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Without a quality education, we are failing to set children up for success. This is especially true in Milwaukee – Wisconsin’s largest city – where a strong education is essential to providing an opportunity for a better life for so many families. But the current funding model for the state’s school choice programs limits the number of children that can be served.
Currently in Wisconsin, private schools in the state’s choice programs receive $9,045 or less per student, depending on the grade level.
Answering the call
The education, opportunity and hope that school choice provides to our community are vital.
“When education ran away from Milwaukee, we moved in,” says Cole Braun, CEO of the Lutheran High School Association of Greater Milwaukee.
The association owns and operates three high schools and a middle school, including Milwaukee Lutheran where I teach.
Braun explained that more than a decade ago, when looking at the desperate educational needs of our inner-city community, Milwaukee Lutheran answered the call to serve those students.
The price of education
They did not do it for the money. Tuition is now $12,500 per year per student at Milwaukee Lutheran, more than $3,000 higher than the voucher. That leaves about a $2.4 million gap that needs to be covered each year by the school just to break even.
The result is that a school that has capacity to take over 1,000 students can only take 850 and still survive economically.
Milwaukee Lutheran would love the opportunity to reach more souls, but it is an undertaking it simply cannot afford. Other choice schools in the Milwaukee area that were providing high quality education to students have closed because of this unsustainable model.
Here’s why you should care
So, the question is why should you care about low-income families in places like Milwaukee and Racine?
Well, the answer is easy. The kids in school right now will be entrusted to fill the jobs of tomorrow, to raise families of their own, to pay taxes and to support the community. I am not saying anything new here, but how far will we go to secure their future and consequently Wisconsin’s?
Providing parents with educational choice drives options, competition and innovation. When it’s provided in education, it raises the quality of all schools in our state – public and private, religious and non-religious.
When that happens, our kids win. But this can’t be achieved with the current status quo. It’s critical that we take bold action to close the funding gap that exists in Wisconsin and fully fund all students.
Defeating the status quo
Without action, the status quo leaves two options:
Schools are either forced to annually raise a significant amount of money to close the funding gap, or they must limit the number of children in the choice program they can serve.
Closing the funding gap would be a significant step toward education reform in Wisconsin.
“We started it, but we haven’t perfected it,” was how Andy Locke, the director of advancement for the Association for Greater Milwaukee, characterized school choice in Wisconsin.
We must close the funding gap
By closing the funding gap, Wisconsin can be a leader once again without reinventing the wheel.
Wisconsin was once a leader in school choice, having created the nation’s first school choice voucher program in 1990. But that position has been jeopardized by an underfunded program that cannot meet the needs of all the families who want to access it.
Now is the time to do even more. Closing the funding gap for those families is a winning proposition for everyone.
Shannon Whitworth is the executive director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.