Wisconsin cuts off funding to Mills Christian Academy
Voucher school doesn’t have enough teachers, class time
By Becky Vevea of the Journal Sentinel Dec. 17, 2010
A voucher school on Milwaukee’s south side has been cut off from state funding after it was discovered there weren’t enough teachers and students weren’t attending school for an adequate amount of time.
The Department of Public Instruction issued an order against Mills Christian Academy, 815 W. National Ave., on Nov. 24, saying the school isn’t meeting the definition of a private school and therefore, will not receive any further voucher payments.
The school, which serves grades seven to 12, received only one voucher payment from the DPI this year of $59,587. The state is withholding the payments Mills Christian Academy would have received in November. Since entering the program in 2008, the school has received almost $2 million in state money.
The order says that the Milwaukee Public Schools Title 1 team made a routine visit to the school on a Friday in October about 1 p.m. to talk to the Title 1 teacher MPS pays for at Mills, but no students were at the school and the school was closed.
In early November, the schools accrediting organization AdvancED visited the school about 2:30 p.m. and found no instruction was taking place. Charlene Gearing, the Wisconsin director of AdvancED, told the DPI the English teacher was the only teacher in school that day because the science and math teachers had quit and the social studies teacher called in sick and there was no substitute, according to the DPI order.
The teacher also said the school’s schedule varies, but usually closes between 2:20 and 3:15 p.m. The school submitted two revised reports this fall after its initial report to the DPI regarding instruction time. Hours are listed as 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The school’s principal, the Rev. Richard Mills, confirmed with Gearing what the English teacher said, but noted that he laid off the science and math teachers because of lack of funds and said he has not paid the English teacher, according to the order. He said there was no school in the afternoon the day MPS’ Title I team visited because there was no heat in the building.
Mills declined to comment on the matter when reached by a reporter Friday. He has requested a hearing with the DPI, which is being scheduled.
The school is one of roughly 100 schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which enables low-income parents to send their children to private schools by covering tuition costs with public money at a cost of roughly $6,500 per student.
According to DPI records, the school serves 45 voucher students, a drop from the previous two years when it served roughly 150 voucher students.
The school previously was located at 700 W. Michigan St., which had an occupancy permit for 150 people. The school lost its lease and moved to the current location, which limits capacity to 45 people, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said.
State law requires that any school entering the choice program, starting in the 2009-’10 school year, must submit a comprehensive educational plan, participate in site visits and be granted pre-accreditation status by the institute. After that process, schools still must become formally accredited by an authorized accreditation organization.
Mills Christian Academy is still considered a candidate for accreditation with AdvancED, Gearing told a reporter Friday.
The DPI has had consistent communication over the past three years with AdvancED regarding complaints it received, Gasper said.
According to Gasper, the DPI has recommended to AdvancED’s state council that Mills Christian Academy be dropped as a candidate. The AdvancED Accreditation Commission meets in early February 2011 to act on all state-level accreditation recommendations.