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Voucher program expands in Wisconsin

Andrew Campnell , News Editor
November 14, 2013
Filed under News

Brown County, along with the rest of the state, has seen more K-12 schools enter a voucher program.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, there are currently 53 students in the Appleton,  Green Bay and De Pere program, the highest amount out of 512 students in the program statewide.

Following this program  is Oshkosh and Wisconsin Rapids, according to the Press Gazette.

A voucher is a state-funded program that allows children to attend private school, said Lora Warner, UW-Green Bay assistant professor of public and environmental affairs.

Many of these private schools are parochial, and because of the separation of church and state, the state can’t directly pay the school.

“What would happen is the voucher goes to the individual, who then uses it at the private school,” Warner said.

Many voucher students attended private schools prior to entering the program, Warner said.    According to the Press-Gazette, 79 percent of the 2013-14 students receiving vouchers this year didn’t attend a public school last year.

Most school districts, excluding Milwaukee and Racine, have limits on the number of voucher students they can accept. For most districts, including Green Bay and De Pere, the limit is 500, Warner said. However, the limit is expected to double next year, according to the Press Gazette.

To become a part of the voucher program, Warner said the student must meet a family income qualification.

The proposed qualification was a family of four earning no more than $70,000, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s paper on vouchers in Milwaukee and Racine.

If the student’s parents or legal guardians are married, their income is reduced by $7,000 when determining income eligibility for the program, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau voucher paper.

Also, a private school can charge a student in the voucher program at a school-determined amount if the student is in grades 9-12 and if the student’s family income exceeds 220 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

At this 220 percent rate, the income cutoff for a family of four is a little more than $50,000. According to the WLFB’s voucher paper, a family earning $70,000 would be at the 300 percent federal poverty level.

With school vouchers becoming a popular issue for many people, some may wonder what the purpose is of these programs.

For Scott Ashmann, UWGB associate professor of education, this all depends on a person’s viewpoint

“Some that support vouchers would say it levels the playing field, and (these supporters) would usually have the perspective private schools are better than public schools,” Ashmann said. “On the other side, there are people who’d say this assumption is not backed up by any kind of solid data.”

Ashmann said in order to fully understand this issue, valid data is needed.

“There is some data out there right now, but there’s definitely a use for more data that would help  people make more valid decisions,” Ashmann said. “It seems to be an understudied issue.”

As Ashmann said, the risks and benefits of the voucher program will vary depending on one’s opinion. However, Ashmann said there could be a potential problem with low-income students having trouble with finding their preferred private school within walking distance.

“You might not have the transportation to get to the private school you might want to go to,” Ashmann said.

Warner said a risk these voucher programs pose is the money public schools might lose. If public school students decide to go with a private school voucher, those public schools won’t receive as much taxpayer money.

“For every voucher, the public school incrementally receives less money,” Warner said.

Given the issue at hand, Ashmann stresses just how important research is to understanding this issue.

“The numbers usually never lie,” Ashmann said. “It’s the interpretation of those numbers that vary group to group.”