Department of Public Instruction data shows how many private schools in central Wis. benefit from voucher programs

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Vice President Mike Pence made history Tuesday as the first sitting vice president to speak in the Wisconsin state capitol. He was part of a celebration of school choice and said he chose to speak about it in Wisconsin because of its historical place in the school choice discussion; Wisconsin had the first program established 30 years ago.

The vice president also discussed a new piece of legislation in Wisconsin.

"I learned on the way here that there's a bill being introduced in the Wisconsin legislature that would actually phase out school choice in this state," Pence said as the crowd in the capitol booed. "Well, I know the governor couldn't be with us today so let's make sure he hears us. We're not going to let that happen."

The president's budget proposal on education in 2020 decreased spending on education by about $7 billion, but it created Education Freedom Scholarships, which put about $5 billion towards private or charter school vouchers.

NewsChannel 7 obtained Department of Public Instruction data showing how private schools in north central Wisconsin participate in Wisconsin voucher programs.

For the 2019-2020 school year, private schools in north central Wisconsin have received more than $8 million in taxpayer money. Over the last four school years, that total is more than $22 million.

There are a few voucher programs taxpayers contribute to, but the two that have funds benefitting schools in north central Wisconsin are the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program and the Special Needs Scholarship Program.

Parents can apply and if their income is below 220% of the federal poverty threshold and they meet other eligibility requirements, taxpayers will contribute toward eligible students' tuition for the private school they are attending.

Wausau School District Chief Finance and Business Officer Bob Tess said Wausau residents were taxed $1.2 million, which is $30 per year for a $100,000 home or $45 per year for a $150,000 home, to contribute to the state's voucher programs.

According to DPI data, all of the schools in north central Wisconsin that receive funds have slowly increased the number of students who are eligible, with many staying between 20-30% of their students being funded by voucher programs.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to several private schools in the area, but none that we reached out to were available for comment Tuesday.

To learn more about about the private school choice programs, click here.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported one school for this school year, St. John School in Edgar, is shown to have 100% of its students funded by the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. NewsChannel 7 spoke with Principal Jeff Gulan who said that was not accurate. The DPI data showed that they only have 19 total students at the school, but Gulan said they have a total of 55. NewsChannel 7 reached out to DPI and communications specialist, Chris Bucher said "The 2019-20 report is based on the unaudited data reported by the school on the September count report. The 2019-20 report that will be posted in fall 2020 will reflect audited data." With the corrected total students, about 34% of the students (18.6 students) at this school, not 100%, benefit from the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

A previous version of this story quoted that the rate for Wausau taxpayers contributing to the voucher program was $450 per year for a $150,000 home; which was incorrect. The correct rate is $45 per year for a $150,000 home.