Wisconsin’s statewide parental choice program is underway and two archdiocesan schools are poised to participate in it.
St. Mary’s Springs Academy, Fond du Lac, and St. Joseph Catholic Academy, Kenosha, were selected by the Department of Public Instruction to join 23 other private and faith-based schools and school systems in offering families outside of Milwaukee and Racine the opportunity to send their children to the private or faith-based schools of their choice.
The 25 schools and school systems drew the most applications among 48 that applied to the DPI to participate in the program.
St. Mary Springs Academy drew 64 applicants while St. Joseph Catholic Academy attracted 100 applicants.
“We are thrilled to be in the top 25. This is just the start of a great future with school choice,” said Springs Academy president, Kevin J. Shaw. “We feel it will advance the mission of St. Mary’s Springs Academy by providing the opportunity for as many students as possible to attend our school.”
As of Tuesday, Shaw said Springs officials had not heard from the DPI the names of students picked to attend Springs.
The prospect of building student enrollment through the choice program is playing a part in St. Mary Springs Academy’s plans to build a $21.3 million elementary and middle school campus, Shaw said.
“We feel parental choice will be a long term asset that will snowball and grow, not overnight, but gradually over the next 10 years,” Shaw said. Springs has an enrollment of more than 600 students from pre-K through 12th grade.
Each of the top 25 schools will receive at least 10 choice students.
School choice in Wisconsin began in Milwaukee in 1990. The Legislature in 2011 expanded school choice to Racine.
The $10.5 million statewide expansion, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in June as part of a compromise biennial budget bill, gives eligible students state-funded vouchers to cover tuition costs at a private or religious school.
The bill includes a statewide cap of 500 students, selected by random drawing, for the 2013-2014 school year and 1,000 for the 2014-2015 school year.
Families were required to meet residency and income requirements to be considered for a tuition voucher of up to $4,662 for the 2013-2014 school year.
For the 2014-2015 school year, vouchers will increase to $7,210 for grades K-8 and $7,856 for grades 9-12.
Once qualified to receive a voucher, students continue to receive a voucher until they graduate.
There were 2,069 qualified applicants among the top 25 schools.
Overall, families of 2,415 students signed up to participate in one of the 48 schools or school systems seeking to receive voucher students.
Terry Brown, vice president of Milwaukee-based School Choice Wisconsin, said he is encouraged by the broad support for school choice throughout the state.
“We’re not happy that for every child picked to participate, there will be four waiting outside the school doors,” Brown said. “The caps have to be lifted and the parents will be the ones pushing for a change.”
Brown said voucher payments are about 60 percent of the $10,000 in state aid paid per student attending public schools in Wisconsin.
Statewide, 67 percent of the 2,069 voucher eligible students among the top 25 schools attended a private or religious school in 2012-2013 while 24 percent attended public schools.
St. Joseph Catholic Academy presented a complete flip from the rest of the state as far as the percentage of student applicants already attending system schools, said academy president Robert Freund.
“About 30 percent of our applicants attend St. Joseph, which is the complete opposite of the other schools that applied for the parental choice program. We’re very unique in that way,” Freund said.
“We knew there were plenty of families in our buildings who qualified for the voucher program. We also know there are a lot of people in Kenosha that want a Catholic education for their child if they could afford it.”
Shaw said about 50 percent of the 64 verified applicants already attend Springs and receive financial aid.
He said the financial aid dollars can now be used to help additional students attend Springs.
Freund said St. Joseph formed as a 4K-12 system four years ago with the joining of St. Joseph High School, St. Joseph Interparish Middle School and St. Mark Elementary School “because we wanted to keep Catholic education affordable, accessible and sustainable.”
“We decided to get into parental school choice because we thought it was part of our mission as a Catholic school,” Freund said. “We’re excited to be one of the top 25.”
He expects enrollment at St. Joseph to climb from 777 in the 2012-2013 school year to 800 for 2013-2014. Of the 123 families that applied to receive vouchers, 100 followed through with providing proof of residency and income, he noted.
Archdiocesan schools that did not draw enough student applications to make the DPI cut included Catholic Memorial High School, Waukesha; Mary Queen of Saints Catholic Academy, West Allis; St. Mary School, Mayville; and St. Agnes School, Butler.
Two additional archdiocesan schools, St. Martin of Tours Parish School, Franklin, and St. Joan Antida High School, Milwaukee, applied for the program but were eliminated early in the process.
Both schools participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program in the 2012-2013 school year.
According to a DPI rule, if more than 500 students applied for the statewide program, schools that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice last year could not participate in the statewide program.
Both schools are slated to be part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice program for the 2013-2014 school year.
Each of the top 25 schools is guaranteed 10 seats for voucher students in the first of two random drawings. A second random drawing for 250 vouchers does not guarantee additional students for any school.