Since the inclusion of religious schools in 1998, Milwaukee's voucher program has grown and continues to grow. And the voucher surcharge is the fastest-growing aspect of that program. Over the course of the 1998-1999 and 1999-2000 school years, the number of voucher schools receiving tuition overpayments increased, as did the size of those overpayments. Per-pupil overpayments grew by $172 and the overall surcharge increased by $4.9 million. In total, the percentage of total program funds going to these overpayments has also grown.
Due to this surcharge, over a two-year period nearly $28 million was used to pay private and religious schools over and above what private citizens or foundations would pay for the same services.40 This surcharge represents 46 percent of the entire cost of the voucher program during that period. The overall cost of the voucher program is estimated to have further increased to $49 million in 2000-2001 and $59.4 million in the current year, 2001-2002. Without a change in the voucher law's funding formula, the surcharge paid to religious and other voucher schools will continue to grow right along with it.
Even in the relative economic prosperity of the late 1990s, there was no justification for this voucher surcharge. Whether for reducing class sizes, strengthening professional development for teachers, or designing programs for at-risk students, public schools can find good use for every available tax dollar. Why should the people of Wisconsin pay an inflated amount to private and religious schools while public schools lack the resources they need?
Now, as Wisconsin endures tough economic times and legislators face many painful decisions, there can be no justification for this wasteful, multi-million dollar surcharge. This surcharge is caused by the unique payment formula written into the law. Now it's time for state officials to correct this situation by revising the formula so that voucher schools are no longer paid a per-pupil amount in excess of their tuition. There is simply no reason why Wisconsin taxpayers should be overcharged and pay more than private citizens for private school vouchers under this controversial program.