Choice Program To Enroll 554 In Milwaukee

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Milwaukee's controversial private-school parental-choice program begins its second year this month with 554 students attending private schools at public expense.

Under the program, certain low-income parents are offered state funded vouchers to send their children to one of seven nonsectarian schools participating in the effort.

The state will pay $2,588 per pupil, for a total of more than $2.4 million, to the seven schools.

Last November, a state appellate court ruled that the groundbreaking program was unconstitutional because the legislature included it as a rider to a budget bill, rather than considering the plan on its own. (See Education Week, Nov. 21, 1990.)

State education officials, however, have continued to fund the program, pending a review by the state supreme court. Opening arguments in the case are slated to begin next month, and officials said they did not know when the High Court might issue a ruling.

At the beginning of last school year, the program enrolled 341 students. By midyear, 82 students were forced to leave the program when the private school they were attending decided to offer religious instruction. A new school has since been recruited to take its place in the program.

Gus Knitt, the official who administers the program for the state department of education, said last week that 155 of the 259 students participating in the program remain enrolled this year. Officials do not know if the children who left the program are now enrolled in public or private schools, he said.

Children are eligible to participate in the voucher project if they were enrolled in the city's public school system during the previous academic year and if their family income is less than 175 percent of the federal poverty level, or $23,450 for a family of four.

In addition, no more than 49 percent of the enrollment at a participating school may be made up of students from the program. And no more than 1 percent of the Milwaukee school population--or about 980 pupils--may participate during any given year. About 75 children who applied to one popular school this year were turned away, Mr. Knitt said.--E.F.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 10

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Choice Program To Enroll 554 In Milwaukee
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