Local schools contemplate state vouchers - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Local schools contemplate state vouchers

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - As we wait for the governor to sign the state budget, we're hearing from private schools about the controversial expansion of the voucher program.

Governor Walker's original proposal would have expanded vouchers to nine more school districts based on the new state report cards.

Republican senate leaders questioned using the report cards as a trigger so a compromise was reached to expand the program statewide instead and cap enrollment.

The school voucher program has been up and running in Milwaukee and Racine schools, but this expansion opens it up statewide.

"If a student is low-income rural and doesn't have all the options like a bigger city with more schools or whatever options, this is a good choice," says Vice President Mary Huffcutt of McDonell Area Catholic Schools.

But those rural students can only apply if schools near their home qualify for some of the 500 vouchers available this year.

"We support it, we're going forward with it, but we just want to be educated and make sure it's in the best interest of the students, which we believe it is," says Huffcutt.

Meaning the more than $7,000 per student vouchers might make their way into the Chippewa Valley if larger urban schools don't exhaust the limited supply.

"It's just a way of looking at how can we make sure that nobody loses in the process?  And that our children win," says Huffcutt.

A private school in Eau Claire offers its own solution to this challenge and its voucher-less.

"There is no tuition," says Pastor Paul Tiefel of the Messiah Lutheran Church and School.

Wait, what was that?

"The members of our congregation support that with their free will offerings," explains Tiefel.

The generosity of Messiah Lutheran's 800 members funds a free education for kids kindergarten through 8th grade, regardless of involvement with their church.

"It's open to anyone that would be interested in having an education that's centered on Jesus Christ," says Tiefel.

A much lower threshold than the 185% of the federal poverty level or about $40,000 family income requirement to qualify for the voucher program.

Other schools help defray tuition costs privately too, but anticipate the additional savings the voucher program will offer currently enrolled families.

"If you choose to send your child to a non-public school, you'd get credit from taxes," says Huffcutt.

In the amount of $30 million statewide, which is guaranteed, unlike the limited vouchers when kids head back to school.

McDonell and Regis Catholic Schools both belong to the La Crosse Diocese.

They'll be taking part in a special meeting in Madison on Wednesday to learn more about how their schools qualify. 

The deadline to register for vouchers is July 26th and schools must pay a $900 registration fee.

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