Spotlight: DPI – Department of Public Inaccuracy

By Patrick McIlheran, Badger Institute

The warden of Wisconsin’s public-school status quo, the Department of Public Instruction, was wrong when it recently made an absurd estimate about the cost of opening up school choice to all families without regard to income.

More than that, DPI betrayed an arrogance — a presumption that thousands of parents can go right on working a second job, and maybe a third, for being uppity.

To be clear, the DPI was factually wrong.

The agency incorrectly estimated the impact on property taxpayers if Wisconsin ended income limits on its school choice program. Those limits block families making more than three times the poverty line in Milwaukee and Racine or more than 2.2 times the poverty line in the rest of Wisconsin, or about $58,000 for a family of four.

The agency’s estimate, so wrong it’s not worth repeating, rested on laughably unjustifiable assumptions. A colleague and I dissected the DPI’s errors at length in a paper available at the Badger Institute website, but the central error was the DPI’s assumption that every tuition-paying family would right away switch to using the choice program.

Can’t happen. The choice grant, which must be accepted as full payment, is often well below schools’ actual cost, so a school’s ability to take more choice students is limited by its ability to tap outside donors. They need some “private-pay” students to lessen the fundraising load.

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