St. Catherine's High School building

St. Catherine's High School, 1200 Park Ave.

GREGORY SHAVER, Journal Times file photo

RACINE COUNTY — More than 3,000 students living within the Racine Unified School District boundaries are attending private schools on state funded vouchers through the Racine Parental Choice Program this year, according to data released this week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The number represents about a 19 percent increase over last year’s RPCP enrollment level of 2,531 students.

Statewide, the participation in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, which has stricter income guidelines than the RCPC, participation surged.

According to DPI, 4,540 students are participating in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program this school year. That’s a 48.4 percent increase over last year’s headcount of 3,059 students.

New growth

At just over half of the 23 private schools participating in the Racine program this year, voucher students make up more than half of the schools’ total enrollment. And, in about 11 of those cases, voucher students make up more than 70 percent of the total student population.

To qualify for a voucher through the choice program, students must live within the boundaries of the Racine Unified School District and be within 300 percent of the federal poverty level for income, $72,900 for a family of four or $79,900 if the student’s parents or legal guardians are married.

At St. Catherine’s, the 523 voucher students recorded on the third Friday of this school year made up 78.4 percent of the school’s total enrollment of 667 students. That’s about a 4.5 percent increase over last school year.

The increase in voucher participants at the school, as well as other efforts, has helped the Catholic middle and high school get closer to its enrollment goal, Director of Communications Stephanie May explained.

According to DPI, St. Catherine’s total headcount was 604 students last fall. This fall it’s 667.

“St. Catherine’s strategic plan focuses on a growth model of increasing enrollment with a target of 800 students. Just as has been the case for the school’s 150-year history, we offer tuition assistance to families who need it,” May said in a statement. “The Racine Parental Choice Program is one option available to students as well as privately funded merit-based scholarships and financial aid through the St. Catherine’s High School Foundation, Racine Dominicans and other benefactors.”

Four private schools were new to the Racine program this year: Badger State Baptist School in Oak Creek, Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Luther Preparatory School in Watertown and Racine Christian School, 912 Virginia St. in Racine.

Impact on Unified

To pay for the growing number of voucher students within the district, the Racine Unified School District has budgeted a $14.2 million voucher levy as part of its total tax levy for the 2017-18 school year. Last school year, the district’s voucher levy was $8.78 million.

This year the district’s voucher levy includes $190,635 specifically for vouchers for students with special needs. That money comes in addition to the more than $1.2 million in reading, math, and special education support, the district provides to area private school students, Unified spokesman Stacy Tapp stated.

The district also expects to spend $900,000 to bus voucher students this school year.

“It’s important that our taxpayers are aware that in addition to the voucher tax (levy) that continues to increase each year, we are also required to provide these services to voucher and private schools out of our district budget,” she added.

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