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Wisconsin – Parental Choice Program (Statewide)


Wisconsin – Parental Choice Program (Statewide)

Wisconsin’s statewide Parental Choice Program, a private school voucher program, was enacted and launched in 2013. The program offers school vouchers to students whose families meet certain income qualifications and are not assigned to the Milwaukee Public Schools or Racine Unified school districts. Learn more about the program’s funding, eligibility, and regulations in this section.

Program Fast Facts

  • 2,514 participating students (2015–16)

  • 16 percent of families with children income-eligible outside of Milwaukee or Racine

  • 82 participating schools (2015–16)

  • Average voucher value (2014–15): $7,388

  • Maximum value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 67 percent

Program Details

Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program (Statewide) Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

Wisconsin allows income-qualified children outside of Milwaukee Public Schools and the Racine Unified School District to receive vouchers to attend private schools chosen by their parents.

Student Funding

In 2015–16, the maximum voucher amount is $7,214 for grades K–8 and $7,860 for grades 9–12. Each school year, maximum voucher payments increase by a dollar amount equal to the dollar amount increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools. The voucher may not exceed the private school’s per-student costs, including operating expenses and debt service.

Student Eligibility

Wisconsin families who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch and reside outside of either the Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified School District are eligible. Students must also come from families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($44,863 for a family of four in 2015–16); moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents/legal guardians are married. Each district will have an enrollment cap of 1 percent of its public school district enrollment, although this cap will increase by one percentage point each year beginning in 2017–18 until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent, then no cap. Private schools must have been in operation on May 1, 2013 to participate, although this provision is only in effect until the 2017–18 school year.

Friedman Feedback

Wisconsin took an encouraging step toward universal school choice by allowing all low-income Wisconsin students to be eligible to receive vouchers, excluding those in two school districts that each have their own school choice programs. In the second year of the program (2014–15), enrollment was limited to 1,000 of the state’s more than 870,000 students. However, the enrollment cap was removed in the 2016 state budget, which is a positive step for Wisconsin students. Although there is no student enrollment cap, this program does contain a district percentage enrollment cap and new grade-level entry point restrictions. The grade-level entry points were waived for the 2015–16 school year, but will commence in the 2016–17 school year. The requirement that private schools must be in operation by a specific date also limits families’ supply of educational options from which to choose. Like the Milwaukee and Racine programs, this program could be improved by increasing voucher amounts, removing income tests for eligibility, and removing any grade-level entry point restrictions.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: 185 percent x poverty
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide (except for Milwaukee and Racine)
  • Enrollment Cap: 1 percent of each public district’s enrollment
  • Voucher Cap: $7,214 (K-8) / $7,860 (9-12)
  • Testing Mandates: State


School Requirements:

  • Meet state nondiscrimination policies
  • Allow students to opt out of religious programs
  • Administer state testing to scholarship percipients in grades four, eight, and 10; Smarter Balanced Assessments for English Language Arts and Math for grades 3–8; and the ACT suite of assessments for high school students
  • Receive accreditation within three years of participating in the Parental Choice Program (Statewide)
  • Annually submit to the state a financial audit conducted by a certified public accountant
  • Provide the state evidence of sound fiscal practices and financial viability
  • School administrators must undergo financial training and have a least a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education
  • Teachers must have a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education, and teacher aides must have received a high school diploma or been granted a GED or HSED
  • Provide 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1–6 and 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7–12
  • Provide the department of public instruction with information about the academic program at the participating school and student test score data
  • Meet all health and safety codes
  • Capped at the 25 schools with the most applicants if the number of applicants is higher than the enrollment cap

Governing Statutes

Legal History

No legal challenges have been filed against the program.

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