee; Sen. Darling is in the process of seeking more co-sponsors. Stay tuned!