Taxpayers’ bill for private voucher schools soars to $350 million

Wisconsin taxpayers will be spending $349.6 million to support private schools this year through the state’s voucher program, up from $302 million last year, according to figures released by the Department of Public Instruction.

According to DPI, the taxpayer-funded voucher programs will support a total of 43,450 private school students this year, up from 40,039 students last year.

There are four voucher programs: Milwaukee, Racine, Statewide, and Special Needs. The biggest growth this year was in the Statewide Program, which grew by 37 percent, and the Special Needs program, which grew by 55 percent. Below are figures from DPI:

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Cost of Wisconsin voucher programs nears $350 million as enrollment surges

CLOSE Buy Photo The HOPE Christian Schools network is active in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. (Photo: Mark Hoffman /Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) The number of Wisconsin students attending private, mostly religious, schools on taxpayer-funded vouchers continues to grow, driven by double-digit increases in the state’s two newest programs, according to data released by the Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday.

Students need more resources and program support, WEAC President Martin says

The state Department of Public Instruction is reporting that standardized test results for the 2018-19 school year show a slight decline from the previous year.

“Wisconsin Public School educators are working hard every day to educate the whole child – academically, socially and emotionally,” said Ron Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “The annual standardized test scores measure academic achievement at one point in time, and at the start of a new school year educators welcome everyone in our communities to discuss how, together, we can address increasing barriers to learning including strapped school budgets, student poverty, trauma and mental health concerns.”

In addition to successfully advocating for more school funding in the 2019-21 state budget, WEAC has increased the number of programs it offers to help teachers and support professionals understand and teach students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Working toward solutions to the teacher shortage is also key, and WEAC is advancing a series of recommendations from a statewide salary system to improving school climates, all outlined in its 2019-20 white paper, Moving Education Forward.

According to the DPI, four in 10 Wisconsin students were proficient or advanced in the 2018-19 school year. For English, reading and writing, 39.3 percent of students met proficiency standards on the Wisconsin Forward Exam, down from 40.6 percent in 2017-18 and 42.7 percent in 2016-17. In math, 40.1 percent met the proficiency standard, down a point from the previous year. Wisconsin has set the bar high to achieve proficiency, with one of the highest cut scores in the nation which are aligned to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. 

ACT scores dropped for 11th graders, who had an average of 19.5. That was down from 19.7 in 2018 after the average had been 20 in each of the two prior years. Previously, only students who were preparing for college and those taking college-preparatory courses took the ACT, but in recent years all high school juniors have been given the test, whether or not they are enrolled in college prep courses.

The state’s achievement gap between white and minority students narrowed slightly, but due largely to a decrease in performance by white students. For example, the percentage of white fifth graders who rated proficient or advanced in English dropped 4.6 percentage points, while scores were down 1.6 points for African American fifth graders. Martin noted that educators are organizing in school districts across the state to push back on increasing class sizes that prevent them from giving students the one-on-one attention they deserve. 

The decrease in overall scores is slight, and Martin said the years of defunding public schools under the previous governor have a definite impact.

“Years of defunding public schools take a toll on the resources available for our students,” Martin said. “While a first step toward restoring some of the lost funding has been taken with the 2019-21 state budget, the damage won’t be repaired overnight.”

Martin noted that even with overwhelming public support for more education funding in the just-passed budget, Republicans in the legislative majority made deep cuts to Governor Tony Evers’ initial education budget plan. “The lack of support demonstrated by the legislative majority has a direct impact on general and special education school aids, preventing our most vulnerable students from getting the services and resources they need.”

Private voucher schools, which are increasingly enrolling students from affluent communities under the statewide voucher program, did not test nearly 10 percent of their students, even though they are required to give the state tests and are funded by taxpayers. Public schools, which serve all students no matter where they live or their economic status, posted a 98 percent participation rate.

Voucher program enrollment up 8.7 percent, cost soars to $302 million

Wisconsin Public Education Network graphic

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s three taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs rose 8.7 percent this year, while the cost soared 12.3 percent to $302 million, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs (Milwaukee, Racine and statewide), 39,381 students received a voucher to attend one of the 279 participating private schools. That is an increase of 3,164 students and 43 schools compared to last school year.

The cost of the three programs combined is estimated at $302 million for the 2018-19 school year, which is an increase of about $33 million (12.3 percent) from the prior year.

For the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments are $7,754 per full-time equivalent in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,400 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12. That compares to $5,001 per student on average for public school students in  Wisconsin.

Enrollments in the three programs are:

  • The Milwaukee program enrolls 28,917 students in 129 participating private schools this year.
  • The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolls 7,140 students in 213 private schools.
  • The Racine program enrolls 3,324 students in 26 participating private schools.

Read more from the Department of Public Instruction (pdf file).

$269 million in taxpayer money has been given to private voucher schools so far this biennium

Democrats on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee released a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau Tuesday revealing that private voucher schools in Wisconsin have received $269.6 million in state funding so far in the 2017-19 biennium, while public schools have seen a $90.6 million reduction in state aid. The memo also showed that:

  • Approximately $475 million of taxpayer dollars were paid to voucher schools over the 2015-17 biennium, during which time public schools in those districts faced a $150 million aid reduction.
  • Private school voucher programs in Wisconsin have already received over $2.5 billion [$2,576,900,000 approx.] in total state funding, and that number is only growing.

The Democrats released the figures in a news release in which they stated:

“As our children go back to school, we want the best for them and their bright futures. But Republicans have funneled millions of tax dollars to unaccountable voucher schools while our K-12 public schools continue to go to referendum just to keep the lights on,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). “Instead of funneling tax dollars to private schools, the Legislature should fairly fund our public schools so that everyone in Wisconsin has the same opportunity to learn and succeed.”

“Taxpayers have the right to know how much of their hard earned dollars are going toward voucher schools, especially since voucher schools are not required to meet the same accountability standards as public schools and have shown no significant improvements over public school performance,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

“Access to a quality education should not depend on your zip code. Unfortunately, eight years of misplaced Republican priorities have made it impossible to ensure our public schools can meet and exceed our standards for educational excellence. We must invest in our public education system so that all of our children have equal access to the best educational opportunities – it’s what they deserve,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee).

“As a mother of two children in public school and a member of the budget committee, I hear from people across our state who question why my Republican colleagues and Governor Walker are creating a second, private school system while not adequately and consistently funding the public school system where most of our Wisconsin children are educated,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “Republicans’ big campaign donors want to privatize public education to make a buck, and they are willing to destroy our public school system to do so. People should be outraged by their disregard for the 870,000 children in public schools, whose future, and our state’s future, depends on a strong public school system.”

A copy of the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo can be found here.

Private school voucher backers top $7.5 million in donations to Wisconsin politicians

From One Wisconsin Now

With the latest round of state campaign finance reports in, backers of the private school voucher program have larded the campaign accounts of politicians willing to do their bidding with $7.5 million in campaign contributions since 2008. Leading the pack, and hauling in more than 1 of every 4 dollars donated, is Governor Scott Walker with a total take in excess of $2.165 million.

“The people writing these checks want to see more private school vouchers,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Scott Walker has more than delivered, draining resources away from public K-12 schools and sending them to the less accountable private voucher schools favored by the donors who’ve dumped over $2 million into his campaign coffers.”

Under Walker and the GOP controlled legislature there has been a dramatic, statewide expansion of the less accountable private school voucher program. Vouchers take resources directly away from public schools to help pay for it even though the majority of students who enrolled in the expanded program were already attending private schools.

On top of the contributions sent directly to candidates, the American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group closely associated with Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, as uncovered by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation, which was overseen by Walker’s campaign chair Michael Grebe, spent over $108 million in support of groups helping to advance the education privatization agenda Walker favors between 2005 and 2014.