Later today, an amendment will be proposed in the State Assembly that modifies the way the Parental Choice Programs outside of Milwaukee are funded, and how public school districts’ funding is subsequently affected. The change is simple and will save property taxpayers money while simultaneously holding public school districts harmless.
The Wisconsin and Racine Parental Choice Programs are very popular with parents around the state and allow families to find the educational setting that is best for their child. In the last state budget, the funding mechanism was changed as the program parameters expanded.
Education finance is ridiculously complex. There are so many moving parts that every year creates changes based on a multitude of calculations. This amendment makes a clean change that addresses a specific issue.
State education funding basically has two parts – equalized state aid and property taxes. The balance of each is different for every school district in the state as the formula is based on the local property values. This excludes significant federal funds and state categorical aids.
In both the Parental Choice Programs and public school open enrollment, state dollars are withheld from the local district and follow the child to a private school or a neighboring school district. Because most districts’ state aid per child funding is less than the voucher or open enrollment transfer amount, the districts are allowed to levy property taxes for the difference.
As the law currently is written, one of the quirks in funding these programs is that school districts can actually levy property taxes for more than the amount that is being withheld. This results in higher property taxes and allows the local school district to “skim” thousands of dollars per child, if they so choose.
In more than 100 school districts all over the state this past fall, excess property taxes were collected and retained by districts for children that were being educated outside the district. The statewide skim totaled nearly $4 million. That is $4 million in property tax dollars that districts are banking without incurring any cost to educate those children.
The amendment being proposed today will eliminate the skim for the Parental Choice Programs. This produces a more accurate funding process that accounts for the costs of the program and allows state dollars to follow the child. All the while, school districts will be allowed to zero out the costs of the program.
School Choice Wisconsin supports this amendment because it removes an unnecessary burden on property taxpayers. As the programs continue to grow, having a clear and fair funding mechanism will be important for school districts, taxpayers and policy makers. In turn, the parents in Wisconsin that are showing strong demand for the program can have confidence that they will gain access to a properly funded program.

Jim Bender is the President of School Choice Wisconsin
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