Madison’s Lighthouse Christian School is one of 64 additional private schools in Wisconsin that can enroll students this fall using taxpayer-funded vouchers, the Department of Public Instruction announced Thursday.
The West Side school, at 5202 Regent St., had 31 eligible applicants, ranking it 25th among the schools or school systems that signed up last month for an expansion of the program.
There were 2,415 eligible applicants for the program, including 2,069 who applied to the top 25 schools or systems. Because more than the limit of 500 students applied, state law limits the program to the 25 schools or systems with the most applicants.
Of the students who signed up for the eligible schools, a quarter attended public schools in Wisconsin last year, DPI said in a news release. Two-thirds were already enrolled in private schools. The others were home-schooled, not in school or living in other states.
Voucher advocates touted the numbers as evidence of the popularity of the program and called for the state to lift the cap, which next year goes up to 1,000 students.
But opponents said the large number of private school students who applied proved the program was a subsidy for private schools.
“Expanding the private school voucher program was designed to subsidize families that have made the decision to educate their children in private schools,” Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, said.
School Choice Wisconsin president Jim Bender said the short application timeline meant private schools looked to their own students to ensure they had enough applicants to qualify.
“We anticipate the applications to increase significantly in the second year of the program,” Bender said. “As we have seen in Milwaukee and Racine, the more parents learn about the program, the more demand there is for available seats.”
The voucher program began more than 20 years ago in Milwaukee and expanded to Racine in 2011. Those programs are continuing. Voucher students next year will receive up to $6,442 from the state to cover tuition at a private school. The amount goes up to $7,210 for elementary schools and $7,856 for high schools in
The total cost of the expanded program outside Milwaukee and Racine is expected to be $10.5 million over the next two years.
Ninety schools constituting 48 applicants registered for the expansion. The 64 selected Thursday pared the number of new schools and systems participating in the program to 25.
Green Bay and DePere, with four Catholic systems that include 10 schools, had the most applicants with 318. Oshkosh was next with 208 applicants at a three-school Catholic system and a Christian school, followed by Kenosha with 195 at a three-school Catholic system and a Lutheran school.
Other communities with eligible schools include Appleton, Altoona, Beloit, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Janesville, La Crosse, Manitowoc, Marshfield, Onalaska, Plover, Plymouth, Rothschild, Sheboygan, Stevens Point, Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids.
The 26 schools that didn’t make the cut include Westside Christian in Middleton and others in Bloomer, Brookfield, Butler, Cedarburg, Columbus, Fox Point, Franklin, Freedom, Green Bay, Mayville, Milwaukee, New London, Rhinelander, Sheboygan, Stratford, Waukesha and
Of the 64 schools that are in, 55 are Catholic, four are Lutheran and five are other types of Christian schools.
Each of the 25 schools or systems is guaranteed 10 students with the other 250 spots being determined by lottery next week. Public school students will not have a preference in the lottery, though Republican leaders said they want to change that for next year’s process.
The total number of families that signed up from Aug. 1-9 was higher than the final number. Lighthouse Christian originally reported 46 applicants and Westside Christian reported 12, but the total number of eligible applicants for the two Dane County schools was 36.
DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said some applications were rejected because it was determined family income exceeded the 185 percent of poverty threshold. Others were not Wisconsin residents, had incomplete applications or the school failed to verify the application before the deadline.