DPI Gets 2,415 Applications for First Year of Statewide School Choice Expansion

MacIver News Service | August 15, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] When the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) debuts this fall, it will have turned away over 1,900 applicants. That’s because the statewide voucher program has a limit of 500 students in its pilot year – a number that will fulfill just over 20 percent of the 2,415 applications that were received this summer.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released the results of the first-ever application process for the WPCP, naming the 25 schools that will be participating in the program for the 2013-2014 school year. These institutions – which were vetted by the DPI before the application process began on August 1, were selected based on the number of total voucher requests they received in the nine-day enrollment process. They include four schools in the Green Bay/De Pere area, two each in Sheboygan, Oshkosh, Kenosha, Wisconsin Rapids, and Manitowoc, and one in Madison. The complete listing of selected schools can be found here.

Green Bay Area Catholic Education – East led all schools with 110 applicants. However, the school will be prohibited from enrolling those interested students for a pair of reasons. First, the program is limited to just 500 students in its first year – a cap that will expand to 1,000 in 2014-2015 but remain static afterwards. As a result, students that are interested in using the WPCP to attend an approved private school will be subject to a blind lottery drawing to determine who gets the tuition voucher.

Secondly, local schools are protected by a clause in the program that prevents any district from losing more than one percent of its overall student population to the WPCP. As a result, Green Bay’s three approved private schools – which had 236 applicants this summer – would surpass the 207-student limit set by its public school enrollment. So, even if the statistically improbable were to occur, participation caps would ensure that Green Bay Area Public Schools would lose no more than 206.85 students to this statewide voucher expansion.

“Demand for educational choice in Wisconsin is overwhelming–parents recognize they deserve the opportunity to send their children to the schools that best fit their needs,” said Kevin Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. Chavous went on to say that the great demand for vouchers should serve as a signal to the legislature that the caps should be lifted on the school choice expansion.

DPI will now turn to a random lottery to fill seats at the 25 approved voucher institutions. Each school will be guaranteed at least 10 students through their drawing. Many of these students already have private school backgrounds, despite the income caps that limit participation to families that earn less than 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level each year. Of the students that applied for the approved schools, approximately two-thirds attended a private school in the previous year.

The process of whittling down the list of eligible schools took the WPCP from 48 institutions to 25. As a result, over 300 students were already disqualified from the program for applying to schools that didn’t have enough applications to make the cut. Now, the state will cut another 1,569 students from the list of eligible students to fill the 500 seats that are available this fall. That drawing will take place next week.