Rock County Christian School receives state tuition vouchers
JANESVILLE—For some local families, getting free tuition to the school of their choice is a bit like winning the lottery.
“They've been calling us all week,” said Tim Befus, administrator of Rock County Christian School.
He learned Thursday that his school would receive at least 10 voucher slots under the new state law.
Families will have to wait until next week to find out who is offered those 10 vouchers.
Rock County Christian is the only local school that sought to join the vouchers program.
Statewide, 25 schools with the most eligible applicants were selected, and Rock County Christian ranked high in that group.
“We're excited. No. 7 is pretty good for a small school in Rock County,” Befus said.
It's not clear when the school will find out if it gets any more vouchers.
Only 500 vouchers are available statewide this year. The top 25 schools receive 10 each. The remaining 250 will be allotted randomly.
“Even after the random draw, we will not be able to issue a final list of schools/vouchers until much later in the fall,” said Patrick Gasper, spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, in an email.
The law requires the department release data about vouchers schools' enrollments, test results and applicants “all at the same time, uniformly, and completely,” Gasper said.
Gasper said that once the recipients are selected, parents will decide whether to accept the vouchers. If parents decide not to accept, the voucher goes to the next student on the randomly generated list.
Befus said families that get first choice should receive emails from the department next week.
Rock County Christian starts school Wednesday, Aug. 28, “so we need to get these students registered,” Befus said, and families need to meet with the principals. Normally this is done in February.
“There's a little bit of urgency this year. It's a last-minute type of thing,” Befus said.
Rock County Christian received 121 applications, but only 102 were eligible, Befus said. Some did not get their paperwork in on time, and some had incomes that were too high to qualify.
Of the 102 who qualified, 55 attended a public school last year, mostly in Janesville and Beloit, Befus said. The remaining 47 were Rock County Christian students.
Rock County Christian has a high/middle school in Beloit and an elementary school near the airport in Janesville.
Statewide, the top 25 schools received 2,069 eligible applications. Of those, 503 attended public school last year.
Public schools lose funding for each student that moves to a private school.
Rock County Christian had a K-12 enrollment of 165 last year. Befus does not anticipate needing to hire any teachers, and he expects to keep class sizes at 15 or fewer.
The school probably will hire a part-timer to help with the extra paperwork the state requires, he said.
One of the new requirements is that the school become accredited within three years, Befus said. The school already had started that process before vouchers became a possibility. It is pre-accredited with Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation.
Asked why Rock County Christian got so many applicants, Befus said, “I just think there are a number of families in this area that are looking for what we have to offer: small schools, small class size, teaching from a Christian perspective.”
A voucher will pay up to $6,442. The actual amount depends on a state audit of the school's costs, Befus said.
“We're just very grateful for this program. We're excited about it,” Befus said.
The program will offer 1,000 vouchers next year, and Befus said he'd like to see the number expanded.
“It could help some of our present families. We have families that have financial challenges but are still doing all they can to have their children here,” Befus said.
The American Federation for Children, which calls itself “the nation's voice for educational choice,” issued a statement Thursday calling on lawmakers “to recognize the overwhelming demand for educational choice in Wisconsin and consider lifting enrollment caps.”