Voucher program could hurt public school funding

For two years now a portion of Aquinas students have been paying for tuition through vouchers

About 1,000 students are currently part of the statewide voucher program. The original idea behind the program was to help students in low-performing schools afford better education in private schools, but the numbers show that isn’t necessarily what is happening in our area.

For two years now, a portion of Aquinas students have been paying for tuition through vouchers.

“We have 51 students enrolled and we have five schools,” Todd Goldsmith, the president of Aquinas Catholic Schools, said.

That total includes a number of students attending school in the system who received a voucher this fall.

“We added around 20 students to the program,” Goldsmith said.

Only a fraction of those students transferred into Aquinas because of the voucher program.

“We did have two students who entered, did enter our system for the first time.” Goldsmith said.

The rest were current Aquinas students who came from low-income families already paying for the private school through other avenues. Public school officials said that isn’t okay.

“Every time a new student takes on the voucher and they are already in the private school system those are new dollars that are being allocated to the private school system,” Randy Nelson, La Crosse School District Superintendent, said.

Annually, public schools receive more than $4,000 per student. The state gives voucher students more than $7,000 to go to the school of their choice. Officials said if the Wisconsin legislature approves expanding the voucher program it could be costly.
“‘How is that the state will pay Aquinas $7,200 but they’ll only pay central $4,600 and where are they getting the $7,200 to send that kid over to a private school’?” Troy Gunderson, West Salem Superintendent, said. “It is either going to lower programming or raise my property taxes,” Gunderson said.

The Aquinas President said the voucher program helps more kids than people realize by freeing up other aid.

“It allows us to be able to utilize those funds to other students that aren’t necessarily participants in the voucher program but have demonstrated a financial need,” Goldsmith said.

The voucher system has expanded from 500 students to about 1,000 in the past two years.
The number will likely grow once the state budget is approved in February.