July 1 State Aid Estimates Will Factor In Voucher Students For the First Time

Each July 1, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is required by state law to provide school districts with an estimate of their equalized aid for the coming school year.

This year, for the first time, students who began attending a private school under either the statewide or Racine voucher programs in the 2015-16 school year will be factored into the equalized aid calculation.  The change, made in the 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55), will impact the aid payments school districts will receive by adding about 2,200 voucher pupils in 142 districts to the 2016-17 aid calculation. The added voucher pupils will be counted for aid purposes by the districts in which they reside.

Wisconsin distributes the bulk of state school aid through an equalization formula, under which districts with less property wealth per pupil tend to receive more state aid and vice versa.

By increasing student counts in districts where voucher students resided in 2015-16, the change will spread the property wealth (i.e., equalized value) of those districts over more students. Having less equalized value per pupil will generally qualify those districts for more state aid.

What other districts may receive in state aid depends on the overall amount distributed–note that lawmakers increased 2016-17 equalization aids by $108.1 million (or 1.2 percent)–and whether other factors in the formula–e.g., shared cost, enrollment or equalized value–are rising or falling in relation to other districts.

In the complex world of school finance, few things are clear cut. However, when the DPI releases its aid estimates next Friday, public school leaders can likely expect to see some shifts in state aid as a result of factoring in these 2,200 new voucher students.

The July 1 estimates are subject to change for a variety of reasons, most notably that they are based on the amounts school districts budgeted rather than what they actually spent. Aidable expenditures (called shared costs) aren’t finalized until districts’ annual reports are audited. However, the July 1 estimates provide a reasonable guess districts can use for planning purposes.

Districts will receive their actual (certified) aid amounts from the DPI on October 15.

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