Voucher program

The Rev. Tia Sierra, principal of Lighthouse Christian School and the school's kindergarten teacher, leads her class of eight in a morning exercise. Lighthouse Christian receives students using taxpayer-funded vouchers.

JOHN HART — State Journal

The number of Wisconsin students using taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools rose about 22 percent this year to 3,061, while 206 children took advantage of a new voucher program for students with disabilities.

Overall, 33,781 students received a voucher to attend one of the 209 private schools in the state’s three voucher programs for students without disabilities, according to figures released by the Department of Public Instruction on Friday.

The 22 percent increase in the statewide program comes during two years after lawmakers eliminated the 1,000-student enrollment cap. Last year, the first year without the cap, enrollment rose by nearly 150 percent to 2,514.

Enrollment in the statewide program is now limited to 1 percent of each participating school district’s membership. About 5,600 fewer students than the maximum allowed enrollment of 8,671 used school vouchers this school year.

Each private school receives a voucher payment of $7,323 per student in grades kindergarten through eighth and $7,969 per high school student. The cost of the three programs for students without disabilities — in Milwaukee, Racine and statewide — is estimated to be $244.6 million for the 2016-17 school year, according to DPI.

For the voucher program for students with disabilities, each participating private school receives $12,000 per student. The overall cost of the program is about $2.4 million. The number of students in the new program is about half of the number of seats available, according to DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy.

More than 40 vouchers were used by students living in the Madison School District to attend a private school as part of the statewide program and the program for students with disabilities.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.