Is School Voucher Expansion a Good Value for the Money?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 11:17 AM by

 Most children applying to the state’s expanded school voucher program already attend private schools without the help of taxpayer dollars, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state is spending $10.5 million over the next two years to expand school vouchers statewide.

The 2013-15 state budget expanded the school voucher program, which had previously been limited to Milwaukee and Racine, to school districts across the state. Just over 2,000 students applied to receive vouchers at schools participating in the new program. Sixty-seven percent of the students applying already attend private schools.

Because participation in the voucher expansion outside of Milwaukee and Racine is capped at 500 students for the 2013-14 school year and 1,000 students in 2014-15, a lottery will be used to determine which students will receive vouchers. Students in public school will not receive priority over students already in private schools. Only students from families with incomes of less than 185% of the federal poverty limit are eligible to participate in the statewide voucher expansion.

If the pattern holds and two-thirds of the students who ultimately receive school vouchers were already in private school, that means that the state will spend an estimated $7.0 million over two years to provide vouchers for students who were already in private schools, and $3.5 million for students who were not already in private schools.

If the goal of the school choice program is to open new educational opportunities for students, it is questionable whether the state is accomplishing its objective in this case. It looks like most of the money – $7 million – will be spent to provide vouchers for students who had already found a way to do what the state will now pay for them to do: attend private school. 

Tamarine Cornelius

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