Parents, do you know what your educational options are in Wisconsin? You should; the education of your child is not anyone else’s responsibility. It is yours.

Wisconsin parents are very fortunate. They have several educational options from which to select a partner to work with them—not in place of them—in the education of their child. For some of the options, the application window closes this month.

Like every state, Wisconsin has the standard public schools. In fact, we have over 420 school districts, ranging from large ones such as Milwaukee and Madison to very small ones with fewer than 300 students. These schools are governed by local school boards and are funded by local, state, and federal taxpayer money. The State Department of Public Instruction, or DPI, has oversight of these schools for such things as compliance and distribution of funds.

Additionally, while every child in Wisconsin lives in a specific public school district, parents may choose to use open enrollment to enroll their child in another public school district that better fits them and their child. Parents can apply for open enrollment in another district from February through April 30th.

The third option is also within the public school arena. Many districts have started charter schools. Charter schools have typically become something of specialty schools—or schools that cater to a certain group or have a particular philosophy. They have a separate school board from the main school district, as well as a completely separate administration. However, they are funded with tax dollars, are still accountable to DPI, and must meet all the rules and laws for public schools. The first phase of the application process for charter schools in Wisconsin is from March 1st to July 1st.

The fourth option is virtual charter schools, which allow parents to keep their children home and use an online curriculum approved by the charter school board. While students are educated from their homes, technically this is not what most people consider “homeschooling” because students are enrolled in the public school district and are still subject to the rules and requirements of the state and the district.

Another option for Wisconsin families is private schools. Wisconsin is blessed with an excellent private school law and many excellent private schools, most of them affiliated with a church or a religious college. Private schools are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that govern any type of public school.

The sixth option is a mix between public and private schools. In 1991, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program began. This program allows low-income students living in the Milwaukee school district to attend a private school using a voucher. Private schools apply to become part of the voucher program and must agree to certain requirements such as audits and testing. Enrollment for the voucher program is open now through April 18th. 

And finally, Wisconsin parents have the option of homeschooling. Wisconsin has one of the best homeschooling laws in the country. Signed in 1984, the law has remained unchanged for 40 years. Applying to homeschool in Wisconsin is as simple as submitting a one-page form from DPI. Parents who take advantage of this educational option have great freedom. They choose the curriculum, the hours, and essentially everything about the education they provide for their children.

We are not wanting for educational options in Wisconsin. That said, expanding some of the options so more parents can take advantage of them would be good. However, Wisconsin parents have true choice when it comes to how they will educate their children. Now is the time for parents to explore these options for next year, all the while remembering that they are still accountable for the success or failure of their child’s education. That’s a responsibility that cannot be delegated.

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