MADISON, Wis. — As the cost for the private school voucher program hits nearly $350 million per year, data from the state Department of Public Instruction shows nearly 82 percent of students in the statewide expansion of the program in the 2019-20 school year attended a private school in the previous school year.
“At nearly $350 million for this year, the private school voucher program is a huge cost to state taxpayers and a drain on our public schools,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Analiese Eicher. “A closer look at the data shows many of the students receiving vouchers aren’t changing from a public to a private school, they were already attending private school. What’s changing is that it’s taxpayers picking up the tab.”
According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the cost of all programs providing Wisconsin taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools will hit $349.6 million for the 2019-20 school year. The statewide expansion of the program will top $77 million for just under 10,000 students at 254 private schools.
DPI data further reveals over 81 percent of the students attending private schools in 2019-20 in the statewide program attended a private school in the 2018-19 school year. Meanwhile, fewer than 11 percent of 2019-20 students were in public schools in the 2018 school year, 7.8 percent of participants were not in school and just over 2 percent were homeschooled.
The number of students receiving vouchers at participating private schools compared to their total enrollment varies widely, although two schools new to the program this year reported to DPI that 100 percent of their enrolled students are receiving a taxpayer-funded vouchers.
Republicans in control of the state legislature in recent years have dramatically increased the size of the private school voucher program, including expanding eligibility statewide for private schools to apply take students paying their tuition with a taxpayer-funded voucher. The value of the voucher for the 2019 school year is just over $8,000 for students in grades K-8 and nearly $8,700 for those in grades 9-12. The vouchers are paid for by a combination of state general tax dollars and reductions in state funding for public schools.