GREEN BAY - School's in session for Notre Dame Academy. But some students may not be in class yet, because they're waiting to hear if they've been selected for the statewide private school voucher program.
“We told some of our teachers it might be a week or two before we even know who will be eligible to be attending Notre Dame Academy,” said Notre Dame Academy President Bob Pauly.
Notre Dame Academy started school on Monday. That's the same day the Department of Public Instruction held its lottery to determine which students would receive the vouchers. So, Notre Dame Academy didn't even know who would be in these seats on the first day of class.
“So everyone has to be patient with all of this it's rolled out in such a way that we have to be flexible because we never quite know what the time frame is going to be,” said Pauly.
“Now we're in a bit of a waiting game,” said Deacon Ray DuBois, president of the Xavier school system.
That Catholic school system in Appleton starts next week. But school president DuBois says their outlook is just as uncertain.
"Who knows?” said DuBois, when asked how many students will be attending. “It’ll be a minimum of 10, and I have no idea how the program is designed how the programming is going to pan out.”
The Department of Public Instruction says 67 percent of students who registered for the statewide voucher program already attend private schools.
Not knowing whether they've received the voucher won't affect those students as severely.
But the 33 percent transferring in from public schools may end up falling behind their new private school classmates because they couldn't start on day one at their new voucher school.
“We'll create what we need to bring them up to speed and support the teachers and the kids so they can get up to speed,” said Pauly.
Schools say they've had to be quick this summer to get their voucher programs up and running.
Governor Scott Walker signed it into law on July 1. Schools had until July 26 to fill out more than a dozen forms to be accredited through the program.
The list of approved schools went out July 31. Parents had from August 1 to August 9 to register their children online. The list of top 25 schools that attracted possible voucher students was released on August 15. Ten Northeast Wisconsin private schools made that list. Those schools, along with the others on the list around the state, will each receive ten students. That's 250 kids across the state.
The remaining 250 students will be drawn at random through a lottery. And that's the part schools say they're still waiting for this week.
We contacted the Department of Public Instruction in Madison for a comment on how the voucher lottery process. No one would do an interview. Instead, we received the following in a written statement:
"This will be a rolling process until all the 500 vouchers are finalized. As such, DPI will not be able to provide the final voucher enrollment for each of the 25 private schools until later in the fall, potentially in early October.”
The possibility of long delays like this kept some schools, like Wisconsin International School in De Pere, from even applying this year for vouchers eligibility.
"The administrative hoops that we would have to jump through and the time and money that that would take in a short period was just not consistent with what we were able to do,” said Saied Assef, a member of that school’s board of directors.
So we asked school systems like Xavier and NDA if applying for the voucher program was worth it, now that they're stuck in limbo.
“Easier, yes, better no,” Pauly said, when asked if it would have been better to wait a year. “Because I think it's really important to have gotten the program up and running.”
“It was absolutely worth it,” said DuBois. “I would do it again in a minute.”
Private schools say the voucher program will give students a chance at a better education.
But that effect, or even who will be among those randomly chosen students, remains to be seen.
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