Luther High School delays private school choice program vote

Luther High School officials in Onalaska have been thinking about joining Wisconsin’s private school choice program.

The private school voucher program allows eligible students to use taxpayer dollars to go to a participating private school.

The Aquinas Catholic School System in La Crosse is already part of the program, but over the past few months, Luther High School has been considering it.

However, with more questions than answers, officials have decided to postpone their decision to join the program.

About 230 students roam the halls of Luther High School on a daily basis but Luther’s principal said there is room to grow.

“Actually the enrollment at 233 is in the low side of our average,” said Paul Wichmann.

That is one of the reasons Luther High School officials are looking into joining Wisconsin’s private school choice program.

“Because of the structure of the program, it would be a benefit to those families who are more financially challenged to afford tuition here at Luther High School,” said Wichmann.

“Costs for tuition have gone up a little bit although not extensively. We gave a 2 percent increase for this current school year, but for some people that’s prohibitive and we looked at this as an option, a viable option to provide education to a broader number of people,” said Pastor Robert Wassermann, the vice-chair of board of control at Luther High School.

However, at a conference of delegates meeting last Wednesday, some people voiced their concerns.

“Some want to know about some of the potential challenges to the program for us,” said Wassermann.

Wassermann said joining the program would deviate from how the school has been supported in the past.

“Student tuition and congregational support cover the cost of operations and the school choice program would bring in a third party, with government assistance, so to speak,” said Wassermann.

Others are concerned about what it might lead to down the road.

“Would it ever be at variance with our purpose if the government funded our school and would they also try to dictate what we can and cannot teach?” said Wassermann.

Wassermann said one of the biggest concerns is about the future of the voucher program. Is the state able to support two school systems?

“We don’t want to become dependent on that in case that went away,” said Wassermann. “Then we might find ourselves in a financial dilemma.”

“When voucher programs get in place they draw money. That’s the bottom line; they draw money from a very limited pot and that is a concern of mine,” said Dr. Tony Evers, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Wichmann said the school will make its final decision about whether or not to join the private school voucher program in November. In the meantime, school officials are going to do more research about the program. There are 29 different congregations that play a part in making decisions for Luther High School so school officials will be holding meetings and presentations for those partners so that a decision can be made all together.