Bad News For The Badger State: Voucher Program Could Lead To Higher Property Taxes

The changes to the 'school choice' ploy could directly lead to higher tax bills for homeowners. Under the new rules for Wisconsin’s vouchers, public school districts may count private school students who receive vouchers as part of their enrollment – even if those students had not previously attended public schools. And it’s likely they didn’t since in 2014, 75 percent of voucher applicants already attended a private school the previous year.

Recent changes to Wisconsin’s private school voucher program are resulting in less money for public schools, an outcome that’s no surprise because some “school choice” advocates have long sought to drain government-run schools of their resources. But in a turn of events that voucher supporters may come to regret, the Badger State’s scheme could eventually lead to higher property taxes.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) estimated that Wisconsin’s public schools will lose a total of about $2.2 million in state funding this year thanks to an ever-growing voucher ploy. This is a new development – in previous years, a separate fund was set aside to pay for vouchers. But as part of the state’s 2015-2017 budget, public schools will now see direct aid reductions. The Green Bay Press Gazette said DPI estimated Green Bay’s schools will experience the biggest loss of any district – about $1.09 million this year.

This funding drain will only worsen, as lawmakers agreed to expand the scheme to offer vouchers to as many as 1 percent of a district’s total enrollment this year. The program’s cap is scheduled to be lifted entirely in about 10 years.

If you think that’s bad, it’s just the beginning. The changes to the “school choice” ploy could directly lead to higher tax bills for homeowners. Under the new rules for Wisconsin’s vouchers, public school districts may count private school students who receive vouchers as part of their enrollment – even if those students had not previously attended public schools. And it’s likely they didn’t since in 2014, 75 percent of voucher applicants already attended a private school the previous year.

If district enrollment increases thanks to these phony students, it could lead to greater property tax assessments since the number of students in a district is part of the equation used to determine property tax bills.

A tax increase would seem to go against Gov. Scott Walker’s policy plans. In fact, during his failed campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Walker bragged that he had cut taxes (even though Wisconsin’s taxes are still above the national average).

“[Walker’s] record on tax reform comes from his philosophy that money – and decisions about how it is spent – belong in the hands of the taxpayers, not the government,” said Walker Spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “If he were elected president, Governor Walker would work to lower the tax burden, improve take-home pay, and make tax levels competitive for job creators, all with the goal of returning growth to the American economy.”

There’s an obvious contradiction between Walker’s desire to lower taxes and his state’s voucher program, but Walker has been a leading advocate for vouchers so maybe he doesn’t care what collateral damage his pet project causes.

And just in case you don’t know what any of this has to do with church-state separation: In 2014, 26 private schools were selected to participate in the Wisconsin voucher scheme. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the new schools added that year were: Fox Valley Lutheran High School (Appleton), Saint Paul Lutheran School (Bonduel), Winnebago Lutheran Academy (Fond du Lac), Twin City Catholic Educational System (Menasha and Neenah), and Saint Paul Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran School (Sheboygan).

It’s very clear from that list that Badger State taxpayers are being forced to subsidize religious education with public funds meant for public schools. And now, it seems this ploy could also lead to higher taxes.

This is why vouchers are constantly under attack. They’re simply a terrible deal for everyone (except religious schools!) no matter how you look at them.