As already explained, the voucher surcharge is not caused by any wrongdoing on the part of either voucher schools or the state Department of Public Instruction, which distributes MPCP funds. Instead, the $28 million surcharge that was paid to voucher schools over the course of two years was the result of a fundamental flaw in the voucher law. Under the law's payment formula, the state is required to pay each private school an amount for each voucher student that is either the school's per-pupil expenditure or a state-computed figure approximating state aid per pupil, whichever is less.27 For the two-year period this report focuses on, the voucher maximum was $4,894 in 1998-1999 and $5,106 in 1999-2000.28 The formula does not take into account the actual tuition charged by private schools. In other words, private and religious voucher schools receive not the tuition that they typically charge students, but the often significantly higher per-pupil expenditure, up to a maximum amount determined by the state each year.
Wisconsin's formula is unique among all voucher programs. In Ohio and Florida-the other states with publicly funded voucher programs-the state pays no more than tuition; in Ohio, it automatically pays less.29 Even Milwaukee's private scholarship program (Partners Advancing Values in Education), which provided scholarships through the 1998-1999 school year, paid less than the tuition amount.30
Private schools have traditionally relied on church subsidies, private fundraising and grants to provide additional monies to supplement tuition revenues. The existence of the voucher program means that some of this additional amount is now paid for by Wisconsin taxpayers.
In their responses to our August 2000 report, even defenders of the voucher program did not deny the existence or the amount of the voucher surcharge. Instead, they suggested that the overpayments may be justified because they may "raise low salaries" and compensate for "sacrifices" by voucher schools.31
Voucher defenders would assail public schools that asked taxpayers to pay more than double the standard price for school lunches, textbooks, or computers-even if public schools could prove they were putting the overpayments to good use. Yet, they have attempted to justify a formula under MPCP that needlessly overburdens taxpayers. Voucher supporters also assert that the voucher surcharge does "not come at the expense of Milwaukee Public Schools."32 But this ignores the realities of public education spending.
From 1998-2000, Wisconsin taxpayers were charged nearly $28 million more than they should have been for the private schooling of over 6,000 students. When the state spent $28 million on tuition overpayments, it necessarily made that money unavailable for other public uses. The amount of the tuition overpayments has, no doubt, grown much larger in the two subsequent years, 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. Even assuming that the percentage of the voucher program costs going to the surcharge remained the same as it was in 1999-2000, the voucher surcharge would have exceeded $20 million in 2000-2001 and will exceed $25 million in the current school year.