Clearing the air on vouchers
Athens educators discuss impact of program
Athens public and parochial school leaders convened Friday to “set the record straight” on how St. Anthony’s Catholic and Trinity Lutheran schools joining the state’s private school voucher program affects school district taxpayers.
St. Anthony’s Catholic School joined the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) at the beginning of the current school year. Trinity Lutheran School will be a member of the WPCP next school year.
Jeff Mastin, Athens schools superintendent, said school districts normally lose a small amount of tax money from a private school voucher students living within the school district. Athens School District, however, will lose $153,000 in tax revenue to St. Anthony’s Catholic School for its 17 voucher students in the 2019-20 school year. The Athens Board of Education responded in October of 2019 by approving an 18 percent increase in school property taxes to make up this loss in school tax money.
Next school year, the state will reimburse Athens School District the money it spent for 17 private school voucher students attending St. Anthony’s this school year.
“There is a significant impact on school property taxes this year but it won’t be as substantial in the upcoming years,” Mastin said. “School taxes should level off now. The silver lining is we could possibly have 82 students from Maple Grove charter school joining the Athens school district in the future, which would give us more state aid revenue.”
Athens is one of only five school districts in the state that had a 4 percent cap this school year on the number of private school voucher students it could have. Only 17 voucher students were allowed in the Athens School District in the 2019-20 school year.
Luke Knoedler, principal at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Athens, said there are 19 private school voucher students in his school this year, but two of them have rural Abbotsford home addresses. Abbotsford School District will pay for their vouchers. Knoedler said the state is giving St. Anthony’s Catholic School four payments during this school year worth $153,000.
Next school year, Athens will have a 5 percent cap on the number of voucher school students. The numner of Athens voucher students will be 19.
Dean Frick, Trinity Lutheran School principal, said parochial school students are required to apply for the WPCP each spring for the next school year. These students are chosen by random draw, which means Trinity Lutheran School might only have a few students in the WPCP. Frick said this is the reason Trinity Lutheran School is also open to receiving voucher students from surrounding school districts.
Knoedler explained why it’s beneficial for St. Anthony’s Catholic School to be in the state’s private school voucher program.
“It’s an exceptional benefit, especially for a private rural parish school,” he said. “Our school is receiving revenue this year that we’ve never seen before.”
He said this year’s voucher school payments would go toward helping the school pay off its debt, but he anticipates in the future the school would be able to use this extra money it receives each school year to pay for new educational programs.
Frick said there are some upfront administrative costs for private schools joining the WPCP. For example, private schools need to hire a state approved auditor, which he said costs around $12,000 to $15,000.
Mastin said he wants to revisit the idea of charging the Athens parochial schools a portion of the amount the public school pays to provide them free services each school year. Right now the Athens School District provides information technology support and the middle school band and athletic programs free of cost to St. Anthony’s Catholic and Trinity Lutheran schools.
Public school districts are required by state law to provide special education and busing transportation to parochial school in the district free of charge. Mastin plans to discuss the cost sharing plan for the parochial schools with the Athens school board at its meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17.