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RACINE — The number of Wisconsin students attending a private or parochial school on the public’s dime continued to increase this year.

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s three school choice voucher programs increased by 3,164 students, or 8.7 percent this year, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

The total cost of the program statewide is $302 million, with 39,381 students receiving a voucher to attend one of 279 schools participating in the program. The cost of the program statewide increased $33 million or 12.3 percent this year.

Participation in the Racine Parental Choice Program, like the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, has been increasing steadily over the past several years. Those in the Milwaukee choice program must live in Milwaukee, and the WPCP serves all students in the state who don’t live in Milwaukee or the Racine Unified districts.

In the 2011-12 school year, there were 228 students and eight schools participating in the Racine program. There are 3,324 students enrolled this year, an increase of about 320 from last year, with 26 schools participating.

The cost of the Racine Parental Choice Program this year is $25.6 million. The state does pick up the tab for some voucher students, but Unified is still set to fund about $18.2 million worth this school year. Those who participate in this program must live within the Racine Unified School District boundaries and have income within 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $73,800 for a family of four.

Racine and Milwaukee

Racine and Milwaukee, with their separate choice programs, have far more voucher participants than other individual districts across the state. There are 28,917 Milwaukee voucher students this year. Racine Unified School Board Member Dennis Wiser addressed this issue during Monday’s meeting.

“Racine and Milwaukee have been singled out to pay an extraordinary burden in supporting private schools, that other communities are not being asked to do,” Wiser said. “At some point, politically, we need to find a way to rectify that. That money should be going to our students in our public school system.”

During the same meeting, School Board President Robert Wittke Jr. clarified that the voucher levy does not affect the district’s revenue limit.

This year, Racine Unified is set to collect $4.4 million more for vouchers through the property tax levy than it did last year. Funding for vouchers has grown to make up more than 20 percent of Unified’s total tax levy. This year, voucher payments are expected to make up 9.5 percent of Racine Unified’s total expenditures.

In the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments to private and parochial schools are $7,754 per full-time student for kindergarten through eighth grade students and $8,400 per full-time high school student.

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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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