More than 2,400 students applied to take part in the first year of a statewide private school voucher program.
The state Department of Public Instruction on Thursday released a list of the 25 schools and school systems that received the most applications earlier this month, which represented 2,069 of the overall applications. The largest number of applicants was in the Saint Francis Xavier Catholic School System in Appleton with 193, while the smallest to qualify was Madison’s Lighthouse Christian School with 31 applications.
The schools, which are mainly private religious institutions, will each receive 10 voucher students automatically. The remaining 250 slots will be divided among them next week using a lottery system.
The recently enacted state budget included a provision that expanded the taxpayer-funded voucher program statewide, with a cap of 500 students for the upcoming school year and 1,000 students for the 2014-15 school year. The program was open only to students from families living at 185 percent of the federal poverty line.
School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender says the number of applicants reflects the strong interest in the voucher program, especially considering the short time frame students had to apply. The DPI announced the list of eligible schools in late July and parents had from August 1-9 to submit applications.
AUDIO: Jim Bender (:21)
The DPI says almost 67 percent of the qualifying applications are from students who were enrolled in a private school last year. Critics of voucher expansion argue that shows the program is designed to subsidize private religious schools, instead of helping students from troubled public schools get a private education.
Bender argues the short frame for applications was likely a bigger factor. With just two weeks to get the word out to parents, Bender says many private schools likely found it easier to reach out to families they already had contact with instead of trying to find new students. He believes the numbers will shift dramatically in the spring, when the cap lifts to 1,000 students and schools have more time to make families aware of the application process.