MADISON — Two-hundred-twenty-two 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 Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) for the 2018-19 school year. Twenty-one 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 addition, there are 48 new private schools applying to participate in the statewide voucher program for 2018‑19.
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 for the 2018-19 school year, a new student must have a family income equal to or less than 220 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $54,120 for a family of four or $61,120 if the child’s parents or guardians are married. Generally, for the statewide choice program for the 2018-19 school year, students must (1) be applying to 4- or 5-year-old kindergarten or grades one or nine; or (2) meet one of the following requirements for the prior school year: (a) attended a public school in Wisconsin; (b) attended school in another state; (c) not enrolled in school; (d) participated in the choice program; (e) on a choice waiting list; or (3) on any prior year WPCP waiting list in 2015-16 or later due to a school district enrollment cap.
Parents who wish to enroll their children in a private or religious school participating in the statewide voucher program for the 2018-19 school year must complete the online application between Feb. 1 and April 20 on the Private School Choice Programs Student Applications website. After completing the online application, parents must provide residency and income documentation (if applicable) to the school(s) they apply to before the close of the application period on April 20.
Eligible students in grades kindergarten through eight may attend the private school without charge for tuition. Continuing choice students in grades nine through 12 may be charged tuition if their family income exceeds 220 percent of the federal poverty level. The private school, on behalf of each student’s parent or guardian, receives a state aid payment for each eligible choice student. The amount, set in state law, is $7,747 for students in kindergarten through grade 8 and $8,393 for students in grades nine to 12 for the 2018-19 school year.
Enrollment in the statewide voucher program in 2018-19 is limited to 3 percent of a given school district’s student population. The 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) made certain provisions for how the WPCP is funded. Students who 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 (incoming pupils) are funded with a reduction to each public school district’s state general aid. If the public school district does not receive a general 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 revenue limit adjustment equivalent to the aid deduction incurred to pay for choice pupils.
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 on the department’s Pupil Transportation webpage.
The WPCP began in the 2013-14 school year. For the current school year’s third Friday in September enrollment count, the statewide voucher program had 4,540 students (4,403.8 full-time equivalent). Taxpayer costs for the 2016-17 school year were $22.4 million. Since inception and through last school year, payments to private and religious schools in Wisconsin for the statewide voucher program total $51,309,130.
A list of schools that plan to participate in the WPCP for the 2018-19 school year is in the official news release. Schools marked with an asterisk (*) will be new to the WPCP in fall 2018. Schools new to the program for fall must obtain pre-accreditation by Aug. 1, 2018 (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 or surety bond. They must also submit, by Aug. 1, documentation of their insurance coverage and academic standards. More information, including the most up-to-date list of participating schools, can be found on the department’s Parental Choice Programs website.