Democrats Try Again to Stop Letting Voucher Schools Hide Their True Cost From Taxpayers

By JT Cestkowski

January 25, 2022

Property tax bills show money going to schools, but an unlabeled chunk of it isn’t going to local public schools.

Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature unveiled a bill Tuesday that would provide more insight on how tax dollars are spent on private schools through Wisconsin’s voucher system—at the expense of local public schools.

If passed, the bill would add information to tax bills showing exactly how much of a landowner’s property taxes are going to support private schools. Currently, this information is not provided. Instead, tax bills just show the amount going to schools in general, without distinguishing the difference between private and public institutions. 

According to Department of Public Instruction figures, private school vouchers cost $237.7 million for Milwaukee, $32.7 million for Racine, and $119.1 million for the rest of the state for the 2021-22 school year.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire)  are sponsoring the legislation. “Wisconsinites work hard for their money, and they deserve to know exactly where their tax dollars are going,” Larson said in a written statement. “Sadly, many of our neighbors are unaware that voucher programs are funded largely by taking money away from local public schools.”

Every public school district is impacted to some extent because voucher school dollars come from the same state budget fund that pays public schools. Voucher disbursements are made first, before public school disbursements occur.  

The proposal from Democrats is coming on the same day that the state Senate passed and sent to Gov. Tony Evers a series of Republican bills that would, among other things, ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools—where it is already not taught—as well as systemic racism, implicit bias, and other factors that lead to unequal outcomes for Blacks in areas such as criminal justice, education, and health care. Evers is expected to veto the legislation.


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