Alan Borsuk:

It’s a vastly different picture now. Many of the limitations are gone; an estimated 26,900 students who live in the city of Milwaukee are using vouchers to attend 117 private schools, the vast majority of them religious. Public spending for the current school year will exceed $190 million.

And that’s just Milwaukee. Vouchers became available in Racine four years ago, with a capped enrollment under 250. The cap is gone now and voucher enrollment is about 2,200, according to state estimates. That’s about 10% of the Racine public school enrollment.

Then there’s the statewide program. Now in its third year, the caps initially placed on it have been weakened and will fade in coming years. This fall, outside of Milwaukee and Racine, about 3,000 students are using vouchers to attend 79 private schools (out of a total of more than 650 private schools).

In total, that’s about 32,000 vouchers students, between 3% and 4% of Wisconsin public school enrollment. This year, kindergarten through eighth grade students generally bring $7,214 each to their private schools; high school students bring $7,860.

Bender said he sees a lot of parallels between the statewide program now and the Milwaukee program in its early years. And the long-term Milwaukee story has been one of changing rules to expand the program and who can take part.

Madison spends more than $15,000 per student, annually, yet has long produced disastrous reading results.