Janesville Christian school offers free tuition

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Frank Schultz
Friday, August 9, 2013

JANESVILLE—A local religious school is offering something different: free tuition.

The pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and School, however, said it's not about competing with other schools or reacting to the state's new vouchers program.

“We just wanted to offer a blessing to families in the community,” said the Rev. Daniel Decker, who has been pastor for about 18 months. “We thought, what better blessing to give to community than to give a free Christian education to somebody who couldn't afford it for a year or so?”

The offer is to any family that has never had a child at the school, Decker said. And, it's limited to the number of vacant desks.

The offer is good only for one year and does not include St. Paul's highest grade, eighth.

St. Paul's keeps its maximum class sizes at 25, and some grades already are filled, Decker said.

Openings remain in grades 2, 3, 6 and the 4-year-old preschool class, Decker said Thursday.

The free-tuition program is called St. Paul's Reach. The idea came from a Lutheran school in Iowa, Decker said.

Decker said St. Paul's Reach makes sense for this congregation, which is very child- and family-oriented and has offered schooling for nearly 150 years.

The family-church connection is so important to the church's ministry that the school's official name is St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, Decker noted.

Like other private schools, St. Paul's has always given tuition discounts to families that can't afford full tuition, Decker said.

Full tuition is $1,585 for church members and $3,800 about for non-members, Decker said. The free-tuition offer does not require a family to join the church.

The offer is open to any family, regardless of income. Even so, one reason for St. Paul's Reach is to reach families that have fallen on hard times since the economy soured and the Janesville General Motors plant closed, Decker said.

“We thought giving them a year's head start, where they could get ready to eventually pay full tuition—we would like to bless a family,” Decker said.

St. Paul's is the largest Christian school in Janesville. Its enrollment was more than 260 in preschool through eighth grade last year, Decker said, and its capacity is about 25 more than that.

Enrollment in the city's eight Christian schools last year was 1,087, according to the Janesville School District's demographics report.

The cost to offer free tuition is negligible because the teachers already are in place, and their pay and benefits already in the budget, Decker said.

"So why be stingy?" he asked. "Why not be a blessing to anybody who wants take advantage of it?”

St. Paul's will even take some students with disabilities, although it doesn't have all the special-education resources public schools do, Decker said.

Decker's wife, Elizabeth, teaches sixth grade and recently earned her master's degree in special education, he said.

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