School Choice & Charters

Wisconsin Sunk $139 Million Into Private Schools Booted From Voucher Program

By Arianna Prothero — October 13, 2014 2 min read
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Over the past decade, Wisconsin has spent around $139 million on school vouchers to pay tuition for students attending private schools that were eventually disqualified from the state’s program, according to a review by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Madison, Wis.-based newspaper also reports that a little over 50 low-performing public schools in Milwaukee, where no more than 10 percent of students tested proficient on state exams, cost the taxpayers around $361 million last year alone.

Wisconsin—the birthplace of modern vouchers—denied vouchers to 50 private schools for failure to meet requirements related to financing, auditing, accreditation, and student safety. Over two-thirds of those schools had been open for no more than five years. Furthermore, the Wisconsin State Journal found that 11 participating schools had been booted from the voucher program after only a year of opening—and after costing $4.1 million collectively.

School vouchers are among several education-related issues that have been a flashpoint in the governor’s race between incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Burke, a Madison Wisconsin school board member, opposes vouchers, while Scott signed an expansion of the state’s program into law last year.

Burke told the Wisconsin State Journal that she favors more accountability for fledging private schools accepting taxpayer dollars and reiterated her stance that the program should be scaled back.

Meanwhile, voucher supporters cautioned not to condemn the entire program based on a few bad apples and pointed to the amount of money that was sunk into keeping low-performing public schools afloat.

To read more on what Burke, Walker and School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender had to say about the voucher program, check out the full Wisconsin State Journal article here.

In an August report, Wisconsin was ranked, alongside Ohio, as having the second best voucher program in the country by the advocacy and research group Center for Education Reform. CER’s rankings are based in part on how much autonomy private schools are allowed to keep once they enter a voucher program.

Voucher programs in general are controversial, and Wisconsin’s is no exception. The U.S. Department of Justice last year warned the state in a letter that private schools cannot discriminate against students with disabilities, and outlined several steps the state should take to insure that didn’t happen. A complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union prompted the investigation.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.