LETTER: Do the math: choice schools are a bargain for taxpayers

To Ozaukee Press:

The front-page headline in last week’s Ozaukee Press, “School choice comes at a cost to PW-S school taxpayers,” strongly implied that the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program is a drain on taxpayers. To the contrary, the story’s facts support the opposite conclusion: The government-run school district is a drain on taxpayers.

The story said 70 youth in the district attend private schools and qualify for the school choice program. It is not that only 70 youth in the district attend private schools; it is that, of those who attend private schools, only 70 qualify for school choice.  

Under school choice, state educational aid follows the student. The story said, “the district will see a $460,885 reduction in state aid because about 70 of its students are using school choice vouchers to attend private schools.” What does that mean? Doing the math, it means the state pays about $6,585 per choice student. The story omitted the fact that choice schools accept that state voucher as the student’s full tuition.  

What does the school district get? It gets every penny of its school tax levy on every property owner in the district, and it gets state aid equal to the voucher amount for every student enrolled in the district schools, and it gets that same amount of state aid for every student who lives in its district and attends private school but does not qualify for school choice. Private schools are a bargain for the taxpayers.

I should mention here that the “facts” from the district are suspect. The math is wrong. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is no friend of school choice. Its website shows that a total of 115 school choice-eligible students attend the four participating choice schools in Ozaukee county—and most of those students do not live in Port Washington and Saukville. Are that many students fleeing Port High School for a choice school in Milwaukee?  

Compounding the math problem, the choice voucher this year is $4,023 for K4 students, $8,046 for elementary students K5-8, and $8,692 for grades 9-12. For 70 students’ state aid to add up to $460,885, that’s an awful lot of K4 students, but there aren’t that many.

With fewer students to educate, the school board and administration are unwilling to trim their spending accordingly. The district’s enrollment goes down, and they raise the tax levy, spending even more per pupil than before. They even get paid to educate students who never walk through their doors—those second-class citizens who live in the district and attend private schools but do not qualify for school choice.

Those complaining about the choice program draining public school budgets appear to care more about enriching the public schools than about educating children.

School-age children are potential customers of the school district, not its chattel.  The school district is not entitled to state aid. That money is intended to benefit children. The benefit to any school—private or government—should be secondary. Let’s keep our priorities straight.

John Gallo


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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