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By James B. Nelson September 25, 2015

Sen. Jennifer Shilling says closed voucher school received $5.4 million

Less than two weeks into the 2015-16 school year, Milwaukee voucher school Daughters of the Father Christian Academy closed its doors, sending the families of about 150 kids on a scramble to find a new school.

In the wake of the closing -- triggered by a state Department of Public Instruction order questioning the qualifications of school administrators -- Democratic opponents of vouchers cited it as evidence that the program needed better oversight.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) tweeted: "GOP voucher school that closed after 9 days this year collected $5.4 million in taxpayer subsidies since first opening."

Is she right?

About the program

Voucher schools are private schools, usually religiously affiliated, that receive taxpayer dollars to pay for the tuition of lower-income students.

As part of the 2015-’17 state budget, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker raised the limit on how many students statewide can participate in the program. The program, which began in Milwaukee, had been extended statewide two years earlier.

About 26,900 Milwaukee students are enrolled in voucher schools, according to the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

In addition, there are about 1,700 students in Racine and 1,000 statewide who were part of the program in the 2014-15 school year. The Milwaukee program cost about $191 million. Other schools statewide cost an additional $22 million

Supporters say voucher schools give parents a valuable choice of where to send their children, particularly where local public schools may be low-performing. Critics say the voucher program is a drain on public school budgets and the private schools do not always adhere to the same educational standards.

What about Daughters of the Father?

Shilling’s claim seems pretty straightforward. But her tweet can read as saying the school had received the money and then quickly closed. In other words, that the school was new and the $5.4 million was immediately lost to taxpayers.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

Daughters of the Father first opened its doors in 2007-08 and had just begun its ninth year. Records show it had 153 students in 2014-15 and through the state’s voucher program received about $7,200 that year for each student. That tallies out to more than $1.1 million.

The school ran into financial trouble that led to canceled bus service at the end of the school year. In a May 14, 2015 press release executive director Doris Pinkley blamed lower-than-expected enrollment.

After a change in the school’s leadership, the state Department of Public Instruction determined the school had failed to comply with statutory and administrative rules governing participation in the voucher program.

The department issued an order Aug. 4, 2015 banning the school from participating in the voucher program because the school did not have a qualified administrator on staff. The principal had only an expired substitute teacher's license.

The $5.4 million represents the total the school has received since its inception.

In all, the state has terminated 57 schools from the voucher program since the 2003-04 academic year, although some of them were schools that ceased operating on their own. Those schools had been paid a total of $176 million.

Our rating

Shilling tweeted that the Daughters of the Father Christian Academy "closed after 9 days this year collected $5.4 million in taxpayer subsidies since first opening."

The school did not just open its doors, receive $5.4 million and quickly close. The school had operated for eight years. The money represents the amount received since it opened.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Sen. Jennifer Shilling Twitter account

Interview, emails, Tony Palese, chief of state, Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Sept. 23, 2015

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction order, Aug. 4, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State moves to bar Milwaukee school from voucher plan," Aug. 12, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Closing of voucher school spurs Democrats’ call for accountability," Sept. 15, 2015

Fox6, "Parents accuse Choice school of mismanaging public  funds at the expense of students after bus service cut off," May 20, 2015

State of Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau report on Private School Choice Programs, January, 2015

State of Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau school choice report, May 19, 2015

Press release, Doris Pinkney, executive director, Daughters of the Father Christian Academy, May 14, 2015

Public Policy Forum, "Milwaukee parental choice program 2015," June 2015

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More by James B. Nelson

Sen. Jennifer Shilling says closed voucher school received $5.4 million

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