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Debunking the left’s latest school choice hyperbole

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 23, 2019

MADISON — Wisconsin property taxpayers are seeing the highest increases in their bills in a decade.

Legislative Democrats, right on cue, blame Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program.

“… Wisconsin’s voucher school program presents an unnecessary burden on Wisconsin taxpayers, with little to show for this terrible investment,” declared state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff in a press release.

The Milwaukee Democrat and his liberal colleagues point to newly released data (links to the data turn up only error messages in their press releases, by the way) showing Milwaukee Public Schools, where the state’s parental choice program began 30 years ago, took a $42.5 million funding hit last year alone.

“For far too long, the residents of the 19th District have been forced to support two school systems – one public and accountable, one private and opaque – with nothing to show for it but weakened public schools and increased tax bills,” Brostoff asserts. The lawmaker is pushing his Public Education Reinvestment Act, aimed at doing away with the school choice program.

Brostoff leaves out some important facts, most notably that school districts are allowed to count the students they lose to voucher schools on their rolls for general state aid, and receive a revenue limit adjustment. That’s the hold harmless provision. It remains in place for three years, and MPS takes full advantage of it.

Wisconsin’s hefty property tax increases, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Public Policy Forum, is the direct result of Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature pumping a lot more money into K-12 education through increased revenue limits. Districts don’t have to tax toward the maximum, but they do. Endless local school referenda have added to the tax spike.

The report found school districts statewide are levying a total $5.31 billion in property taxes this year — a 4.5 percent increase from last year. That’s the largest year-over-year rise since 2009, the study notes.

As for performance, Brostoff has “submitted hyperbole for facts,” said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin.

“In Milwaukee, not only do the students on a voucher outperform the low-income peers in MPS, they outperform the full-income students in MPS on the state test over the last three years,” Bender said.

As for property tax impact, students on a voucher cost significantly less per student, both total funding and property taxes, he added. Vouchers are only 5 percent of the MPS budget while educating over 30 percent of the students in Milwaukee.

“Better results, lower overall cost and lower cost to local property taxpayers — all data points that Rep. Brostoff omits,” Bender said. “With MPS looking to significantly raise property taxes in Milwaukee, the last thing opponents of school choice want to do is engage in a debate on results and cost. The facts will not work in their favor.”

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