RACINE — Advocates and opponents of the Wisconsin School Choice program agree on the benefits of transparency, but not on what exactly that means.

On the campaign trail and again last week, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, Gov.-elect Tony Evers said he wants Wisconsin property tax bills to show how much money taxpayers contribute to private school vouchers.

Evers, who is to be sworn in today as governor and served as the state superintendent of public instruction for 10 years, has also previously voiced a desire to phase out public funding of vouchers, which pay for students whose families meet income requirements to attend private schools. 

An insert outlining how much local tax money went toward vouchers locally was mailed out with City of Racine property tax bills Dec. 17. The idea, which was advocated by Racine Educators United — the union representing Racine Unified teachers and educational assistants — was based on a similar practice in Milwaukee. 

Brenda White, president of Siena Catholic Schools of Racine, which accepts both voucher and private pay students, said that when it comes to voucher funding, it's important for taxpayers to see the totality.

“My first reaction, like when we saw it happen in Racine, is that it’s important to show the full picture,” White said. “The reality is that the school choice program saves millions of dollars.”

'Clearly we support it'

Angelina Cruz, president of REU, said adding voucher costs to all tax bills across the state would increase transparency in how public money is spent.

“It’s an important step in the right direction,” she said. “Clearly we support it.”

Cruz believes that if people understood the impact of voucher funding and that it’s paying for two separate school systems, they might not be so keen to support it.

Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said that when it comes to including voucher information on tax bills, context is important. It’s clear to him that those pushing for voucher funding information on tax bills are opposed to the school choice program.

“They’re not for transparency,” Bender said. “They’re out to use the property tax bills as a political tool.”

Bender and his organization are far from anti-transparency, he said, but he thinks the public needs more than one line of type to understand the impact of publicly funded vouchers.

To him, that means providing a comparison of how much taxpayer money goes to fund a voucher student attending a private or parochial school versus a public school student. This school year, voucher payments to private and parochial schools are $7,754 per full-time student for elementary and middle school students and $8,400 per full-time high school student, which is less than what public school districts receive per student in state aid and local taxes.

“A single line item on a property tax bill doesn’t give context,” Bender said.

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Caitlin Sievers covers cops, crime and the west-end communities. She's a lover of cats, dance and Harry Potter. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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