By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 23, 2014
Just over 1,000 students are receiving publicly funded tuition subsidies to attend 31 private, mostly religious schools across Wisconsin, according to enrollment numbers released by the state Thursday for the new statewide voucher program.
The 2-year-old program was put into place by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It called for an enrollment cap of 500 students in the first year and 1,000 in the second year.
Just like the inaugural crop of students who kicked off the program last year, 73% of the additional voucher students this year were already attending a private school before they started receiving state-funded vouchers, according to state figures.
About 20% of the new voucher enrollment in 2014-’15 were previously attending a public school. The rest were home-schooled, too young to have yet attended school or from out of state.
Jim Bender, president of the voucher advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin, said Thursday that many of the students previously attending private schools weren’t “scratching checks for their tuition; they were on scholarship.”
Because those students are now receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers, private schools have extended scholarship money to other pupils who would not otherwise have been able to attend, he said.
Private schools will receive a state payment of $7,210 for each K-8 voucher student and $7,865 for high school students. The program is expected to cost the state about $7.4 million in 2014-’15.
Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said Thursday it was unfair that the statewide program was funneling tax dollars away from neighborhood public schools.
The numbers released Thursday are for the new statewide program and do not reflect the number of students attending private schools on public vouchers in separate programs for Milwaukee and Racine.