Private schools to compete to make list for School Choice program

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MADISON (WITI) -- The next four weeks won't seem anything like summer break for private schools across the state. Many will compete to make an exclusive list of 25 schools that will be selected for the newly expanded voucher program.

When Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2013-2015 Wisconsin state budget, he signed into law a sweeping expansion of the School Choice program, which allows parents to subsidize private educations with public money or vouchers.

Vouchers will be available across the state, but because of caps on enrollment, just 500 students in the state this year, and 1,000 next year -- only 25 schools will be chosen to participate in the program.

"You're going to have demand that far exceeds supply, and there's going to be issues matching those two up, because it won't fit," Jim Bender with School Choice WI said.

The entire application process from choosing the schools to selecting the students will take place over the next four weeks.

"It is going to be a bit of a tornado when it comes to how this is going to get implemented," Bender said.

Private schools across the state have from now until the end of July to apply to be a part of the program. Then, parents and students will be able to apply to individual schools from August 1st through August 9th.

The state Department of Public Instruction will select the 25 schools with the most applications, and anywhere from 15 to 30 students will be admitted to each school.

"You'll have the top 25 -- and nobody knows where the 25 schools will be. It could be a scattershot all over the state or in the urban areas," Bender said.

State Superintendent Tony Evers will oversee the implementation of the voucher system. He is a vocal critic of School Choice, arguing it weakens the public school system and does not lead to better results.

"Rapid expansion of the voucher system just isn't warranted by the data.  To me, that's really an important piece.  If you look at the overall achievement level within the School Choice program in Milwaukee -- and it's been an experiment for over 20 years, and it's no different than MPS, so to say it's a best practice is stretch," Evers said.

"If your only concern is money funneling into the status quo, that's a valid concern-- because it's not a concern about protecting students , it's a concern about power and money," Bender said.

The expansion of the School Choice program does not affect the programs already in place in Racine and Milwaukee.