Open enrollment begins for Wisconsin’s voucher and public schools

With record taxpayer funding, voucher school participation continues to grow

St. Joan Antida High School
Milwaukee’s St. Joan Antida High School is a private choice school.Screenshot from Google Maps

It’s February, which means the sign up window is open for Wisconsin parents who want their children to attend school in the fall through the Public School Open Enrollment Program or Private School Choice Program. 

Applications for the school choice voucher program opened Feb. 1. Enrollment for public school transfers begins on Feb. 5. 

Private School Choice programs expand for 2024-25

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Participation in school choice continues to grow. There are now 394 private schools participating in the Wisconsin, Milwaukee or Racine Parental Choice Program, according to the Department of Public Instruction, up from 339 last school year. 

The state’s current budget included the largest financial expansion to private school choice in the program’s history. 

Funding for kindergarten through eighth grade private choice schools increased from about $8,400 per student to $9,500 per student. 

Funding for private choice high schools went from $9,045 to $12,000 per student. Last school year, about 86,000 students received vouchers.

More than half of private schools in Wisconsin now participate in choice programs, according to School Choice Wisconsin. 

“These are exciting times for school choice across the state as we continue to see growth and parents making the best choice for their children,” said School Choice Wisconsin President Nic Kelly. “There are now more options than ever before for students and families as more and more schools choose to participate in school choice.”

Twenty-two private schools will join a choice program for the first time in the fall. Four of those are brand new schools opening next school year.

  • Legacy Christian School of Manitowoc, Manitowoc
  • Newman Catholic Classical School: Holy Name, Wausau
  • Saint James the Less Academy, Mukwonago
  • Summit Christian Academy, Menomonie

For the first time, Madison Catholic Schools will also be part of the voucher program. The Diocese of Madison did not respond to requests for comment.

Wisconsin’s public schools are funded primarily through a combination of local property taxes and state support in the form of general school aids, which are calculated based on property value in the district, enrollment and district spending. 

When students use a taxpayer-funded voucher to leave public schools, it means less money for them. 

Opponents of the voucher programs say the system drains resources from public schools. They argue that private voucher schools use public tax dollars without facing the same requirements as public schools for things like standardized testing, open record law or public meetings standards.

“Parents can and should send their kids to whatever school they wish,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network. “But the fact of the matter is, Wisconsin is choosing right now to dramatically underfund our public schools, even as they choose to invest increasingly, in privatization schemes that play by their own set of rules.”

Quinton Klabon, senior research director for the conservative Institute for Reforming Government, said school choice schools are growing because of “smart, bipartisan cooperation.”

“They set a fairer voucher amount, which makes it possible for more schools to participate,” Klabon said. “Two things remain important: a focus on academic quality and getting vouchers to the one-third of Wisconsin counties whose kids don’t have them yet. Kids deserve both from school choice.”

Public school open enrollment begins next week

Families looking to move children out of their home school district can also choose to remain in the public schools using the state’s open enrollment system.

Between Feb. 5 and April 30, parents and guardians can apply to send their children to any public school district in Wisconsin for the 2024-25 school year through open enrollment. 

Last year, 9 percent of Wisconsin students attended a public school outside of their home district, according to DPI data. 

In the 2023 school year, 73,280 students transferred, up 1,791 students from the previous year, according to Klabon. 

The Public School Open Enrollment Program is funded by state general equalization aid transfers between sending and receiving school districts, with the transfer amount calculated on statutory provisions. For the 2023-24 school year, the transfer amount is an estimated $8,618 per student, or $13,470 for students with disabilities. Resident districts cannot deny a student’s open enrollment application for cost reasons. 

But students can be denied for space issues. 

Applicants for the 2024-25 school year will be notified by June 7 on the status of their application. Transportation to and from a nonresident school, in most circumstances, is the responsibility of the parent or guardian.