Friday, January 27, 2006

You'll Get Nothing and Like It

Here's an idea from Deb Jordahl: Make already largely property-poor and cash-strapped Milwaukee taxpayers pay more to educate voucher students. That'll teach MPS to get its act together. Maybe the youth of Milwaukee will finally start to appreciate what they have in the MPS system when they see their parents need to pay extra in property taxes for their peers to go to a private school.

Right now Milwaukee taxpayers pay $1816 per MPS student while forking over $2858 per voucher student. If the cap was lifted completely on the voucher program, as Republicans are currently proposing, Milwaukee taxpayers would need to pay $1042 more to educate each student who goes from MPS to a voucher school; that's in addition to the $15,370,542 extra they already pay annually for the 14,571 current voucher students.

Sound fair? Apparently to Jordahl it does, in her criticism of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's proposal to allow Milwaukee taxpayers to pay the same amount for voucher students as they do for MPS students. After all, she asserts, "Holding Milwaukee taxpayers harmless for children who opt out of MPS will remove a financial incentive for MPS to improve."

Jordahl makes a big and false assumption here. She assumes that hurting Milwaukee taxpayers financially will simultaneously hurt MPS. In actuality, the MPS property tax levy per student does not decrease as more students go into voucher schools, so where's the supposed incentive? I suppose the argument could be made that as students move from MPS to voucher schools there will be pressure put on MPS because its employees will start to loose their jobs and its programs will start to be cut. But wouldn't that happen regardless of whether you make Milwaukee taxpayers pay extra for a voucher student? Even if MPS students and voucher students cost Milwaukee taxpayers the exact same amount, if more and more students enter the voucher program from MPS the overall funding for MPS will decrease, thereby forcing layoffs and program cuts. Making Milwaukee taxpayers pay more for a voucher student makes no difference in this scenario; all it does is financially strain an already largely property-poor and cash-strapped community.

Another assumption Jordahl makes is that Barrett's proposal will be financially harmful to other school districts across the state. Actually, right now non-Milwaukee state taxpayers are making money off the voucher program (Jay at Folkbum has a great explanation of why the voucher program costs less than public schooling, and it isn't anything to celebrate).

According to a letter sent to Mayor Barrett by Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Robert Lang, if the voucher program did not exist and all of the voucher students were MPS students today, the property tax levy for other districts around the state would increase $121.4 million due to a reduction in state aid to those districts. In other words, right now there's $121.4 million extra going to state aid coffers per year because of the voucher program (again, there are some not-so-great reasons voucher schools are cheaper). That's big-time savings, but right now it's coming largely on the backs of Milwaukee taxpayers, who would see their annual property tax levy decrease by $25.6 million if the voucher program did not exist today and all 14,571 voucher students were back in MPS.

Mayor Barrett is not proposing, however, to eliminate the voucher program, despite the fact that would be in the best purely fiscal interest of the City of Milwaukee. All he is asking is to take 1/3 of the extra money state coffers gain through the voucher program and use it to even out the score with Milwaukee taxpayers. The state still gets to keep the other 2/3 of the savings (although it may be useful to consider, as the voucher program gets bigger, to shift some of that 2/3 to the voucher schools and ask them to use it for providing some of the special needs services that public schools students are entitled...but that's another debate for another day).

And as if asking the state to even the score with Milwaukee taxpayers wasn't fair enough, Barrett's proposal only pertains to the voucher students who enter the program above the 14,571 students who are already in it. For those current voucher students, under Barrett's proposal, Milwaukee taxpayers will continue to pay $15,370,542 extra per year. That hardly seems like “all Barrett cares about is making sure he doesn’t take the heat for high property taxes,” as Jordahl accuses.

Some conservative bloggers, albeit very hesitantly, have already given a positive nod to Barrett's proposal (see here and here for two examples). I guess I just don't see Jordahl's reasoning for attacking it. If she and others are truly interested in helping Milwaukee kids and their families, Barrett's proposal would be championed across the board.

Note: I received the letter to Mayor Barrett from LFB Director Robert Lang yesterday. As soon as I get by a scanner, I'll put it up on this blog.

UPDATE: The letter is now up. I link to it in this post now, but here it is again for good measure.


Blogger Jay Bullock said...

Nicely done, Seth.

Also, if you wouldn't mind emailing me a .pdf of that letter, I'd appreciate it.

January 27, 2006  

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