As the state legislature increased the amount of taxpayer-supported funding (“Choice”) for private schools in Wisconsin, in 2016 St. Sebastian revised its policy to encourage more Catholic students to enroll in the school through the Choice program.
“With Choice eligibility income levels increasing, we found that more and more parish families qualified for the program, so the old model was less relevant – more Choice students are Catholic,” according to pastoral council member Stephen Dodridge. “Hence, we went from ‘we will have no more than 50 percent Choice’ to ‘we will have no more than 30 percent non-Catholic Choice.’”
Currently 185 students are enrolled in the Choice program. That’s about 52 percent of the students, a little more than the school’s existing 50 percent cap on Choice students. About 60 percent are non-Catholic, so the current total of non-Catholics is a little less than 30 percent.
That 50 percent cap was made with “the assumption that if a parent was paying full tuition then they were either Catholic or explicitly chose to have their children go to a Catholic school. We also assumed Choice students were not Catholic,” Dodridge said.
After much discussion with the Pastoral Council, Finance Council, School Committee and pastoral staff, the parish decided to move away from a total Choice enrollment cap based on finances and is implementing a Catholic student cap to retain a strong Catholic identity, according to school principal Paul Hohl.
“The strong Catholic identity of our Choice families aligns with both our parish and school mission,” Hohl says. “We hope by changing the cap and adding the Wisconsin Choice Program for non-Milwaukee residents, we can alert parish and west-side Catholic families that they may qualify for the Choice Program at St. Sebastian and we have room for them.”
“The Catholic nature of the school is interwoven into the curriculum, school covenant and sacramental practices – primarily the school Mass. The Catholic identity comes from the elements of the school’s Catholic nature listed above along with an engaged Catholic student body,” Dodridge explains.
“We anticipate about 10-20 additional Choice students, based on current Catholic/non-Catholic enrollment and recent new student demographics. Our hope is to attract as many Catholic families as possible, both Sebs and other parishes, through the Choice Program and regular enrollment,” Dodridge notes. “But it also gives us the possibility for either having current ‘paying’ parishioner families convert to Choice, or have parishioner families who can’t afford tithing (paying 5% of their income to the parish) re-look at the Choice program.”
Hohl says he is assuring current Choice families that they will not be turned away if they submit the application online by March 20 and get their paperwork in to the school office by March 21.
Click here for information on Choice.
Click here for information on learning about becoming Catholic.