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Wisconsin’s taxpayers lost $139 million to private schools subsequently barred from state’s voucher system

An investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal [1] has found that Wisconsin’s taxpayers have lost $139 million dollars over the past ten years to private schools that have received funds from the state’s voucher program but were ultimately excluded from participating, thanks to their failure to meet standards relating to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing.

From the State Journal:

More than two-thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the state’s voucher system since 2004 — all in Milwaukee — had stayed open for five years or less, according to the data provided by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Northside High School, for example, received $1.7 million in state vouchers for low-income students attending the private school before being terminated from the program in its first year in 2006 for failing to provide an adequate curriculum.

Recouping money sent to shuttered schools isn’t a feasible option, since the money is gone, Bender and Olsen said. [Bender is president of School Choice Wisconsin and Olsen (R-Ripon) is the Senate Education Committee Chairman]

Unlike North Carolina’s school voucher program, which is currently in the infancy stage and may or may not survive a court battle in which it has already been declared unconstitutional by a Superior Court judge [2], Wisconsin’s voucher program has a (relatively) robust set of accountability standards.

To participate in Wisconsin’s school voucher program, schools must do the following, according to the State Journal:

Currently, schools wishing to participate in the program must meet requirements for the training of their staff, 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.

Private schools participating in North Carolina’s voucher program are not required to do any of the things that Wisconsin schools must demonstrate.

Instead,the North Carolina’s private schools are free to hire untrained people to teach, are not required to be accredited or meet any curricular requirements and do not have to share details of their budget or governing body with the state or public. Among the very few requirements [3] they must meet include administering a standardized test annually, complying with health and safety standards and conducting a criminal background check for only the head of the school.

While the courts decide if our state’s voucher program should survive [4], North Carolina has already disbursed more than a million dollars in taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools across the state — including $90,300 to Greensboro Islamic Academy, which an N.C. Policy Watch report found to be experiencing significant financial troubles just last year [5].

Read the full story on Wisconsin’s voucher program here. [1]