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The Private Parental School Choice Program in Racine was created in the last state budget and allows low and middle-income parents to enroll their children in a participating private school for free.

Even with a very short timeline, many quality schools and enthusiastic parents in the Racine area have started the process of applying for the program, which is capped at 250 students this year.

Starting a new program generates a great deal of confusion and miscommunication. There have been numerous misstatements about the school choice program in Racine and its effect on the upcoming Racine Unified School District budget. The budget deficit that RUSD is facing this year has many components, but the school choice program is not one of them.

Simply put, the effect of the school choice program on the overall 2011-2012 RUSD budget is ... zero. RUSD classrooms will not lose one penny because of the school choice program.

While true that the school choice program has funding pass through RUSD for tax levy purposes, the net result yields no loss to RUSD.

RUSD, like all Wisconsin school districts, receives a three-year cushion that allows them to continue receiving state and local funds for students even after they leave the district. The legislature put this provision in place to soften the fiscal effect on districts with declining enrollment.

Eventually, RUSD will lose financial support for students that leave the district. This is not unique to Racine Unified or to the choice program. All school districts in Wisconsin lose funding for students they do not educate once the three year cushion expires.

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Again, to be purposely repetitive - the school choice program has no effect on the overall 2011-2012 RUSD budget.

The mechanics of the school funding formula and funding of the choice program are complicated. However, there are some simple aspects that need to be understood.

For local taxpayers, the breakdown of state funding and property taxes is similar for RUSD and the school choice program with the ratio of state dollars to property tax dollars being roughly 63 percent to 37 percent. However, RUSD spends significantly more per student.

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For Unified, per student spending authority is $9,799 with roughly $6,272 paid by the state and $3,527 paid by local property taxpayers. The school choice program allocates $6,442 per student with $3,698 coming from the state and $2,474 coming from local property taxpayers.

Simply, Racine taxpayers will be paying less per-pupil to empower parents to use a program that in Milwaukee produces higher graduation rates and rates of college attendance; RUSD's budget will be impacted only to the extent that parents choose to leave the district.

Jim Bender is president of School Choice Wisconsin. Laura Sumner Coon is the executive director of Scholarships, Opportunities and Access in Racine.

 

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