Demand remains high for Rock County Christian voucher program

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Nick Crow
Saturday, May 10, 2014

JANESVILLE — Janesville resident Kent Martin sends his two boys to Rock County Christian School because small class sizes, a Christian education and good academics appeal to his family, he said.

"We were impressed by the teachers," Martin said. "They find creative ways to teach. My oldest has allergies and sometimes learns at a slower pace, so he benefits from the smaller class sizes."

His sons have attended Rock County Christian since kindergarten. One is in third grade and one in fifth. He found out last year his family qualified for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

The program allows students who reside in a Wisconsin school district, other than the Milwaukee or Racine Unified School District, to attend any participating private school if certain eligibility criteria are met. The private school receives a state aid payment for each eligible student.

Rock County Christian made the process of applying easy, he said.

"With private schooling, every year is a challenge financially," Martin said. "Obviously, it was a huge blessing to our family that we qualified and actually got the vouchers."

In its first year as a voucher school, Rock County Christian had 102 students apply for the school's voucher program.

The school received 29 out of 500 vouchers distributed to 25 Wisconsin schools by the parental choice program.

The school receives $7,210 for each student but the amount the school gets depends on what it costs to educate the student, Befus said. If the cost to educate the student is less than the amount the school receives, the school has to return the difference, he said.

Next year, the number of vouchers statewide doubles to 1,000, and interest in the program also has increased.

There were 146 students who applied by the April 20 deadline to attend the school located in Janesville and Beloit. Out of those, 128 made it to the final list submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last week, Tim Befus, administrator at the school, said.

Enrollment at the school is 166 students, Befus said.

"It's gone very well," Befus said. "It has been a positive experience for families who have come in through the voucher programs."

Children such as Martin's have benefited from what the school has to offer, Befus said.

"It allows families who would not be able to afford private education for their kids to attend our school," Befus said. "Tuition is what pays our bills. This allows families a choice."

Befus said the school had the second-most applications for vouchers in the state this year. That's an indication of the demand for the education the school provides, he said.

"We're a small school," Befus said. "The parents like that teachers are active in the lives of our students."

New guidelines put forth by the state in April require that before voucher schools are accepted into the program the schools:

-- Submit a budget.

-- Provide information about their policies and governing by Aug. 1 of the year before they open.

-- Receive per-accreditation before they open.

-- Provide information about their students such as graduation rates, demographics and test scores .

"We're continuing a school deadline of July 1 for our budget," Befus said. "We have an audit in June for this past year with documentation throughout. The new rules are good things for school accountability. What they are requiring is to be expected. We have nothing to hide."

The school should know by August how many vouchers they will receive, Befus said.

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