Racine Unified property owners will pay 82 cents more in taxes in 2016 than in 2015, and district officials are blaming the way voucher schools are funded and a decrease in state aid for the increase.
Property owners paid $9.59 per $1,000 in assessed value last year; that amount goes up to $10.41 next year. Most of that increase – 56 cents – is because voucher school payments now come from local property tax levies. Racine families making at or below 300 percent of the national poverty level are eligible to receive vouchers so students can attend private schools. There is no cap on how many students in the district can participate in the voucher program, but spaces at local private schools may not always be available.
According to a written statement from RUSD Chief Financial Officer Mark Duff, Racine Unified property taxpayers are responsible for $4 million in “new property taxes” to pay for the voucher system.
“Based on voucher enrollment numbers, RUSD taxpayers will be responsible for more than $4 million in new property taxes to pay for vouchers in 2016,” the statement reads. “This will add $.56 to the tax levy.”
Additionally, decreased state aid from the Chapter 220 program aimed at making sure schools are racially balanced and property values that didn’t rise as much as projected each account of 11 cents in the increased property tax levy in 2016.
Duff said putting together the budget was a challenge.
“In addition to a freeze in state funding for public education, several changes voted into law at the state level this year have made it impossible to keep the tax levy stable. Though we aren’t able to avoid an increase this year, taxpayers should remember that our RUSD levy continues to be equal to or lower than most comparable and nearby Districts in Wisconsin,” he added.
But state Sen. Van Wanggaard disputes Racine Unified’s numbers with the caveat that he has not seen the entire budget.
“(Unified) says vouchers take dollars away from local schools, but in fact what’s happened is we’ve changed the funding process so it looks like the way open enrollment is funded,” he said in a phone interview from Madison. “The school district levies for each student and then gets to keep the difference between the voucher amount and what they levy. Unified is not losing money; they’re keeping money for students they’re not educating.”
He did admit he hasn’t seen the 2016 Racine Unified budget but said he looks forward to getting a copy so he can see how the district is formulating its numbers.
Racine County Eye has reached out to Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, about these changes, and we will update this story when we hear from him.