Statewide Tab for Private School Vouchers Reaches $270 Million

The costs of Wisconsin’s three voucher programs (Milwaukee, Racine and Statewide) will reach just under $270 million in the current 2017-18 school year, according to figures released today by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which oversee the state’s voucher programs.

The costs of voucher programs will jump by $25 million this year over the previous (2016-17) school year.

In addition, public school districts across the state will have their state aid reduced by nearly $43 million to pay the costs of voucher students who reside in their districts and who first enrolled in and participated in the Statewide or Racine voucher programs in 2015-16 or later. These students are referred to in state law as “incoming” voucher pupils.

The Statewide private school choice program is paid for in two ways, depending on when a student first received a voucher. State general purpose revenue (GPR) dollars pay for students who first participated in the program prior to 2015-16, funded through a sum-sufficient appropriation. So-called “incoming pupils”—those who first participated in the 2015-16 school year or after—are paid for through a deduction in state aid from the public school district where the student resides. The Racine voucher program is funded in similar fashion, but has a higher family income limit (300 percent of the federal poverty level).

“Incoming pupils” in the Racine and Statewide voucher programs are included in their resident public school district’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. The district instead receives a one-year, non-recurring revenue limit adjustment, which the school board may use when setting its 2018 school taxes. The adjustment is equal to a given district’s reduction in aid.

If public school districts exercise all of their revenue limit authority under these provisions, property taxes would rise by $43 million statewide to defray the costs of payments to private schools under these two programs.

A total of 4,540 pupils are enrolled at taxpayer expense in 154 different private schools under the $34.0 million Statewide voucher program, while 3,007 taxpayer-funded pupils are enrolled in 23 different private schools under the $22,4 million Racine voucher program.

Based on third Friday in September enrollment counts, 2017-18 enrollment for the state’s three voucher programs (Milwaukee, Racine and Statewide) is 35,176.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) pupils, an increase of 2,620.9 FTE from 2016-17 enrollment.

The biggest of the state’s three voucher programs is in Milwaukee, where 28,702 pupils (27,856.8 FTE) are enrolled in 126 participating private schools this year. The $213.3 million Milwaukee voucher program is paid for mostly with state GPR dollars (77.6 percent of the cost of the program) as well as by deducting state aid that would be otherwise paid to MPS (22.4 percent of the cost of the program).

To get a better understanding of the impact private school vouchers are having on Wisconsin ‘s public schools, please attend the WASB Legislative Advocacy Conference on Nov. 4 in Stevens Point.  The conference will feature a specific session on this topic.