Tuesday, March 21, 2017

More evidence shows vouchers are still stealing from public schools in Fitzwalkerstan

State Sen. Janet Bewley drew some headlines this week when she asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to compare aids given to Wisconsin’s public schools with how much will be given out in vouchers for each student by the end of Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget.

Here’s a look at what the LFB replied with regarding the voucher payments that are slated for the next 2 years. I know this will shock you, but more money is projected to go into them for this budget, just like it has for all other budgets under Scott Walker.
You asked for the choice payment amount for the 2010-11 school year and the payment amounts for the 2016-17 school year. In 2010-11, the per pupil payment was equal to $6,442 for pupils in all grades. In 2016-17, the per pupil payment is equal to $7,323 for pupils in grades K-8 and $7,969 for pupils in grades 9-12. The weighted average per pupil payment in 2016-17 is approximately $7,461, based on the percentage of full-time equivalent (FTE) pupils in the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide choice programs who are enrolled in grades K-8 and the percentage enrolled in grades 9-12.

Under Assembly Bill 64/Senate Bill 30 (the Governor's budget proposal), it is estimated that the payments will increase by $217 in each year of the 2017-19 biennium. Estimated payments for a K-8 pupil would equal $7,540 in 2017-18 and $7,757 in 2018-19. For a 9-12 pupil, estimated payments would equal $8,186 in 2017-18 and $8,403 in 2018-19.
In addition, some funding is taken away from public schools when a student living in the district uses a voucher for a private or independent charter school, so the LFB also noted that effect (estimated to be over $168 million in 2018-19).

Compare those figures of $7,757 per student for K-8 voucher students and $8,403 for high schoolers with what is sent out in General Aids for K-12 public schools. As you can see, public schools in Wisconsin would get less money per student in 2018-19 than they would 8 years before (aka, the year that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP took power).

General state aid per pupil, K-12
2010-11 $5,318
2018-19 $5,273

And that’s before inflation is taken into account.

But K-12 school funding is more than General Aids, and the LFB paper mentions the fact that categorical aids have grown in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. These are programs that are outside of the general funding formula, and the biggest item in it are per-pupil aids, which goes to schools based on their populations, and also includes targeted funds for certain schools with extra challenges, like sparsity aids for small rural districts with not much tax base, and aids for districts with high numbers of students living in poverty.

K-12 categorical aids are projected to grow from $653.9 million in 2010-11 to $1.22 billion in 2018-19 under the Governor’s Budget, including sizable per-pupil increases in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 (although as we found out yesterday, it’s not as big as the Walker Adminstration said, because some is based on whether the state decides to self-insure for employees health insurance, and whether there actually are savings). But even with the growth in aid that Walker’s pre-election budget has, the total state aid increase per pupil still lags below the rate of inflation during his time in office.

Total public school aids per pupil, K-12
2010-11 $6,080
2018-19 $6,703 (+10.2%)
Proj. change in CPI 2011-2019 (+13.8%)

And that $6,703 that state taxpayers would give in 2018-19 per K-12 student is a whole lot less than the $7,757 that comes with a K-8 voucher pupil or $8,403 for a high school student in that same year. The slimebuckets in the voucher lobby responded by saying “But what about property taxes?,” to which I have the following responses to that response:

1. The voucher people aren’t mentioning that there is a bonus payment that comes to voucher schools under the “special needs scholarship” program (page 17 of this PDF on the DPI budget). This gives funds to private schools who take in students with special needs, and Walker wants to increase this payment from $12,000 this year to $12,434 per student by 2018-19, and increase the number of students in the program from 350 next year to 500 in 2018-19 (with aid to the local public school district reduced by the same amount, by the way).

This $12,434 is well above the $8,403 that would be given for a voucher student without special needs, and while the extra cost of special education is figured in the public schools’ Categorical Aid number, it isn’t figured into the voucher school’s figures, which means the additional state cost per voucher school student is significantly higher a than the $1,000+ we’ve seen in the press.

2. The voucher lobby is conveniently not counting the fact that any private school tuition payment beyond the cost of the voucher also can be written off on a parent’s taxes. That’s another $12 million that should be added to the cost of vouchers, and that’s not even mentioning that the overwhelming number of parents getting the tax break make 6 figures.

3. Parents who use vouchers and/or private schools still get to write off the public school part of their property taxes at both the state and federal level. You wanna even it up, voucher slime? Then you don’t get to double-dip with a private school tuition tax break AND a write-off for public school property taxes.

So even while Governor Walker makes taxpayer-funded campaign appearances touting his plans to put more per-pupil aids into public schools, he's still giving preferential treatment to vouchers. Which still gives the average Wisconsin taxpayer the shaft for WisGOP's crooked, DeVosian strategy of funneling money into these private schools, with the plans that lobbyists like convicted criminal Scott Jensen kick back some of those voucher proceeds back to their campaigns.

Which is why it is all the more critical that we re-elect Tony Evers as superintendent on April 4, to make sure someone will advocate for the public schools that are the bedrocks of our community and society, even if they don't get the funding or lobbying that they deserve. And maybe we can start to even out this disparity in state funding where vouchers get thousands more in state funding per student than the public schools do.


  1. Related...I haven't heard any noise about it recently, but did that funding formula gap that particularly affected Milwaukee taxpayers ever get fixed or reduced?

    1. They're not doing anything with the General Aid formula, from what I can tell. And Walker's decision to put the extra money into per-pupil aids won't much help a district like MPS that has flat and/or declining enrollment.

      They reductions in aid to MPS from vouchers are being reduced a little each year, but I don't think that's what you're talking about.