Many districts are passing resolutions to demand the public have the right to know how much private school vouchers cost local taxpayers. In the last few weeks school boards in Janesville, Rhinelander, Green Bay and Wisconsin Rapids passed resolutions stipulating that the public has a right to know how much state aid for public schools is being sent to subsidize private education.
In addition to asking school boards to pass their own resolutions, board members at the WASB convention this week will be asked to pass a resolution to call for reporting on local tax bills the amount of resources being diverted from public schools to private education. If this statewide resolution passes, there is potential to influence larger discussions on school funding.
Provided below is an overview of the voucher transparency issue (per Jeffrey Leverich of WEAC) and a link to a set of talking points. Please know that any board action needs to be coupled with supporting letters from the community--an essential part of the public awareness effort.
Hopefully you find this information helpful in answering questions about, and making arguments for, the public's right to know how much state funding is going to private education.
A shortened version of this post was published as a letter to the editor in the Wisconsin Gazette on 15 March 2018. (The submitted title was: "The Right to Know the Public-to-Private Transfer of Education Tax Dollars". Editorial discretion changed the title to be more provocative.)
Statewide voucher funding is moderately complex. The legislature allocates a set amount (pool) of school aid each year. Money comes out of that statewide pool to go to voucher schools, so as more vouchers are awarded through time less school aid will be available for public schools statewide.
The disbursal mechanism is as follows: (1) voucher students are added to enrollment (membership) for the public school district in which they reside. That means more state aid goes to that public school, drawing down the overall pool of state aid for other districts. However, the public school functions as a conduit--it does not really get the aid. (2) By law, DPI subtracts voucher aid from the public school and sends the money directly to private schools based on the number of voucher students they have. (3) The public school then has to go to the local levy to increase revenue to make up for the loss in aid that was sent to private schools. This is the property tax component of the equation that is hidden from communities--only the public school levy is reported on tax bills, even though a portion of that funding is going to subsidize private schools.
Aid for public school students varies from district to district, but all public students receive less state aid per pupil than the amount of funding legislators guarantee for private school vouchers. Rhinelander, for example, only received $1,553 in aid (including the new per pupil funding) in 2016-17, but would be forced to pay $7,969 for a private high school voucher. In other words, even though Rhinelander only received $1,553 per pupil in aid, it would have to pay out $7,969 per pupil to private schools, creating a deficit. Luckily, the district had no voucher students last year, but many surrounding districts and Green Bay are experiencing large increases.
In essence, public school districts are forced to either cut funding for programs and services for their children, or go to the local levy to make up for the loss in funding.
Please encourage districts in your region to pass a resolution supporting voucher transparency, and to support the voucher transparency resolution coming up at the WASB convention this month, that calls for making these transactions known to the public.