Voucher Schools Keep Costs Low

Published July 1, 2000

While the annual cost per student in the Milwaukee Public Schools is about $9,500, many of the private schools that participate in the city’s voucher program had trouble spending even half that amount, according to audits filed with the Wisconsin state Department of Public Instruction. In fact, 39 of the city’s 82 choice schools last year spent less than the voucher allocation of $4,894, returning a total of $1.2 million in taxpayer funds to the state.

With a mixture of choice and fee-paying students, the private schools are reluctant to raise their tuition because that would make it more difficult for parents who are not in the choice program to afford the schools.

“We are committed to the mission of the school and to keeping the tuition affordable,” Oklahoma Avenue Lutheran School administrator Richard Gottschalk told Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Joe Williams. “If we raised the pupil costs so that our salaries were in line with the public school, 75 percent of the students would have to pay higher tuition.”

Oklahoma Avenue school spent $3,725 per pupil last year, but that included a one-time charge for infrastructure improvements. This year, the cost will be less than $3,725, according to Gottschalk. Even then, the figure is unlikely to match that of the lowest-cost school in the choice program, St. John Kanty School, which spent just $3,096 to educate each student last year.

“We don’t have to pay for a huge administration and a lot of red tape,” the school’s administrator Lois Maczuzak told Williams.

This year, the vouchers will be worth a little more than $5,000, with about 8,000 students attending 93 private schools for an estimated total cost of $38.9 million. This fall, an additional 22 private schools will participate in the choice program and the number of voucher students is expected to grow to as many as 10,000.