June 23, 2023

Governor Signs Bills Increasing Low-Revenue Ceiling, Voucher Payments, Shared Revenue

Governor Signs Bills Increasing Low-Revenue Ceiling, Voucher Payments, Shared Revenue Featured Image

WEAC opposed move to expand per-pupil voucher payments as much as 41 percent.

Governor Tony Evers has signed bills increase the low-revenue ceiling for school districts and at the same time increase tax funding for unaccountable private voucher schools. The move was part of a fast-tracked agreement with legislators that also included changes to shared revenue for municipalities and the forced placement of armed officers in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Estimates show the per-pupil increased tax funding for private school vouchers will balloon as much as 41 percent over the two-year budget. The per-pupil increases for public schools in many cases will not make up for the increased tax dollars vouchers will siphon off from public school budgets, leaving the public schools that educate over 85 percent of Wisconsin students facing cuts to student services.

WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen testified against more tax funding of private vouchers, which voucher proponent Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said could increase voucher seats by 20,000 students. In total, the voucher increase is estimated to cost taxpayers $220 to $240 million.

The plan is likely the largest increase to voucher spending ever put forward as a standalone measure in Wisconsin. It is the first standalone legislation expanding voucher payments and comes without a plan for controlling taxpayer spending on private school vouchers when enrollment caps expire in 2025-26.

See the fiscal note

“The Wisconsin Constitution calls for state funding of public schools to protect our democracy and ensure a high-quality education for every pupil – no exceptions,” said Wirtz-Olsen. “The historic increase in taxpayer funding for private, unaccountable voucher schools paves the way for expansion of Wisconsin’s voucher programs – at the expense of most students who attend local public schools.

“It is fiscally irresponsible and puts children at risk to continue pouring tax dollars into unaccountable private school voucher programs that aren’t governed by locally elected school boards. Increasing taxpayer funding for private, mostly religious schools directly reduces resources for public school children, and local property taxpayers are not informed that their tax dollars for education are reduced through the diversion to voucher schools.”

Confusing mix of taxes fund vouchers. Bottom line: $540 million of taxes go to private schools

In Wisconsin’s confusing mix of programs that use public funding for private schools, the bottom line is that about $540 million in tax dollars funded unaccountable private schools in 2022-23. In the past school year, 2022-23, Milwaukee voucher and privately run charter schools netted public funding of $240.9 million, with $15.4 million of aid deducted from Milwaukee Public Schools. Racine Unified School District saw state aid reductions of $28.9 million. Other Wisconsin Public Schools saw reduced aid totaling $139.5 million. Special needs vouchers forced aid reductions totaling $27.7 million, impacting districts across the state. Privately run charters forced local school aid reductions totaling $19 million. The bill signed into law by Governor Evers will increase that tax funding for private voucher schools that are not held to the same high standards as public schools.

Vouchers receive even more under bill, with voucher high schools seeing a 33 percent hike

Increased tax payment amounts for private voucher schools willresult in a 33 percent per-pupil hike for high school, a 19 percent increase for privately run charter schools, a 12 percent increase for elementary voucher schools and a 12 percent increase for special needs vouchers. Vouchers for special needs students willreimburse 90 percent of costs, while public school student reimbursement will cover only 33 percent.

Looking forward to the entire two years of the proposed budget, here’s what the voucher increases look like:

  • Voucher K-8: 22 percent increase
  • Voucher 9-12: 41 percent increase
  • Voucher Special Needs: 18 percent increase
  • Privately Run Charters: 27 percent increase

Under the budget passed out of the Joint Finance Committee, Wisconsin Public School students would see a $325 per pupil increase over each year of the budget.

Low Revenue Relief Comes with Strings Attached, Usurps Local Control

WEAC urged legislators to unbundle increased tax funding for private vouchers from low-revenue ceiling provisions and take up each separately, but legislative leaders refused.  “Public schools have been underfunded through the low-revenue ceiling provisions in the funding formula and desperately need this relief,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Tying it to the extreme expansion of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers is a wicked tactic and our students deserve better than that.”

The bill sets the low-revenue adjustment amount under revenue limits at $11,000 per pupil in 2023-24 and each year thereafter. This allows school districts with per pupil spending under $11,000 to raise their spending to that level without having to go to referendum. In effect, rather than provide more state funding for public schools the measure allows districts to raise property taxes. “The state is sitting on a $7 billion suprlus that’s expected to grow to as much as $10 billion,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Rather than fund local Public Schools with the suplus, the Legislature is reducing taxes on the wealthiest in Wisconsin and raising taxes on the rest of us.”

The deal signed into law also comes with strings attached to dissuade districts from pursuing operating referendums. If an operating referendum is rejected in a district, the state law would punish that district by freezing its low-revenue adjustment amount for three years.