Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vouchers up 150%, and your taxes will follow

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released the figures on the number of students using vouchers to enroll in private schools for the 2015-16 school year. This includes the figures from the long-running Milwaukee voucher program, but also includes reports on the newer program that allows students outside of Milwaukee to also use vouchers. These figures should get extra attention, as it is the first year that the cap on the number of students receiving vouchers statewide was removed, with the only limitation being that 1% of a district’s headcount could get a voucher (a limit only reached by a handful of places).

As you’ll see, these changes caused a 150% increase in the number of students receiving vouchers statewide, from just over 1,000 to just over 2,500, resulting in a significant shift of state aid away from local districts and into the private schools receiving students with vouchers. And in a continuation of a pattern that we’ve seen in these voucher expansions in recent years, the vast majority of the students using vouchers already went to private schools.
.…Of the 1,640 new students enrolled in the WPCP for the 2015-16 school year, 19.1 percent (306.1 FTE) attended a public school last year. [75.7% were in private school]

While there are 82 private schools or school systems participating in the statewide choice program in the 2015-16 school year, 79 of those schools have enrolled students using a voucher through the WPCP. Changes to state law recently eliminated the previous WPCP cap of 1,000 FTE students. Enrollment in the WPCP voucher program in 2015-16 from a single public school district is limited to 1 percent of the school district’s student population. Enrollment numbers reported are from the student count conducted on the third Friday in September at each school. Student eligibility will be reviewed by independent auditors per state law and submitted to the DPI in December, so enrollment numbers are subject to change.

For the 2015-16 school year, each eligible private school participating in the WPCP may receive a voucher payment of $7,214 per FTE student in grades K4 through eight, or $7,860 per FTE student in grades nine through 12. The WPCP is estimated to cost $18.3 million in 2015-16.
Also worth noting is that while districts lose the state aid associated with a student, they can more than make up for what is called a “non-recurring revenue limit exemption”, which could raise property and other local taxes by nearly $21.4 million statewide.

You can take a look and see which private schools received voucher students across the state at this link (interestingly, very few of these schools have voucher students make up more than 15% of their enrollment), and you can click here to take a look to see how much your local school district had funneled away from it as a result of this giveaway to campaign contributors change in the voucher program.

There is one noteworthy exception to the statewide voucher system, and that’s in the Racine Unified School District. Racine has had vouchers in its district since 2011 (a pet project of Racine County native/ALEC Cabin Boy Robbin’ Vos), and allows for unlimited enrollment, instead of the 1% cap like every other non-Milwaukee district. The DPI notes these changes, and the two-track nature of funding students that are in Racine’s voucher system
Act 55 (Wisconsin 2015-17 Biennial Budget) changed the manner in which the RPCP is funded. Students who participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year will continue to be fully funded from state general purpose revenue. Pupils who begin attending a private school under the RPCP [Racine’s voucher program] in the 2015-16 school year and thereafter are funded with a reduction to Racine Unified School District’s (RUSD) state general aid, estimated at $4.2 million for the 2015-16 school year. Incoming pupils in the RPCP are included in RUSD’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. The district will receive a non-recurring revenue limit exemption, which the school board may include when setting the 2016 tax level. The exemption is computed by multiplying the number of FTE resident choice pupils participating in the RPCP by the district’s current year per pupil revenue limit. For 2016, the district’s estimated revenue limit authority is an additional $5.6 million.
So the Racine district loses over $4 million in state aid for this year, and Racine district taxpayers could have to shell out another $5.6 million in property taxes due to this voucher program. I’m sure the residents of those communities will love that line item in their property tax bill this winter.

Also interesting is that unlike the statewide system, 2/3 of the Racine students that ended up in voucher schools were in public schools last year. In another change from what we saw statewide, many of these private schools have an overwhelming majority of students with vouchers, with 4 having voucher students be between 98 and 100% of their enrollments. These two developments likely means that there was large amounts of scrambling in both the public and voucher schools in Racine, in order to handle a different number and demographic of students than what was projected at the start of this year. I can’t think that makes the first few weeks of school go well, as neither place is likely to be appropriately staffed.

But that type of chaos is exactly what the ALEC puppets in the Legislature want to see, because it leads to the lowering of chances that quality education can be a leveler and expander of opportunity. Because let's face it, the whole voucher scam isn't about improving education, it's about grabbing taxpayer dollars and political influence while taking the same away from public education. And these figures on voucher enrollment show that they've been succeeding in those goals of grabbing money and power, at the expense of community and increased opportunity.

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