Wisconsin Voucher program expanded in Milwaukee and extended to Racine County
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program will significantly increase the number of families and schools eligible to participate in the program. Specific changes include:
A large increase in the family income qualifications. Previously, only children from families qualifying for the federal free and reduced price lunch program were eligible to participate. Now, children from all families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $67,000 for a family of four, will qualify to receive a private school voucher.
Removing the cap on the number of students who can participate. In prior years, there was a hard cap limiting the number of students who could receive a voucher to 22,500. This expansion eliminates the cap. It is estimated that, with the new income guidelines, 84,402 Milwaukee families — or 65.1 percent of all Milwaukee families — will be eligible to participate in the program.
Once in, always in. In previous years, a student who received a voucher could lose eligibility for the program because his or her parents happened to increase their income in a given year. Now, once a student gets a voucher, that student will always be able to keep it, regardless of their family's future income.
A sizeable increase in the number of private school options. Previously, children receiving a voucher could only attend private schools in the city of Milwaukee. Now, they will be able to attend any participating private school in the state.
Allowing parents to "top up" the voucher in high school. In previous years, high schools were required to accept the amount of the voucher, which is set at $6,442, as tuition in full. This meant that private high schools in the program were receiving barely half what traditional public schools receive to educate a child. Now, parents earning between 220 and 300 percent of the federal guidelines for poverty can add their own funds on top of the voucher, which will give them a wider array of options.
The budget also expands the choice program to the Racine Unified School District, which will operate exactly as the program in Milwaukee with the following exceptions:
A two-year cap on the number of student who can participate. The program will be limited in the first year to 250 students and in the second year to 500 students. Thereafter, there will be no cap on the number of students who can participate. It is estimated that 11,531 families, or 58.4 percent of all families in Racine, will be eligible to participate in the program.
Priority for lower income families if the program is oversubscribed in year one. If the program is oversubscribed in the first year, priority will be given to children who qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program.
Expanded eligibility. Unlike Milwaukee's program, the program in Racine will be open to any income-qualified child who attended Racine Unified Public Schools in the prior year or any current or entering student, public or private, in K-4, K-5, or K-1 kindergarten. Entering private school ninth graders will also be eligible. . . .