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School Choice

What are some of the implications and requirements of adopting School Choice?

There are a number of state mandated requirements to participate including:

  • The Wisconsin Forward Exam must be administered online in the spring of each school year.  The Forward Exam is a high quality, research-based, and affordable assessment that meets Wisconsin’s expectations.   Currently used exams (e.g. Iowa Basics) may no longer be used.
  • Qualified Choice Auditors must complete financial audits annually.
  • Specific rules on what is allowable, as a Choice expense must be followed.

A school may ask a parent to raise funds for or contribute volunteer time to the school, but cannot require it as a condition of admission or impose any penalties on a parent or student in the Choice program for failure to participate in fundraising activities or volunteer time.

If a Choice student’s parent or guardian submits to the student’s teacher or the school’s principal a written request that the student be excused from any religious activity, the teacher and school must honor that request.

At the same time once a Choice student is accepted and enrolled in the school, he or she is required to follow the school’s policies and procedures.

What is the plan if School Choice were to disappear?

Certainly this would have a significant negative impact on the school system.  At the same time, School Choice has a long history in the State of Wisconsin and has persisted through administrations on both sides of the political aisle for several decades.  More than 24 states now have some type of school choice program and support currently exists at the national level for expansion.  Finally, a reversal could result in an unprecedented increase in public school enrollment and dramatically increased public sector costs.

One of the general support principles called for schools not adopting choice to make a larger investment in the system. What is the basis for this principle?

As we move forward with the system there are a number of differences across the schools that will be “harmonized” for simplicity and efficiency.  For example, there will be a standardized tuition for the elementary schools and teacher salaries and benefits will move to a common compensation plan.  A fundamental difference is the employment of school choice and the significant difference in “revenue per student”.  In 2012/13 Racine Unified spent more than $11,000 to educate a student   Schools in the Choice program receive approximately $7,300 per qualifying student in while the revenue per student in the non-choice schools is approximately $3,000 (tuition less discounts and scholarships).   In both cases, there is a gap between actual cost and revenue that must be accommodated in some way…either through the parish investment/subsidy, reduced compensation for staff or grants/donations.  The RACE Steering Committee feels the adoption of choice across the system will help reduce this gap and, at the same time, make Catholic education affordable and accessible to more families.

I believe School Choice is contrary to the social justice teaching of the church and directly responsible for taking funds away from the public school system that must take all students, provide special education and cannot dismiss disruptive students. What is your position on this topic?

Our Catholic faith affirms a parent’s fundamental right, as the primary teacher of their child, to choose a school for their child that extends their own teaching mission.  The church supports programs, such as School Choice, that enable parents, regardless of income, to exercise their fundamental right to choose an education best suited to the needs of their child.

When students leave a public school using a voucher, the public school is relieved of the duty of educating those students.  State government saves money when students use a voucher to attend private schools, as the voucher amount is less than the average funding per student spent by the state to public schools.

Choice schools are prohibited from discriminating against students with special needs in the admissions process.  However, as a private school, a Choice school is required to offer only those services to assist students with special needs that it can provide with minor adjustments. Additionally, state law requires Choice schools to have written procedures in place regarding suspensions and expulsions.

We are concerned about the impact of Choice. Why are there no paying families at the largest Catholic School in Milwaukee if nothing is going to change?

The School referenced is St. Anthony School in Milwaukee.  St. Anthony was founded in 1872 to serve German immigrants.  Over the past 140 years there has been a dramatic change in the parish and neighborhood.  The school has evolved and changed as well.  The reason there are few “paying families” is the population served by St. Anthony is largely lower income however with the Choice income limits (e.g. a family of four can have an income of nearly $80,000 and qualify for Choice) there are many middle income families who are enrolled in the Choice program as well.

From the St. Anthony website, “St. Anthony’s is the nation’s largest Catholic K-12 School and the largest Parental Choice School.

St. Anthony School has been in existence since 1872, but has evolved and changed over the decades to meet the needs of our community.

Today, we serve a population that is primarily Hispanic and low-income across our five campuses. Our goal is to help these families realize the “American Dream,” offering academic and spiritual education for the whole child around the two pillars of faith formation and educational excellence. We believe that every student should have the opportunity to succeed and to follow God’s call in his or her life.”

Is there a program in place for training teachers and staff for the unique challenges of students who may come from poverty as part of the Racine Parental Choice Program?

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee provides multiple training opportunities for teachers and administrators to deepen their instructional skills and expertise through a professional development program for Learning Support Teams.   A training sequence offered annually for Learning Support Teams is designed to build the capacity of each school to meet the needs of diverse learners.

Will currently enrolled families that qualify for the Choice Program be eligible for a voucher?

There are specific state provisions that govern eligibility in the Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP).  One of the provisions is income level.  Another provision requires students in the RPCP must meet at least one of the prior year school attendance requirements: (1) been enrolled in a public school in Wisconsin in the 2016-17 school year, (2) have not been enrolled in the school in the 2016-17 school year, (3) be applying for kindergarten, first or ninth grade at the private school in the 2017-18 school year or (4) participated in the RPCP or WPCP in the 2016-17 school year.

Note that requirement (2) does not allow currently enrolled students to qualify for the Choice program.  However, siblings entering kindergarten or first grade are eligible.  While efforts to influence legislation have been pursued to increase the opportunity for currently enrolled students in private schools to access Choice to date they have been unsuccessful.  Parents are urged to contact their state representatives and senators to advocate on behalf of this change.

If classes aren’t full with paying students will they be filled with Choice students?

The law does not allow for a process of enrolling students tuition paying students and then “filling in” with Choice students.  A school adopts School Choice and designates the number of seats available within a class (typically K-5 and Grade 1) for Choice Students.  So, if the target class size is 28 students and the seats designated for Choice students are 5 then 23 seats are available for tuition paying students.