FFRF: Wisconsin Voucher Bill ‘insidious’ and harmful to public schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling a proposal to uncap school vouchers in Wisconsin harmful and an insidious attempt to transition from a public education system to one that sends students to religiously segregated schools.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s powerful Joint Committee on Finance voted this week to lift the 1,000 student cap on statewide vouchers in Wisconsin. Initially vouchers would be limited to 1% of a district’s enrolled students in the first year, increasing by 1% each year until year 11 when there would be no limit to the number of students attending private religious schools. The Joint Finance Committee proposal will now go before the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly.

“This bill would bring about a major transition from a system of common schools to one that sends students to religiously segregated schools,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. As FFRF stated in 2013, the creation of a statewide voucher program was planned to ultimately allow all students in the state to attend religious schools.

In the current statewide voucher system, 100% of the state-funded schools are Christian, and 73% of students attend Roman Catholic schools. Roman Catholic and other Christian schools are likely to capitalize on expanded state vouchers, as the bill would only allow vouchers to schools that have been in operation since May 1, 2013.

FFRF charges that school districts across the state may start to look like Milwaukee. After incrementally increasing enrollment caps and income limits, the Milwaukee voucher program went from 300 students in 1990 to more than 26,000 full time students today. Nearly 90% of students in the program attend religious schools.


“How can the Wisconsin Legislature expand vouchers when it has failed to address widespread failures and fraud in the Milwaukee program?” asked FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott. In the last ten years, taxpayers have given $139 million to voucher schools that were subsequently barred from the program for failing to meet requirements related to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing, according to a Wisconsin State Journal analysis published last year.

If enacted, voucher expansion would dramatically harm Wisconsin’s public education system. In the first two years, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates a loss of state aid to public schools totaling nearly $48 million. The financial damage would increase each year as any funding for voucher students would come directly from state aid given to the public school district of residence of the students.

FFRF calls on legislators to end Wisconsin’s voucher experiment and stop further siphoning precious funds from our public schools to go to church-run schools.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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