Gov. Evers's proposal to cap enrollment on voucher school program worries participating schools Submitted: 03/04/2019
Rose McBride
Rose McBride

Gov. Evers's proposal to cap enrollment on voucher school program worries participating schools
MERRILL - Parents want their children to get the best education possible. 

For some parents that means sending their children to a private school rather than a neighborhood public school. 

And thanks to a program introduced at the beginning of the Walker administration, parents can use taxpayer dollars to put their children in private schools.

But last week Governor Evers announced he wants to put a cap on enrollment in the school choice program beginning in 2021. 

Some private schools say freezing enrollment takes away a parent's choice for how they want their child educated. 

One of the schools that participates in the voucher program is Trinity Lutheran School in Merrill.
All subjects are taught with a religious base at Trinity Lutheran. 

"Parents want that Christian Lutheran education for their students," said administrator Kathy Yahr.
And right now, they have that option, even if they can't afford the tuition. 

"Parents have expressed a lot of gratitude toward us for doing that, and they're just so thankful they can send their child to the school of their choice," said Yahr. 

Families under a certain income level are eligible for the Wisconsin Private School Choice Program. Thirty of Trinity Lutheran's 114 students are in the program. 

Evers's recent announcement calls for a cap on the enrollment at voucher schools primarily because he believes voucher schools aren't transparent. It's something state Democrats agree with. 

"Taxpayers have been paying for two systems for two long and its unaffordable and unsustainable," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, (D) Stevens Point. "I think it's a good thing to cap enrollment because if we continue to allow it to go unchecked that money comes directly out of our neighborhood public schools."

The announcement won't affect Trinity Lutheran right now. The Merrill district can support 70 students in the program and its 30 right now don't come close to that number. But it could become an issue in the future.

"If any of the other private schools, there are three other private parochial schools in Merrill, if any of them decided to become part of the Wisconsin Choice Program it could impact them as well as us," said Yahr.

Yahr says her school offers not only a religious base, but smaller class sizes than public schools and a sense of family. 

"Every teacher knows every students name at this school, and you can never walk by somebody and say that's not my problem because some day it will be," said Yahr.

But with potential changes to the voucher program, that family could look different in the future. And some parents will no longer have as much of a choice in their child's education. 

"I don't think they want to see it become a political issue either. I think that they just are grateful for the opportunity to attend school here," said Yahr.

In addition to capping enrollment in the voucher program, Evers's plan would stop new charter schools from being created through 2023. It would also form new minimum standards for teacher licensing and school accreditation in private schools.

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