School Choice Week: A Smorgasbord of Options for WI Parents

School Choice Week: A Smorgasbord of Options for WI Parents

2015| Week of January 26 – #1082

My last assignment as a school board member was to represent the school board at an exploratory meeting regarding whether the district should add a four-year-old kindergarten program. 

In the room were stakeholders of all sorts. I mostly listened for the first part of the program. But then one of the county workers began making the argument that parents don’t really know how to take care of their kids in general, let alone making sure they were ready for kindergarten.  Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked the person directly, “So, are you saying the state, represented at this time by the county, would really like our kids from the time they were born until they were 18?” There was silence from the other end of the table. Then finally the lady said, “Well, yes, if we think the parents aren’t doing what they need to.”

To hear it said publicly that government workers generally think children are wards of the state, was really quite breathtaking.  I did manage a response in which I said, “I completely disagree. Children belong to their parents; they are not wards of the state.”

Scripture makes it clear that children are gifts from God, given to parents—moms and dads—who are responsible for the nurturing, care and general development and well being of the children. Earthly parents are stewards on behalf of God the Father to raise the gifts He has given for His honor and glory. Nowhere does Scripture indicate children belong to anyone other than parents. And nowhere does Scripture say the education of a child is anyone’s responsibility than the parents. The problem is getting both parents and the government to understand and respect that truth.

This week is School Choice Week nationwide. Organizers are asking school choice advocates to make sure everyone knows the educational options available for parents.

Too often parents think public schools are the only option they have for an educational partner for their children. In virtually every state, that’s not true. It’s definitely not true in Wisconsin.

We are fortunate in our state to have a smorgasbord of choices for parents when it comes to educational options for their children. Certainly we have public schools and within public schools, we have open enrollment. This allows parents to enroll their child in another public school outside of their own school district. Applications for open enrollment run from early February through April. We also have many charter schools, including virtual charter schools. While these are distinctly within the public sector, they are sometimes a very good option for parents who don’t want a traditional public school.

Our state also has the nation’s first and I believe largest Parental Choice Program. The largest one is in Milwaukee with a smaller one in Racine and an even smaller one statewide.  In this program, the state gives parents a voucher to cover the cost of education at a private school, including religious schools, that the parent chooses. The school must be accepted as a part of the Parental Choice Program and meet the criteria and accountability measures that the state requires to be part of the program. Governor Walker has been talking about further expansion of this program, in particular the statewide aspect.

In addition, we have an excellent private school law that allows both religious and secular private schools to be a prime choice for many parents in our state.

And finally, Wisconsin has a great home-school law. The law was enacted in 1983 and hasn’t been changed since then. All parents do to legally home-educate their children in our state is fill out and submit a one-page form to the Department of Public Instruction. This is the ultimate in exercising parental rights regarding education.

Here’s the reality, no matter which educational option parents choose for their children, parents remain responsible for their education, even if the educational partner fails. When parents don’t assume this responsibility, the door is wide open for the state to begin acting on their basic belief that children are wards of the state.

It’s not too early nor is it too late for parents statewide to get informed about these options and make decisions right now for next year. Wisconsin Family Council is happy to give parents more information on school choice in Wisconsin because we really do believe children are a gift from God and are most decidedly not wards of the state.

This is Julaine Appling with Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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