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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vouchers Are a Windfall for Everyone

(Except Milwaukee Property Taxpayers)

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The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) is loosely controlled by the state, which is beginning to build some accountability measures into the program.

Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed that choice schools must adopt academic standards, administer state-standardized tests, require all teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, and increase transparency and disclosure to parents and the public.

In addition to these academic requirements, Doyle has proposed changing the way voucher schools are funded. No, these schools will not have to hold public hearings and fight for their $130 million of taxpayer dollars, as public schools must. But Doyle wants to change the way Milwaukee’s property wealth is calculated, so that more dollars flow to the Milwaukee Public Schools. Doyle proposes a modest change in that formula to be phased in over the next five years.

According to the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, which is conducting a five-year study of the program, vouchers have been a windfall for the state. Well, it’s a windfall for everyone in Wisconsin except for Milwaukee city taxpayers and MPS. Milwaukee homeowners pay approximately $200 more per $100,000 value in property taxes to finance the voucher program. The study found that in fiscal year 2009, the voucher program’s cost to Milwaukee taxpayers was $45 million. But property taxpayers outside of Milwaukee received a $52 million boost.

Since this funding flaw must be fixed by the state Legislature, it’s no wonder that non-Milwaukee legislators are reluctant to take action. The voucher program is a boon for suburban and rural school districts and taxpayers, not Milwaukee students and taxpayers.