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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Solution to the Milwaukee Public Schools Tax SNAFU: Make the State Pay

I actually thought of this when I dashed off yesterday's post, but suggesting a solution was not my point then. It is my point now. And the solution, I think, is simple: Make the state of Wisconsin pay the $9.1 million dollars that the city forgot to collect for MPS.

The reason is also simple: The state, through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, is stiffing Milwaukee property-tax payers. As Mayor Tom Barrett publicized last spring, Milwaukeeans are paying $2,858 of the cost of every voucher used by an MPCP participant, but we're paying only $1,816 for each student in the Milwaukee Public Schools. That's a difference of $1,042 per voucher student. (These are the 2005-2006 numbers, though I imagine the difference remains roughly the same even as both numbers may have inched up for this school year.) The state had an opportunity to write a "hold Milwaukee harmless" provision into the bad voucher compromise earlier this year, a provision that would have eliminated that $1,042-dollar difference, but the state failed to do so.

We learned in October that the full-time voucher enrollment was 17,275 students, meaning Milwaukee taxpayers were on the hook (by my math) for $18 million or so more than if those 17,275 students were enrolled in MPS. Please note that, first of all, that amount is nearly double the missing $9.1 million that the city has shorted the schools. And note that, according to MPS officials, one reason the extra $9.1 million was needed in the first place was to help offset the extra cost that increased voucher-school enrollment brought this fall. (If it seems paradoxical to you that fewer students in MPS might cost MPS more money, you're not alone. But it is a fact of life here in the big city.)

That alone, I think, is justification enough for the state to kick in the $9.1 million that MPS seems short; after all, besides being only half of what the state, I think, owes us, the state is in a much better position to absorb the financial hit than either MPS or the City of Milwaukee is--think of the savings other taxpayers around the state see because of our voucher program. It would be a gesture of good will and an acknowledgement of the voucher program's funding flaw if the state could come through for us.

What do you say, Gov. Doyle? Legislators? Are you with me?

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