The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) reports today on the 10.3% local tax levy increase in Milwaukee attributable to the Milwaukee school choice program. Because the choice program is not a taxing authority, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) levy is used as a fiscal agent to pay 34% of the total cost of the MPCP. As I’ve noted before, the levy used to pay for choice does not lower the actual total revenue MPS receives.
There are two reasons for the increase in the MPCP levy this year. First, the local share of the cost of the choice program increased from 30% in 2010-11 to 34% this year due to a reduction in state poverty aid used to offset the MPCP levy. The second and more important reason, which Erin Richards focuses on in her MJS article, is the increase in choice program enrollment. The Department of Public Instruction estimates 22,400 Milwaukee students are using choice this year, up from about 20,300 last year. The rise is a direct result of changes in the 2011-13 state budget that raised income eligibility requirements for participating students and allowed suburban schools to enroll Milwaukee pupils through the program.
Even with the increase this year, the choice levy has increased at a much slower rate (19%) compared to program enrollment (53%) since 2005-06. 2005-06 is important because it was in January of 2006 that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett first called major attention to the Milwaukee taxpayer cost for school choice. Since 2006, legislative changes (see page 13 of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau MPCP Informational Paper) have dramatically decreased the Milwaukee-share of costs for the choice program from 45% in 2005-06, to 34% this year.
Notably, without these changes the MPCP tax levy would be about $65 million, 31% higher than the actual 2011-12 levy of $49.6 million. While the one-time double-digit levy increase is eye-catching, it is far less dramatic in the context of the significant state efforts to reduce the local costs of the MPCP since 2005-06.