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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.