More students across Wisconsin are leaving traditional public schools.

A new enrollment report from the Department of Public Instruction shows almost 44,000 students attend a non-traditional school paid for by public dollars. That’s a nearly nine percent increase from last year. 

“Year over year, the Parental Choice Programs continue to grow across Wisconsin,” School Choice Wisconsin’s Jim Bender said.

The latest numbers show that 28,978 students are part of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program. Another 3,650 are enrolled in Racine’s Parental Choice Program. There are 9,764 students from across the state in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. The numbers from DPI show another 1,058 students in Wisconsin’s Special Needs Scholarship Program. 

The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program and the Special Needs Scholarship Program saw the biggest increases, a 37 percent and a 55 percent increase, respectively. 

“Combined with public school open enrollment and independent charters, more than 12 percent of students are educated with public dollars outside their resident district. That number continues to increase every year,” Bender said. 

The report from DPI is not without a bit of controversy. 

Bender’s group says DPI reported the enrollment figures in a way that hints that most school of choice students in Wisconsin came from other private schools. 

Bender said that’s not true, and calls that a “myth.”

School Spending

The report from DPI also includes the latest accounting of general state aide.

Public schools across Wisconsin will receive $4.7 billion during the 2019-2020 school year. That’s $83.2 million more than last year.

But not everyone is impressed by the amount of money to be spent this year. Nor are they impressed with the results. 

“Wisconsin districts in 2019-20 will be receiving $4.7 billion of equalization aid from taxpayers through the state’s funding formula, a 1.8 percent increase. This follows on the heels of a similar increase for 2018-19.,” Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said. “Since 2013, equalization aid has consistently surpassed the Consumer Price Index, showing the Legislature’s dedication to providing healthy inflationary increases to educate Wisconsin’s children.”

Thiesfeldt chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee. He said Wisconsin taxpayers are spending more than ever on public schools, and getting sub-par results. 

“The results aren’t matching up with the investment,” he said in a statement. “Annual test scores released last month showed that 60 percent of Wisconsin students are not able to read or perform math at grade level. Just as alarming, Wisconsin continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation.”

Thiesfeldt said more money is not the answer to failing test scores. 

“Instead of just continuing to pour money into schools, it is past time for the DPI, the legislature, and the governor to recognize that when the pathway is flawed, increased spending does not lead to better results,” Thiesfeldt said. “Our focus needs to turn to stronger teacher training in the use of proven instructional methods, traditional roles for our schools, and engaged parenting.”

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.