School Choice: Wyoming vs. Wisconsin

By Ivan Larson

Education is important. It helps us learn how to think, and readies us for the workplace. This is something recognized in Wyoming, as demonstrated by our willingness to pay a great deal for our public education system. In fact, the 2010 census found that Wyoming spends $15,169 per student on education. $15,169 is a lot of money, and it never seems to earn Wyoming a significantly better-than-average ranking on the actual quality of education. Clearly, at some stage, we’re wasting a great deal more money than other states.

One perhaps surprising place to find a lower cost is with private schools. While a common stereotype of a private school is of a place where the rich send their kids by paying obscene amounts in tuition, it is not necessarily the case. A good example of this is the Milwaukee Voucher Program. Implemented by the state of Wisconsin, this program lets parents send their kids to private schools and have it be paid for by transferring funds from where the child would otherwise have gone. The program sends up to $6,442 per student. The private school is not allowed to charge the parents anything on top of that for grades K-8, and only under limited circumstances for grades 9-12. In effect, these private schools have to get by on two dollars for every five spent by a Wyoming public school.

This efficiency is not entirely reflected in the rest of the Wisconsin system. The Wisconsin public school system spends $11,364 per student. This means that when $6,442 is transferred away for the voucher program, the school is still left with almost half of the money they would have spent for that student. This means that at the same time that Wisconsin provides the option of a private education for low-income families, they provide in effect more funding for the students who remain in the public school system.

It’s worth noting that Wisconsin isn’t suffering due to lower education funding. In fact, Wisconsin consistently ranks above Wyoming in terms of education performance. We can do better. Implementing school choice and giving more freedom to parents could allow Wyoming to create a more efficient and more effective education system. If a voucher program would cost less than half of what we currently spend per student, leaving the rest of it where it is, what do we truly have to lose?