Assignment: Education – voucher expansion

Area private schools consider applying for Wisconsin Parental Choice Program

More private schools in La Crosse County could soon take part in the state’s voucher program.

Currently, the Aquinas Catholic School System is the only system involved in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, known to many as the voucher program, but that could soon be changing.

The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program has grown steadily since it began three years ago. The program began in 2013 with 25 schools and has grown every year since. Just last month, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced 135 schools registered for next school year.

Wisconsin Parental Choice Program

Year Schools/School System 2013-14 25 2014-15 31 2015-16 82 2016-17 135 (registered)

Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

The Aquinas Catholic School System is the only La Crosse County private school system that has taken part in the program, but that could change. As of right now, Luther High School is exploring the possibility of applying for the voucher program. There are also six Lutheran elementary schools in the county, three of them are waiting to see what Luther decides before they make their decision. At this time, none of the other private schools in the area have immediate plans to apply for the voucher program.


 Wisconsin Parental Choice Program

Private School Join Voucher Program Luther High School Exploring possibility Christ St. John’s No First Evangelical Watching Luther Immanuel Watching Luther Mount Calvary-Grace No St. Paul’s Evangelical (Bangor) No St. Paul’s (Onalaska) Watching Luther Coulee Region Christian School No immediate Plans Faith Baptist School Watching Providence Academy  Didn’t return calls

The principal at Luther, Paul Wichmann, says they are taking a very thoughtful and thorough approach when making this decision.

“Just trying to get some feedback from the families to see what their interest would be,” said Wichmann. “We have also done some survey work with other area Lutheran high schools that are like Luther High school in the state of Wisconsin. And we’ve gotten some very positive feedback from them.”

Some concerns among private schools when it comes to taking part in the parental choice program include state mandates that allow students to opt out of religious classes, as well as, costs associated with taking part in the program like application fees.

But when it comes to public schools, Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers feels while choice is important he doesn’t understand how the state will be able to afford expanding the voucher program.

“The bottom line is there is a limited amount of money,” said Evers. “You just can’t continue to expand these choices here and here, and not expect that there’s going to be some problems for paying for that. It’s illogical to me.”

Currently, the voucher program will expand by 1 percent each year until the enrollment cap hits 10 percent of a school district’s prior year enrollment. After that, there will be no enrollment cap on the number of kids using vouchers to attend private schools.

Wisconsin Parental Choice Program

Year Voucher Expansion Cap 2015-16 1% 2016-17 1% 2017-18 2% 2018-19 3% 2019-20 4% 2020-21 5% 2021-22 6% 2022-23 7% 2023-24 8% 2024-25 9% 2025-26 10% 2026-27 No Cap

Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Luther High School will decide in May if they want to take part in the voucher program. If they decide yes, the school will begin accepting vouchers in the 2017-18 school year.