From the desk of WFA president Julaine Appling:
Parents, do you know what your educational options are in Wisconsin? You should; the education of your child is not anyone else’s responsibility. It is yours. Regardless of the “partner” you may choose to help you in the education of your child, at the end of the day, you are the one who is responsible for whether your child learns what he or she should learn, in the way he or she should learn it.
Unfortunately too many Americans have tried to completely delegate the education of our children to the partner we choose. The responsibility cannot be delegated. If the partner we have chosen is failing, then we can choose different partners if we know about them.
That said,Wisconsin parents are very fortunate. You have a number of educational options from which to select a partner to work with you, not in place of you, in the education of your child.
The first option. Of course, like every state, Wisconsin has the standard public schools. In fact, we have over 420 school districts, ranging from large ones such as Milwaukee and Madison to very small ones with fewer than 300 students as in Alma. These schools are governed by local school boards and are funded by local, state and federal taxpayer money. The State Department of Public Instruction, or DPI, has oversight of these schools for such things as compliance and distribution of funds.
The second option. While every child in Wisconsin lives in a specific public school district, parents may choose to use open enrollment to enroll their child in another public school district that better fits them and their child. Parents can apply for open enrollment in another district from February through April 30.
The third option. This is another option within the public school arena. Many districts have started charter schools. Charter schools have typically become something of specialty schools—or schools that cater to a certain group or have a particular philosophy. They have a separate school board from the main school district, as well as a completely separate administration. However, they are funded with tax dollars and are still accountable to DPI and must meet all the rules and laws for public schools.
The fourth option. Public schools are now starting virtual charter schools, which allow parents to keep their children home and use an online curriculum approved by the charter school board. While students are educated from their homes, technically this is not what most people consider “homeschooling,” because students are enrolled in the public school district and are still subject to the rules and requirements of the state and the district.
The fifth option. Wisconsin is blessed with an excellent private school law and many excellent private schools, most of them affiliated with a church or a religious college. Private schools are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that govern any type of public school.
The six option. Here is where the public and private schools mix. In 1991 the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program began. This program allowed low-income students living in the Milwaukee school district to attend a private school using a voucher. Private schools apply to become part of the voucher program and must agree to certain requirements such as audits and testing.
The voucher comes from the state and is payable to the parent and the school. In 2011, the program was expanded to include Racine; and under Governor Walker’s proposed 2013-2014 budget it would be expanded to include at least nine other school districts. The voucher program has been very successful in Milwaukee and has grown considerably over the years. Liberals tend to hate the program because they believe it takes money out of the public schools. We disagree with that and believe, on the whole, that the program has been good for the students and the taxpayers.
And finally, the seventh option. Homeschooling. Wisconsin has one of the best homeschool laws in the country. Passed in 1983, the law has remained unchanged for 30 years. Applying to homeschool in Wisconsin is as simple as filling out a one-page form from the Department of Public Instruction and submitting it to them. Parents who take this educational option have great freedom to choose the curriculum, the hours, everything about the education they provide for their children.
We are not wanting for educational options in Wisconsin. That said, expanding some of the options so more parents can take advantage of them would be good. However, Wisconsin parents have true choice when it comes to how they will educate their children. Now is the time to explore these options for next year, all the while remembering that you are still the one accountable for the success or failure of your child’s education. That’s a responsibility that cannot be delegated.