MADISON — One-hundred-thirty-five private nonsectarian and religious schools and school systems registered with the Department of Public Instruction by the Jan. 10 deadline to accept students for the 2016‑17 school year through the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP). Twenty-three schools that previously participated in either the Milwaukee or Racine Parental Choice programs or both are registering to join the WPCP for the first time in 2016-17. In addition, there are 31 new private schools applying to participate in the statewide voucher program.
The WPCP allows students who reside outside of the Milwaukee and Racine Unified school districts to use a taxpayer‑funded subsidy to attend participating private or religious schools. To qualify for the program in the 2016‑17 school year, a new student must have a family income equal to or less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $45,263 for a family of four or $52,263 if the child’s parents or guardians are married. In addition, all students applying for the WPCP must meet one of the following attendance requirements for 2016-17: (1) have attended a public school in Wisconsin in the prior school year; (2) not have been enrolled in school in the prior school year; (3) applying to attend kindergarten, first, or ninth grades for the coming school year; or (4) participated in the WPCP or Racine Parental Choice Program (RCPC) in the 2015-16 school year.
Eligible students in grades kindergarten through eight may attend the private school with no charge for tuition. Eligible students continuing in grades nine through 12 may be charged tuition if their family income exceeds 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,826 for a family of four or $60,826 if the child’s parents or guardians are married). The private school, on behalf of each student’s parent or guardian, under current law, receives a state aid payment for each eligible choice student. The amount of the voucher for 2016-17 is estimated to be $7,323 (for pupils in grades K-8) or $7,969 (for pupils in grades 9-12). A private choice school is not required to provide transportation to choice students. According to state law, the resident public school district may be required to provide transportation under certain circumstances. More information is available at https://dpi.wi.gov/sms/transportation.
Parents who wish to enroll their children in a private or religious school participating in the statewide voucher program for the 2016-17 school year must complete the online application between Feb. 1 and April 20, 2016, on the following web site: https://dpi.wi.gov/SMS/choice-programs/student-applications. After completing the online application, parents must provide residency and income (if applicable) documentation to the school(s) they apply to before the close of the application period at 4 p.m. on April 20.
A change to state law in 2015 eliminated the previous WPCP cap of 1,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students. Enrollment in the WPCP voucher program in 2016-17 remains limited to 1 percent of a given school district’s student population. The 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) changed the manner in which the WPCP is funded. Students that participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year will continue to be fully funded from state general purpose revenue. Pupils who begin attending a private school under the WPCP in the 2015-16 school year and thereafter are funded with a reduction to each public school district’s state general aid. If the public school district does not receive an equalization aid payment sufficient to cover the aid reduction, the balance would be reduced from other state aid received by the district. Incoming pupils in the WPCP are included in the resident public school district’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the resident district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. School districts will receive an annual adjustment equivalent to the number of resident choice pupils for revenue limit purposes.
For the current school year’s third Friday in September enrollment count, the statewide voucher program had 2,514 students (2,472.5 FTE). The WPCP began in the 2013-14 school year. Taxpayer costs for the 2014-15 school year were $7.3 million. Since inception and through last school year, payments to private and religious schools in Wisconsin for the statewide voucher program total $10,557,520.
A list of schools that plan to participate in the WPCP for the 2016‑17 school year is in the official news release. Schools marked with an asterisk (*) will be new to the WPCP in fall 2016. Schools new to the program for fall must obtain pre-accreditation by Aug. 1, 2016 (if they are not already fully accredited). Prior to being eligible to receive voucher payments from the state, schools must, by May 1, submit information regarding their budget. They must also submit, by Aug. 1, documentation of their insurance coverage and certain school policies.