By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The statewide expansion of school vouchers, set to roll out for the school year that begins Sept. 3, may not be complete until sometime in October, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
As a result, some parents hoping to receive vouchers may have to send students to public schools for a month, before a voucher seat at a private school opens up.
And some voucher schools might not know which students to expect when the new year dawns in two weeks, which was news to Sheboygan Christian School — one of the 25 private schools that will participate in school choice expansion this year — when Wisconsin Reporter contacted the school Wednesday.
Sharon Eggebeen, director of operations, said it’s just another example of the “unknown and waiting” that’s been the hallmark of school choice expansion, a frenzied process with trainings, paperwork and application deadlines all taking place in less than a month.
“This will be a rolling process until all the 500 vouchers are finalized,” DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said in an email.
What’s known so far: Each of the 25 schools selected will receive 10 voucher students by lottery. The remaining 250 spots will be filled by lottery at random.
The process is a kind of puzzle, where pieces eventually will fit into place.
After the initial lottery selection, parents have five days to accept or decline a voucher. The parents that applied their kids to more than one school decide which school they want to choose, which could open up spots in another school.
Some schools might receive more students than spots available.
But the funding implications of the timeline remain to be seen.
Schools do an annual fall headcount the third Friday in September, which determines how much funding the voucher schools get in the first semester. Another headcount is taken in January.
That leaves an unanswered question: How would DPI refund voucher schools this semester considering all the spaces may not be filled?
Gasper said he would try to answer that question by Thursday.
“Regardless, it is important to understand that the process is now individual student-focused, with decisions made by parents and students determining, in the end, the enrollment numbers for students using publicly funded vouchers in these 25 private schools,” he said.
State Superintendent Tony Evers, the head of DPI, has criticized the voucher expansion, which the Legislature approved during the spring legislative session and Gov. Scott Walker signed into law in the 2013-15 budget.
But one of the leaders of the school choice movement in Wisconsin says there’s no political foul play or bureaucratic obfuscation in DPI’s timeline.
“This is kind of par for the course,” said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. “The same thing happened (when the voucher program expanded) in Racine. But I don’t think it will take anywhere near that long.”
For Sheboygan Christian School, with about 170 students, the transition isn’t much of a concern.
“Most of our applicants are from our school,” Eggebeen said. “So they’ll most likely already be here (in October).”
Bender said parents and school administrators knew going in there would be some headaches and confusion in the first year of the statewide school choice expansion.
“They’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that,” he said.
Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected].