Sen. Vinehout Says Wisconsin “Can’t Afford” Expanded Voucher Program, Despite a Net Savings of $46.7m to the State in FY 2010

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout suggests that we can’t afford expanded school choice in Wisconsin – but history shows that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars, especially in areas like Vinehout’s hometown of Alma.

Vinehout’s recent op-ed in the La Crosse Tribune suggested several changes to the proposed 2011 Wisconsin State Budget in order to accommodate potential shifts in fiscal projections over the next two years. One of the Senator’s ideas is to cut any proposed expansions to charter school and MPCP. Her emphasis is clearly worded: “Get rid of the charter school expansion and new private school “choice” vouchers. We can’t afford them.”

However, this standpoint suggests a mistaken view of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and its fiscal effects. Despite a complex system that affects taxpayers differently both in the city and outside, the program still provided a significant positive impact for Wisconsinites statewide. In the 2010 Fiscal Year, the MPCP created a net fiscal benefit of $46.7 million. This was up from a savings of $37.2m in FY 2009.

The School Choice Demonstration Project, the source of this analysis, is a state-authorized research consortium based at the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform. It consists of researchers from across the country – including Wisconsin – and is devoted to the unbiased reporting of the fiscal and educational effects of school choice in both Milwaukee and Washington D.C.. The group is also responsible for yearly reports on the effects of the program in public and participating schools.

Their analysis takes in the complexities of the state’s funding formula and how it impacts the residents of Milwaukee and others across the Badger State.  Milwaukee property taxpayers were the only group negatively affected by the choice program, sustaining a $44.7 million adverse impact as the result of school vouchers. However, the statewide savings were large enough to not only offset this spending, but also create substantial positive benefits across Wisconsin.

Local property taxpayers outside of Milwaukee saved $52 million in 2010 alone. Residents throughout Wisconsin that pay state taxes saved $30 million over the same period. As the revenue limit in Milwaukee Public Schools increases (allowing more money to be spent in traditional classrooms) and the voucher cost limit remains static (meaning that a fixed price of $6,442 is the most than can be sent to private schools), these savings will continue to pile up.

The FY 2011 revenue limit is $10,013 – over $3,500 more than the cost of sending a child to private school through the MPCP. As tuition at MPS schools increases, this gap will only widen. What that means is more savings for taxpayers across the state and a significant net benefit to Wisconsin that may soon rise over $50 million. In simple terms, since the MPCP educates students at lower costs, it will continue to provide net savings to the state.

Despite Senator Vinehout’s claim, the MPCP is not a program that “we can’t afford to” expand. In fact, it saves Wisconsinites money despite what some say is a funding flaw that negatively affects Milwaukeeans. However, if Wisconsin ends up mired in another state of fiscal crisis, it may end up being a program that we can’t afford to stifle much longer. Regardless of looming fiscal projections, the expansion of a program that has saved money across the Badger State is a good deal for Wisconsinites. When you factor in stronger graduation rates for choice students as well, it’s a good deal for students too.