Monday, August 19, 2013

Information on School Voucher Applications

Friday’s headlines in the Gazette stated that Rock County Christian School received ten slots for vouchers.  Many of us our wondering how that will affect the School District of Janesville’s (SDJ) budget.  We already know that more than 2,400 students applied for the statewide school voucher program, most of them already in private schools.

The number of applications now means a random lottery divides the 500 available seats in the program to the 25 schools that had the most applicants.  DPI released figures showing 1,566 of the 2,069 income-eligible applicants in the top 25 schools did not attend a public school last year. The applicant total also means none of the schools participating in the Milwaukee Choice Program will be allowed to accept students applying through the statewide program expansion.

The 25 schools and districts allowed to participate include: the Green Bay Area Catholic Education system of schools, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School System in Appleton, Regis Catholic Schools in Eau Clair and Rock County Christian in Janesville.

DPI will give 10 seats to each of those schools and districts, while the remaining 250 seats will be chosen by random lottery. There is a preference given for siblings in the lottery, but no preference is given to children currently attending public schools.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the applicant total showed high interest and the need to expand it in the next budget. But critics assailed the high number of private school children seeking spots in the program.  Vos said while he was happy with the number of applications, he found it unfortunate that the number of children would be capped at 500 this year and 1,000 next year.  “This clearly proves the need for further expansion of statewide school choice and I look forward to accomplishing that in the next budget,” Vos said.  Meanwhile, Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Madison, said the true intent of the program was to subsidize parents of private school students. “The voucher program is no longer providing the escape option from a failing public school; it has become a new state entitlement program that will cost the taxpayers and directly compete with our constitutionally required public school system,” Pope said. “Unintended’ mistakes still have very real repercussion on students across the state.”

So how does all of this affect the SDJ?  DPI has explained to us that a new appropriation has been set up to fund these new "voucher" students.  Appropriation is SEPARATE from the Equalization Aid appropriation, and public school districts having private school students newly-participating in this program will NOT experience a reduction of aid.  This may, however, encourage the siphoning off of SDJ public students to the private schools given that there is state funding. This could eventually (maybe) lead to less public students, less revenue limit, and eventually, less Equalization Aid.  This is just speculation at this point, but I think we need to be ready for possible changes related to funding in the future.

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