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Order Blocks Nonsectarian Expansion of Voucher Program

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Students in Milwaukee's religious schools are not the only ones affected by the temporary court order blocking the controversial expansion of the city's school-voucher program.

Up to 400 students at about 20 nonsectarian private schools are also ineligible for the state tuition aid because of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision last month to suspend all changes to the program.

The state law that allowed religious schools to participate this year also extended the deadline for students and schools--whether they are sectarian or not--to join the program. The law also eliminated a restriction that no more than 65 percent of the students in each private school be enrolled in the plan, said Steve Dold, the state's assistant superintendent of public instruction.

Now, the parents and students who took advantage of the relaxed rules to sign up for nonreligious private schools are also waiting out the court battle over the constitutionality of adding religious schools to the mix.

Students who enrolled in parochial schools under the program have been granted a reprieve, at least for now. A local campaign raised about $1.5 million in private donations last month, which was expected to cover most of this year's tuition for the children. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)

Uncertain Numbers

But last week, staff members at several new private, nonsectarian schools created to attract voucher students were wondering if they would have any students at all. Some private schools that were in the voucher plan before it was expanded also could be facing lower enrollments.

The Agape School was set to open for the first time this week. But the staff has no idea how many students will attend, said Yvonne Ali, the school's director.

The school plans to open, with a full house or not. But Ms. Ali said she may be forced to consider charging tuition.

While such schools wait, support is still pouring in for the program. Last week, two former U.S. secretaries of education who served during Republican administrations, William J. Bennett and Lamar Alexander, visited Milwaukee to stump for state vouchers.

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