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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Spending on Wisconsin's private school voucher program increased about seven times as fast as aid to public schools since Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans took control of the Statehouse, based on new figures released Tuesday.
A memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau prepared at the request of voucher-opponent Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat from La Crosse, shows the spending increase on private voucher schools between the 2011-2012 fiscal year and 2016-2017.
During that time Walker and lawmakers increased funding for the original voucher program in Milwaukee and created new ones in Racine and statewide. Walker, who is running for president, has touted his support for expanding access to private schools through the voucher program as he travels the country.
While voucher school funding went up about 77 percent, funding for K-12 public schools increased only 11 percent over that period. Still, spending on vouchers pales in comparison to what the state pays in aid to public schools.
In 2016-2017, the state will spend about $258 million on voucher schools compared with $5.4 billion on public schools. In 2011-2012, the state spent about $146 million on voucher schools and $4.9 billion on public schools.
"With declining family wages, a shrinking middle class and statewide teacher shortages, we need to stop taking money away from Wisconsin's children and start investing in quality public schools," said Shilling, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate.
Jim Bender, president of the pro-voucher group School Choice Wisconsin, highlighted that total spending on voucher schools is less than 5 percent of all money spent on schools in the state. He said voucher opponents, whom he described as "protectors of the status quo," were not coming forward with any ideas or reforms, but simply complaining about funding.
Voucher payments are $7,210 for students in K-8 grades and $7,856 for high school students.
There were 29,609 students in the voucher program last school year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. That is an increase of 26 percent from 23,426 who were in the program in 2011-2012.
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