Janesville/Beloit Christian school has hopes for state vouchers plan

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, August 1, 2013

JANESVILLE/BELOIT—The only school in Rock or Walworth counties to apply for Wisconsin's new vouchers program does not want to sour relations with the public schools, its principal said.

“We're not trying to compete with public schools. We're offering an alternative to parents,” something that Rock County Christian School has been doing for 28 years, said Tim Befus, principal of the school's Beloit campus.

Rock County Christian runs a school for grades 6-12 in Beloit and a preschool-5 building on South Driftwood Drive near the airport in Janesville.

“We know we're not able to take all the students in our area, and we're not the right fit for every student in our area, obviously. We understand that, but for some families, we are the right fit,” Befus said. “So we hope there's no animosity with public schools or the teachers. We just want to give parents a choice.”

A public school district that loses a student through vouchers would lose the state aid and taxing capacity that goes with each student, said Keith Pennington, chief financial officer for the Janesville School District.

Pennington said it's impossible to tell right now how the vouchers program might affect the overall state aid situation.

About 80 people showed up at Rock County Christian for a recent informational meeting, and quite a few other families who could not come have indicated interest, Befus said.

Rock County Christian is among 48 schools that have applied to become voucher schools. Only 500 vouchers are available statewide in the first year, increasing to 1,000 in the second year.

If more than 500 income-eligible students apply by the Aug. 9 deadline, only the 25 schools with the most applications will be allowed to participate.

Befus said he's been told that schools will find out next week if they have qualified.

A state official told Befus that Rock County Christian might have a good chance because it's the only school in its area that applied.

Department of Public Instruction would allot 10 vouchers to each of the 25 schools. The remaining 250 vouchers would be awarded randomly. 

The vouchers would pay the school up to $6,442 for each eligible choice student.

Rock County Christian had a K-12 enrollment of 165 last year. Tuition and fees vary by grade, between $4,500 to $5,000 a year, Befus said.

The school has an “aggressive” assistance plan for families that can't afford tuition, but not everyone can be accommodated, he said.

Befus said the addition of voucher students would not be a great boon to the school's  finances, but the program could grow enrollment.

Department of Public Instruction spokesman Patrick Gasper said if fewer than 500 students apply, and if more students have applied for a particular grade than seats are available at a voucher school, the school must conduct a random drawing.

The drawing must give preference to students who were enrolled in a public school in the previous year and are currently applying to attend grades 2-8 or 10-12 and also to students not enrolled in school in the previous school year.  Schools may also give preference to siblings.

If there are more than 500 applicants, the department is required to conduct the random drawing and give preference to siblings, Gasper said.

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