Wisconsin Statewide Parental Choice Program Likely to Exacerbate School Funding Inequity

BOULDER, CO (October 5, 2017) – In 2013, Wisconsin’s legislature added a statewide voucher program to its longstanding Milwaukee voucher program and a newly enacted voucher program in Racine. The state expanded the statewide program in 2015 and changed the funding mechanism of the program so that its cost was borne by local school districts. The program is already distributing tens of millions of dollars to pay private school tuition across the state, and, because of Wisconsin’s school funding system, its fiscal impact is not evenly distributed across Wisconsin’s public schools.

In a peer-reviewed policy memo released today, University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D. student Ellie Bruecker analyzes the fiscal effects of Wisconsin’s expanded statewide Parental Choice Program. Bruecker describes how the voucher program alters the relative share of public education spending borne by the state and by local districts, and she estimates the differential fiscal impact of the program on Wisconsin school districts.

Bruecker’s analysis finds that while the fiscal effects of the progam on public school districts are still relatively small, they are likely to grow over time. She notes that the majority of students currently eligible to participate in the program live within 15 miles of a voucher school and that as participation grows even school districts with low participation rates could lose a substantial portion of their state aid. Small rural districts, as well as urban districts such as Green Bay, would be negatively affected.

Bruecker also points out that as the program expands, unless Wisconsin increases the amount of per-pupil funding provided by the state, the result of the voucher program expansion will a net reduction in the amount of state financial support for each student.

As more states enact or expand their voucher programs, the case of Wisconsin illustrates how one-size-fits-all statewide programs have the potential to exacerbate funding disparities in the public system.

Find Assessing the Fiscal Impact of Wisconsin's Statewide Voucher Program, by Ellie Bruecker, on the web at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/funding

This memo is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu