Wisconsin Statewide Voucher Program Starts Today

August 1, 2013

On Thursday, families across Wisconsin will have the opportunity to find the private school that is the best fit for their children, even if they can’t afford it. That is the benefit behind a statewide voucher program targeted towards low-income families regardless of their location.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) will begin accepting applications for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) on Thursday, August 1st. The department will file applications for eight days until closing the process on August 9th. In all, 500 students will be accepted into the program in its pilot year.

Forty-eight schools across the state have registered and been cleared to educate these incoming voucher students through DPI. This includes six schools in Green Bay, four in Sheboygan, two in Kenosha, and one in Madison. There are 123 schools that plan to participate in the state’s separate school choice program in Milwaukee, and another 13 in Racine.

This expansion of the state’s voucher program was one of the most hotly contested pieces of Wisconsin’s 2013-2015 State Budget. The plan originally targeted districts with more than 4,000 students and two or more schools that scored the equivalent of a “D” or “F” grade on the state’s School Report Cards. Instead, that program was scrapped for a broader expansion that allowed families in more cities to participate, but also included a hard enrollment cap.

Participation in the program is limited by three factors. The first is a hard 500-student cap in the WPCP’s first year. This will double to 1,000 students in year two, but there are no plans to expand it beyond that. Governor Scott Walker, however, has stated publicly that he would like to increase the statewide enrollment cap. The second is a family income limit set at 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, which is also the state designation for students to received free or reduced price lunches in public schools. For a family of four, that limit is an annual income of $43,752 or less – though a $7,000 increase applies for married parents with two children. Finally, students will be limited by the availability of registered schools in their area. Since families and schools are compelled to provide their own transportation, an interested student with no approved voucher-accepting school nearby would be out of luck.

According to early estimates in Beloit, the state should be prepared to deal with plenty of applications. Officials at the Rock County Christian School reported that there were nearly 100 interested students at a preliminary eligibility meeting held last week. If there are more applications than spots available in the program, students will be accepted into their new schools via a random lottery process.

In just over a week, Wisconsin will have a better understanding of what the demand is for a statewide voucher program. The early returns have suggested that the number of applications will far outstrip the supply of open slots.

For more information on the application, visit here.