By WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council)

Some observers suggest that because school districts can increase the levy on local taxpayers to offset losses in state aid that go to voucher schools, there is no need to make the public aware of these transactions.

There are, however, several important points to consider about the funding.

The public has a right to know where its tax dollars are going. Without transparency, there can be no accountability for how dollars are being spent, or for the organizations that are receiving subsidies.

School district budgets, including all revenues and expenditures, are completely open to the public; and city, county and public school funding are reported on tax bills. There should be no double standards. When private schools get public funding, the amount of tax revenue they receive should be open and transparent to the public as well.

Local revenue that goes to private schools today is hidden on the property tax bill. Private schools do not have to go to the levy or go to voters to acquire the funding, but public schools are forced to raise local taxes for them. If public schools do not increase local revenue to pay for private schools, programs for public school children are cut to make up for the loss in funding.

As time goes by, and more and more vouchers are provided, school districts will come under increasing scrutiny as taxes are raised to offset losses. Public school boards will be on the hook politically for increasing taxes that in in fact going to subsidize private education.

In 2016 – 2017 public school students received $5,481 on average in state equalized and per pupil aid. At the same time, taxpayers were forced to pay $7,969 to voucher high school students. It’s not fair or logical for legislators to provide more per pupil aid to private schools than to public students when the vast majority of our children are taught in public schools.

When public school children are already receiving less state funding per pupil than private students, any increase in the local levy should go to them, not to private education.

When voucher enrollment caps are removed, hundreds of millions of dollars will be taken annually from the pool of state aid allocated for public schools, drawing down the amount of available funding. If legislators allocate $1 billion in aid, for example, and $200 million goes to private schools, only $800 million remains for public school children. Districts with no voucher students will get less aid but are unable to go to the local property tax to make up for their losses.

Community members, elected officials, and parents control our public schools. Voters elect board members to run the schools, budgets are open to inspection, and curriculum and school policies are subject to public debate. None of this is true for private institutions.

We as voters do not elect the boards, we have no say over policies, and profits derived by private schools are not subject to public control or oversight. In the least, the public has the right to know how much money is being transferred from their public school to private education.