Did you know if you own property in Racine a portion of your property tax goes to fund K-12 education for Racine students? Shocking.
In fact, did you know if you own property anywhere in Wisconsin a portion of your property tax goes to fund K-12 education in your community? Also shocking.
The only difference in Racine, (as in Milwaukee), is that a portion of the local property tax goes to pay for the education of 250 students (500 next year) attending private schools. And why shouldn’t local property tax payers be responsible for paying for part of the cost of a program used by local students? It would be irresponsible public policy if they did not.
Also important, as Jim Bender points out in today’s Racine Journal Times, the per-pupil cost to a Racine property taxpayer is less for a voucher student than a Racine Unified School District (RUSD) student. Part of the reason for the cheaper local cost is the overall inequity in state and local funding for voucher and RUSD pupils.
In 2012 the RUSD per-pupil revenue limit was $9,611.55, meaning the district was allowed to raise $9,611.55 in revenue per-pupil from a combination of state aid and property taxes. The comparable figure for the Racine choice program is $6,442. In a perfect world these numbers would be closer together, but the fact remains Racine voucher users cost state and local taxpayers less per-pupil than RUSD pupils.
The catch is that 38.4% of the cost of the Racine choice program, or $2,474 per-pupil, comes from a reduction in state aid to RUSD. RUSD is allowed to, however, offset 100% of the reduction by increasing property taxes above the revenue limit. This is what people call the voucher tax. It may sound complicated but in reality all it means is that RUSD is the taxing entity for the local cost of the Racine choice program. Obviously local independent private schools do not have the ability to raise property taxes for publicly funded pupils; hence RUSD serves that function.
The alternative to the current situation is having the state fund 100% of the Racine choice program. It would eliminate the voucher tax, but it would also be poor public policy. Public education is, in my opinion, a local responsibility and local property taxpayers should bear some of its cost. And yes, publicly funded pupils, no matter where they attend school, are part of Wisconsin’s public education system.
RUSD Chief Financial Officer David Hazen does have a legitimate point when arguing the district takes a state aid hit by not being able to count the portion of Racine voucher users funded through the RUSD levy. Not counting the kids does not cost RUSD revenue, but it does increase the portion of total revenue that comes from Racine taxpayers. This remains an issue worth addressing in Racine and Milwaukee.
Nonetheless, what is being called the Racine voucher tax remains a logical way to fund a portion of a program used by Racine pupils. Unfortunately, it is becoming the latest in a long list of issues that distract from the infinitely more important goal of improving outcomes for Wisconsin pupils.