- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin taxpayers have paid about $139 million to private schools that ended up being barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet requirements since 2004, according to a newspaper report.

State Department of Public Instruction data shows more than two-thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the state’s voucher system in the last 10 years had stayed open for five years or less, according to the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1yq5dUp ). They were all in Milwaukee.

Eleven schools, paid a total of $4.1 million, were terminated from the voucher program after just one year.

The voucher program expanded from Milwaukee and Racine to a statewide program last school year.

Last school year, there were 108 schools and about 25,000 students participating in the Milwaukee voucher program, and 146 voucher schools total. The state has budgeted about $210 million for all voucher schools for the current school year, compared to around $4.4 billion in general aid for public schools.

The issue is an area of disagreement between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke in this year’s gubernatorial campaign.

In an interview, Burke said the spending data on terminated schools illustrates the need to scale back the program, which she has said repeatedly she would do if elected.

“I’m shocked that the program has continued to be expanded without the type of accountability that really needs to be there,” said Burke.

A Walker campaign spokeswoman declined to make the governor available for an interview with the newspaper and did not respond to emailed questions.

Walker has said he supports subjecting all schools that receive taxpayer money to the same level of scrutiny and has supported legislation aimed at doing that in the past legislative session, including giving report cards to all public, charter and private voucher schools. Lawmakers debated placing sanctions on poorly performing public and private schools that receive taxpayer money, but those measures were not adopted.

Currently, program schools must meet requirements for staff training, obtain academic accreditation, present a complete budget and submit information to DPI about their governing body or policies and contract with a third-party service to handle payroll taxes.

Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said legislation passed in the past legislative session requires schools to gain accreditation and have detailed plans for curriculum, budgeting and staffing before they can be admitted into the program.

“We wanted to have a very specific policy for brand new schools that are starting up. And those are the ones that have the most difficulty, and for good reason; starting a school is a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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