MPCP is the nation's largest publicly funded private and religious school voucher program. Enacted in 1990, MPCP enrolled approximately 6,050 students in 1998-1999 and more than 7,900 in 1999-2000. The program's actual, audited costs for those two years totaled $61.4 million.21
While the increase in the number of participating schools and the number of students in the Milwaukee voucher program has been widely recognized, it has gone virtually unnoticed that the fastest-growing program cost has been the voucher surcharge. Over the two school years for which data were analyzed, four out of every 10 taxpayer dollars that MPCP received were lost to surcharges-payments that exceeded the tuition rates of private schools that participate in the program.
Of the $61 million spent on the voucher program over this two-year period, approximately $28 million-46 percent-has gone for the voucher surcharge, providing private and religious schools with enormous sums of money above and beyond what they would have received from private citizens or foundations paying for precisely the same services.22
The cost of the MPCP is estimated to have grown from $49.2 million in 2000-2001 to $59.4 million in the current 2001-2002 school year.23 Without a change in the funding formula for the voucher program, the surcharge that is borne by taxpayers will continue to grow right along with the overall program costs.
While it is clear that taxpayers paid much more for vouchers than private citizens would have paid to send children to private schools, other aspects of the voucher program remain a mystery. Very little is known about the academic performance of voucher schools, or the services they provide for students with special needs. Unfortunately, none of these questions can be evaluated since participating private schools are not required to administer standardized tests, nor identify and report special-needs students.24
In fact, in 1995-after initial state evaluations yielded mixed results-the state of Wisconsin eliminated a provision requiring academic evaluation of the voucher program.25 The state Department of Public Instruction and others have raised concerns about some voucher schools that are unaccredited, housed in unsafe buildings, employing poorly qualified staff and possibly violating students' rights.26 Particularly under these circumstances, the needless overpayment of $28 million over two years to the voucher schools warrants the immediate attention of legislators.