Assignment: Education – Luther High prepares to enter voucher program

More La Crosse area families may have...

More La Crosse area families may have an opportunity for free private school education.

After a year and a half of consideration, Luther High School in Onalaska will start taking part in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, otherwise known as school vouchers.

It is entering the program on a one-year trial basis beginning in the 2018-19 school year.

The Rev. Robert Wassermann, chair of the committee that studied whether Luther should enter the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, said the committee has decided to delay its participation until after it finishes the high school’s current building expansion.

The committee also wants to make sure it has an exit plan in place should the school decide not to stay in the program, because some members have concerns about taking government money.

“Does that allow the government then to dictate some of what we do?” said Wassermann. “We’ve been told that really isn’t the case. But we also have… are determined that if it should ever happen that way, should we remain in the program, we may have to take ourselves out of the program if for some reason things became such that the rules and regulations didn’t agree with our mission and purpose.”

Currently, about 55 percent of the eighth-grade students who attend Luther High School’s 29 association congregations, or feeder elementary schools, continue on to Luther High.

The hope is that the voucher system will allow more eighth-graders in the feeder elementary schools who qualify to continue their Christian education at Luther.

To be eligible, students must be entering ninth grade and meet income eligibility requirements.

However, there are concerns among some public educators and community members about how the voucher program could take students and, ultimately, money away from public schools.

“We don’t see ourselves as competition with the public high schools,” said Wassermann. “We see ourselves really as an alternative for the parents who want to, not only for our association churches but any parent, really, who would want to provide a Christian high school education. But we’re not trying to run a competition against the public schools at all.”

Currently, there are only two students at Luther High School with a public school background. Those students transferred to Luther as part of a family move to Wisconsin.

Luther’s principal said that speaks to the high-quality education provided by the local public schools.

Current tuition at Luther is $6,400, and the school voucher this year is worth just over $7,900. The committee chair said the extra voucher dollars may be able to provide some tuition assistance to non-voucher students as well.