Racine opts to promote voucher funding transparency

As the impact of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers grows, Racine’s mayor is doing his part to inform taxpayers about the effect vouchers are having on property tax bills.

According to the Racine Journal Times, “Property owners in the City of Racine will receive an insert along with their tax bills this year showing where their tax money goes, with a focus on voucher school funding.”  The insert, included with all Racine property tax bills, shows how total property tax funds collected in the city are split among various units of government, and includes detailed information about the Racine Unified School District tax levy.

Noteworthy is that the insert shows that of the $91.3 million total collected from taxpayers in all district municipalities, about one fifth will fund voucher-school students.

According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the Racine Parental Choice Program (or RPCP)—enrolled 3,324 students (3,241.6 FTE) in 26 participating private schools for the 2018-19 school year.

Vouchers for those pupils are paid for in two ways:  State general purpose revenue (GPR) pays for voucher pupils who first participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year. For those pupils who first participated in the 2015-16 school year or after (referred to in the statutes as “incoming pupils”), the vouchers are paid for through a deduction in state general aid from the Racine Unified district where the student resides.

So-called “incoming pupils” are included in the district’s membership for state general aid purposes. The district then receives a non-recurring revenue limit exemption equal to its aid reduction, which the school board may choose to include when setting its property tax levy.  In effect, the school board is given the option to raise property taxes to offset the aid reduction that pays private and parochial schools for the vouchers or to accept the aid reduction and be forced to cut programs and staff for its own students.

The statewide voucher program impacts districts in which voucher students in that program reside in similar fashion, forcing school boards in affected districts to have to make similar choices.  However, without an insert in property tax bill, most property taxpayers would have no clue about how much of their property taxes are being used, in effect, to fund vouchers.

In the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments to private and parochial schools are $7,754 per full-time student for kindergarten through eighth grade students and $8,400 per full-time high school student.

The overall cost to taxpayers of the Racine voucher program is estimated to be 25.6 million in 2018-19, while the estimated cost of the statewide voucher program is $54.6 million.