Voucher expansion continues to subsidize religious education statewide

Monday, June 2, 2014

By Bill Lynch

Again this year all 31 of the schools approved to participate in the statewide voucher program are religious. Six are new, five Lutheran and one Roman Catholic. Voucher expansion is fulfilling its purpose, taxpayer support for religious schools.

The law passed last year is intentionally structured to exclude non-religious schools and benefit Roman Catholic, Conservative Lutheran and “Christian” schools.

The decks are stacked. There will be only 1,000 slots available next school year, up from 500. When more than the limit applies, Wisconsin’s voucher expansion law dictates that only the 25 schools with the highest number of applicants are eligible for vouchers. So, by default, only the relatively large and well-established schools can win a spot in the lottery. None of the handful of non-religious schools that made the deadline to be approved for vouchers made the cut. (The 31 schools include those that did not make the cut this year, but did last year, and remain eligible to get tax dollars for continuing students.)

What that means is if a Wisconsin family wants a taxpayer-funded alternative to public school, the family must enroll their child in a religious school.

Ostensibly, the voucher program was created to offer parents of public school students a “choice” to send their kids to a school that they might not otherwise be able to afford. But again this year that’s not what happening.

Of the 2,834 students who applied to Wisconsin voucher schools for the 2014-15 school year, the vast majority — three out of four — are attending a Wisconsin private school this year. Only one in five is now in public school. Last year two of every three applicants were already attending private school. This means that the parents of  the vast majority of eligible voucher school applicants were already able to afford private school tuition, or obtain funds without public assistance.

But if vast majority of voucher applicants can already afford private school, and if new voucher students can only attend religious school, what kind of “choice” does this program offer Wisconsin families? This year the program doubles, and with it the price tag for taxpayers. This is hardly a sensible use of our limited taxpayer dollars for supporting education in our state. Contact your representatives and the governor and let them know how you feel about the voucher expansion, a subsidy program that offers little choice to those who need it most.

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