Parental Choice Program (Statewide)
- Enacted 2013
- Launched 2013
Wisconsin’s statewide Parental Choice Program, a private school voucher 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 on this page.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2020)
of Families with Children Income-eligible Outside of Milwaukee or Racine
Participating Schools (Fall 2020)
Average Voucher Value (Fall 2020)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program (Statewide) Participation
In 2020–21, the maximum voucher amount is $8,300 for grades K–8 and $8,946 for grades 9–12. Each school year, maximum voucher payments increase by the dollar amount increase equal to the dollar amount increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools.
Wisconsin families with income no more than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($57,640 for a family of four in 2020–21) and who do not reside in the Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified school districts are eligible. Moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents or legal guardians are married. Each district currently has an enrollment cap of 5 percent of its public school district enrollment able to participate in the program. This cap will increase by 1 percentage point each year until the enrollment limit reaches 10 percent, then there will no longer be a cap. Students previously on a voucher wait list because of this cap will be eligible after it is expanded.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Wisconsin’s statewide voucher for low-income students helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students from families statewide (outside Milwaukee or Racine) earning up to 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($56,650 for a family of four in 2019–20). About 26 percent of Wisconsin students are eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, 4.3 percent of students participate in one of Wisconsin’s private educational choice options (including the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, the Special Needs Scholarship Program, and the K-12 Private School Tuition Deduction). This is the third highest EdChoice share in the nation.
The average scholarship size is about $7,900, which is about 69 percent of the average expenditure per student at Wisconsin’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Wisconsin policymakers should increase the voucher amounts to be comparable with the per-pupil spending at district schools and expand eligibility to all students. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. For example, the program requires voucher students in certain grades to take the state’s standardized test. Instead of mandating a single test, policymakers should allow parents and schools to choose from a variety of nationally norm-referenced tests. Policymakers should also amend the program so that it no longer interferes with schools’ admissions standards.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 220 percent x poverty
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
- Geographic Limit: Statewide (except for Milwaukee and Racine)
- Enrollment Cap: 5 percent of each public district’s enrollment (escalator)
- Voucher Cap: $8,300 (K–8) / $8,946 (9–12)
- Testing Mandates: State
- Meet state nondiscrimination policies
- Allow students to opt out of religious programs
- Administer state testing to scholarship recipients in third, fourth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade
- Receive accreditation within three years of participating in the program
- 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 at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education
- Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, and teacher aides must have received a high school diploma or been granted a GED or HSED
- Administer background checks for all employees
- 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
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.
Parental Choice Program (Statewide) State Groups
That Support School Choice
School Choice Wisconsin is an organization that works to empower parents by developing, supporting and promoting the ideas and policies that create vibrant, quality options in K–12 education in Wisconsin.