Last week the Wisconsin Legislature moved the state one step closer to the most sweeping expansion of private school vouchers in the state's history, to the detriment of secular public education, when it passed the 2013-15 budget. The budget is expected to be signed by Gov. Walker on June 30.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation charges that unaccountable religious schools will reap millions from the voucher expansion. While school vouchers are currently only available in Racine and Milwaukee, the budget passed by the Legislature would take the unprecedented step and make the program available to students across the entire state.
“Plans to continue to chip away at public education and expand vouchers by increasing the geographic area, participant income limits and funding levels of voucher programs are contrary to our highly valued public education system,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and others have publicly expressed their desire to give vouchers to every student in the state. The statewide voucher expansion would be limited to 500 students in the first year and 1,000 students in the second. After that, the enrollment and income caps are sure to be expanded or removed.
Religious institutions are the major recipient of state funding under the voucher program. In Milwaukee, more than 21,000 of the nearly 25,000 students receiving vouchers attend religious schools. The budget increases voucher payments by 12% for K-8 enrollees and 22% for high school enrollees.
It is expected that an average of $192.5 million in taxpayer funds will be spent each year on vouchers during the 2013-15 budget cycle. This expansion diverts funding from Wisconsin’s public and secular school system and into many underachieving religious private schools, forcing all taxpayers to subsidize religious education. Even “school choice” advocates have called for state action to prevent funding from continuing to flow to failing voucher schools.
“This is a raid on the taxpayers by religiously exclusionary parochial schools and their backers,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.