Monday, January 22, 2007

The Voucher Program Funding IS Flawed

An article appearing in Saturday's Journal Sentinel on the funding of the school voucher program troubled me a bit. And I'm not even a City of Milwaukee resident.

To refresh everyone's memory, when Governor Doyle and GOP legislative leaders agreed on an expansion of the Milwaukee school voucher program last year, both sides promised to address how the system is funded in the upcoming '07-'09 budget.

In the article from a couple of days ago, Doyle said that he intends to keep his promise to address the funding flaw, but he didn't promise to alleviate concerns entirely. We don't get the details on exactly what that means, although the specifics will be rolled out in the next few weeks with the governor's budget recommendations.

But what's particularly concerning is this statement from Doyle: "The so-called funding flaw, to other people in the state, is not a funding flaw at all, but it is a belief that other parts of the state should not be picking up the costs of the voucher program."

This is a fairly common outstate complaint: Why should we pay more because Milwaukee can't get its act together?

And while it's a complaint that may apply in some instances, the voucher program is not one of them. To put it bluntly, the funding for the program is flawed.

To explain, it comes down to the fact that the state pays about 79 percent of the cost to educate an MPS student while only covering 55 percent of the cost of educating a voucher student. So who picks up the rest of the tab? City of Milwaukee residents, who pay $1,816 per MPS student while forking over $2,858 per voucher student.

At this point, a reasonable person could still argue that this set-up is fair because it simply means Milwaukee residents are paying more for a benefit that only they can access.

But the flaw doesn't stop there.

According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau review, if the voucher program was eliminated last spring rather than expanded, the annual property tax levy would have decreased by $25.6 million in Milwaukee while increasing in other districts by a combined $121.4 million.

In other words, as it's currently set-up, the voucher program is a money-maker for every district in the state except Milwaukee.

How fair does that sound?

To rectify the flaw, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett came forward with a very modest proposal last spring. His plan was to
take 1/3 of the savings that the state gets from having students attend voucher schools, which comes out to about $1000 per student (i.e., the extra amount Milwaukee pays for each voucher student), and use it to even out the score for Milwaukee taxpayers. The state would still get to keep 2/3 of the savings, or $2000 per voucher student, it gets from the voucher program to put in its coffers.

(Side-Note: Jay has provided a great explanation of why the voucher schools are cheaper for the state than the public schools, and it's nothing to celebrate.)

As if that wasn't fair enough, Barrett's proposal only included the voucher students who would be part of the expansion. In other words, Milwaukee, under Barrett's plan, would have continued to pay about $1,042 extra for the 14,571 FTE students who were in the voucher program at the time, which would've continued an annual tab of $15.3 million for the city.

But the governor and GOP legislative leaders left that more-than-reasonable plan on the table last year.

And, again, it's not clear what Doyle means when he says his budget proposal won't fix the funding flaw entirely -- is he using Barrett's modest proposal as a benchmark or the flaw itself? If the fix comes up short of even Barrett's plan, I don't see how it could be considered a true fix at all.

But, however the details shake out, any talk of a "so-called funding flaw" should be dropped. The voucher program funding is flawed. And any discussion moving forward needs to focus on what to do about it.

7 Comments:

Blogger Dad29 said...

Umnnnhhhh....

So long as State income-tax payers are subsidizing MPS, and 3/4ths of State income-tax payers live outside the City of Milwaukee, what's the beef?

Another question: the State only sends Podunk School District 2/3rds of $9,000/student, while sending Milwaukee 2/3rds of $11,000/student.

We can agree, easily, that there is a lot wrong with the State funding schemes.

But it doesn't start or end with Choice funding.

January 22, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

It's all screwed up, so why fix anything, huh? Quite a public policy stance you have there.

Also, can we drop the hypotheticals already?

The fact is MPS gets plugged into the same funding formula as everyone else for state aid. And, when it comes to equalized aid per pupil, MPS ranks 122nd on the list -- yes, that means 121 school districts get more state aid per student than MPS (and plenty of them would fit the definition of "Podunk School District").

Is that low enough on the list to warrant not screwing Milwaukee residents on the funding of the voucher program?

Those actual figures are here, in case you're interested in checking them out for yourself.

In short, the overall funding formula works on the perceived needs of a particular district based on a number of chosen fiscal and enrollment factors.

If you want to get behind reforming the formula, go for it.

But, in the meantime, there's no reason you should let that get in the way of a very reasonable proposal to even out the score with Milwaukee residents on the funding of the voucher program while still allowing extra funds to go into the state coffers.

January 22, 2007  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Apparently the results of the report I ran aren't available through the link above. If you want to run the same report, follow the link and select the report parameters of "Equalized Aid per Member" for Step 1 and "All School Districts" for Step 2.

January 22, 2007  
Blogger TrueConservative said...

The whole school funding fiasco is part of a scheme hatched by Tommy Thompson to give huge tax relief to outstate Wisconsin (mainly holders of agricultural property) at the expense of Homeowners (mainly in suburban SouthEast Wisconsin). It works really well - for farmers (not for kids or for homeowners). Stick it to em Tommy got us good!

January 22, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

Perhaps I was not clear.

I think that the whole school-aids thing should be re-worked, starting at zero for all.

In fact, while we're at it, I think that the burden of educating young criminals-in-training or criminals-in-fact, along with young anti-societals, should be removed from local districts altogether. Those critters can be placed in State-run schools comparable to reform schools, with daily work requirements alongside education.

Then the State should simply declare that it will send a flat amount (say $5,000.00/remaining pupil/year) to each District, for children aged 5-18 inclusive, if enrolled in a District school.

Same number to all private/parochial schools, if they choose to accept it.

Individual districts may choose to spend more, or less (!!!)

Yes, TThompson engineered this, but it took the cooperation of Democrat party members to get it through the Legislature--remember?

January 23, 2007  
Blogger Dad29 said...

Perhaps I was not clear.

I think that the whole school-aids thing should be re-worked, starting at zero for all.

In fact, while we're at it, I think that the burden of educating young criminals-in-training or criminals-in-fact, along with young anti-societals, should be removed from local districts altogether. Those critters can be placed in State-run schools comparable to reform schools, with daily work requirements alongside education.

Then the State should simply declare that it will send a flat amount (say $5,000.00/remaining pupil/year) to each District, for children aged 5-18 inclusive, if enrolled in a District school.

Same number to all private/parochial schools, if they choose to accept it.

Individual districts may choose to spend more, or less (!!!)

Yes, TThompson engineered this, but it took the cooperation of Democrat party members to get it through the Legislature--remember?

January 23, 2007  
Blogger TrueConservative said...

The flat $5000 argument does not work. Why should we give any money to districts that willingly spend 30% more than the state average? Also, $5000 buys much more educational services in farm communities than it does in our high cost suburban districts. Also - private and parochial schools should stay privately funded - I can make an exception for urban schools but I see no justification to expand this NEW entitlement program. AND Tommy T. got a lot done with the cooperation of Dems when it came to spending Spending SPENDING.

January 23, 2007  

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