Schools in the choice program would have to begin doing background checks on prospective employees, but no longer face other administrative requirements under legislation the Senate approved 28-5.

The legislation also would strengthen financial accountability measures — a priority for Dems — while expanding eligibility requirements — something sought by voucher advocates.

But the bill opened the door to a debate on the merits of the choice program, not just the proposed changes.

Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, urged her colleagues not to get bogged down in the past battles, noting the bill was negotiated by both choice advocates and the Department of Public Instruction.

“There were things left on the table by both sides,” Taylor said.

The bill, which includes a number of non-fiscal policy items originally in Gov. Scott Walker’s K-12 education budget but removed by the Joint Finance Committee, also would change how students enrolled in the Special Needs Scholarship Program are counted in calculating a school district’s revenue limits, which DPI said would smooth relations between choice and public schools.

Currently, the average state revenue limit is around $10,100. But under the program, around $12,000 is deducted per student from a school’s aid, meaning sometimes the deductions are greater than the amount a school is able to generate for a student enrolled in the program. The bill would provide a voucher equal to that amount.

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