April 18, 2022

Evers Blocks Effort to Open Floodgates to Tax-Funded Private School Vouchers

Evers Blocks Effort to Open Floodgates to Tax-Funded Private School Vouchers Featured Image

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Governor Tony Evers has blocked an effort by legislators to open the floodgates for statewide, tax-funded private voucher schools across Wisconsin. The Republican-led effort (SB 974 / AB 970) would have saddled taxpayers with paying for private school tuition without a locally elected school board and potentially raising property taxes by more than a half billion dollars statewide.

WEAC opposed the bill, and welcomed Evers’ action. “Wisconsin Public Schools educate the majority of our state’s students and they are the choice for most families,” WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said. “Public schools are also the ONLY schools the state Constitution requires Wisconsin to fund. Blowing the roof off limits to the taxpayer funding of private schools will jeopardize every single school district in our state, whether you live in Bayfield or Beloit.”

The bill would have eliminated income limits and participation limits in Wisconsin’s voucher program and created an unfunded $1,000 per-student education account reimbursement program, which is another form of private school voucher paid for by taxpayers.

“I am vetoing this bill because I object to the drastic impact it could have on families; according to the Department of Public Instruction, the impact on taxpayers in a school year could exceed $500,000,000,” Evers said in vetoing the bill. “It is remarkable to me that many supporters of this bill, who commonly express concerns about property taxes when it comes to supporting more than 800,000 public school children in our state, are apparently unfazed by the fiscal impact this bill could have on families due to the way these programs are funded.

“Similarly, I object to creating a new reimbursement program with no designated state funding source,” he continued.  “While courses offered by approved educational providers may benefit students, the bill contains no appropriation, oversight, or accountability to implement the $1,000 reimbursement for educational materials.

“Finally, I am vetoing this bill because it could jeopardize the state’s Maintenance of Effort obligations related to the receipt of over $2 billion of federal funding for public and private schools by increasing K-12 expenditures without increasing higher education expenditures,” Evers concluded.

Evers Also Vetoes Bill for Privately Run Charter School Expansion

Evers has also vetoed Senate Bill 695, which WEAC registered against. The bill would have increased the number of privately run charter schools authorized by the College of Menominee Nation or the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College. Privately run charter schools, also called non-instrumentality charter schools, are not authorized by an elected school board.

The bill was part of a broader campaign by private charter advocates to use Native American tribes’ authorizing authority to open up charter schools that do not even necessarily serve Native Americans. Just this year, the National Heritage Academies used the Lac Courte Oreilles’ authority to open up a school In Waukesha. It has 421 students in grades K-9.

In his veto message, Evers said, “I am vetoing Senate Bill 695 in its entirety because I object to further complicating our school funding system. Currently, funding for students in a tribal college-authorized independent charter school is provided through state General Purpose Revenue and a corresponding state general aid reduction to the resident school district of a child attending such a school. Although the resident school district is allowed to count the student in its membership for revenue limit and state general aid purposes, school districts are typically not fully compensated for the aid reduction in the following year and must levy additional property taxes to replace the full aid reduction to avoid having to reduce their budget. This funding system results in inconsistent financial impacts on property taxes and overall public-school resources with varying relative costs per pupil and relative property value per pupil.

“Further, tribal college authorizers are presently legally able to authorize 200 percent more independent charter schools than they operated in the 2021-22 school year without necessitating this legislation, rendering it unnecessary,” he said.