MacIver News Service | November 12, 2013[Racine, Wisc…] More than 1,200 K-12 students in Racine are taking advantage of an educational reform that allows them to find the classroom that fits them best, even if it’s in a private school. That’s because the district’s voucher program – the second in the state – recently shed its training wheels and removed participation caps for the 2013-2014 school year.
The Parental Private School Choice Program (PPSCP) was Wisconsin’s first private choice program to venture outside of Milwaukee. After two years of restrictive participation caps that were designed in part to protect the public schools from which students were leaving, the PPSCP entered its first uncapped year this fall. The results were encouraging – enrollment jumped from 520 students to 1,245.
The PPSCP allows students to attend state-approved private schools using a portion of the funding that otherwise would have been spent to educate them in their neighborhood public school. Any student that comes from a family that has an annual income of less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level – $70,947 for a family of four – is eligible for consideration. Students in this program must have attended a public school in the prior year or be entering a new school for either kindergarten, first grade, or ninth grade in order to receive a voucher.
The program was limited in its first two years as it grew slowly and state officials adjusted to the creation of a choice program outside of Milwaukee, where vouchers have been in place since 1990. Enrollment was capped at 250 full-time students in 2011-2012 and 500 in 2012-2013. Now that this limit has been removed, participation has increased by 139 percent despite the other caps that remain in Racine.
This enrollment growth shows that parents are interested in greater educational options for their children in the state’s fifth-largest school district. In the first year with no participation cap, enrollment exceeded the total number of voucher students from the past two years combined, 1,245 to 748. As more schools join the PPSCP and existing schools expand, that number is primed to grow.
That’s a step in the right direction for education in Racine. Private school choice expands the range of options for a group of students that has traditionally been one of the lowest-scoring in the state when it comes to reading and math. Now, when traditional public classroom settings aren’t working, families will have more options than ever to find the school that works for their children and helps them grow.