Milwaukee private school removed from state choice program

Holy Redeemer Christian Academy failed to meet financial obligations

An empty classroom
An empty classroom is pictured at the MHS, Meo High School private college, in Paris on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Francois Mori/AP Photo

A struggling private school affiliated with a prominent Milwaukee church has been removed from the state’s school choice program by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

In documents obtained by Wisconsin Public Radio, DPI told operators of Holy Redeemer Christian Academy that the school is barred from participating in the program and the Special Needs Scholarship program because the school is not financially viable as defined by law and because the school failed to obtain a surety bond as required by law.

“The school’s most recent failure follows repeated and consistent failures to provide the DPI with complete and accurate reports by the legally required due dates,” the letter from DPI to Bishop Sedgwick Daniels states.

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Daniels could not immediately be contacted by email or phone.

The news comes just days before students are scheduled to begin school. DPI will work to ensure students are able to continue their education without significant interruption, officials said.

Holy Redeemer parents have been told they can enroll in another Milwaukee Parental Choice Program school, a private school or a Milwaukee Public School for the 2023-24 school year.

Holy Redeemer had 444 students last year, about 98 percent of those students are part of the choice program. The school received nearly $3.4 million in state funds through the choice program.

On July 20, DPI issued an order determining the school is not financially viable. Wisconsin law defines “financial viability” as “the ability of the school to pay for goods and services, make debt service payments, and pay other obligations as they become due.”

The school was required to provide a surety bond to the DPI by Aug. 15 that would protect the public interest.

DPI did not receive the required bond and as a result, will withhold taxpayer payments from the school.

“DPI has not come to this decision to bar lightly,” the letter states. “The school’s inability to comply with requirements has become a critical issue, particularly over the past year-and-a-half.”

According to DPI, Holy Redeemer did not submit its September 2021 enrollment audit in a timely manner. The school also failed to timely submit its 2021-22 Fiscal & Internal Control Practices Report, which determines if the school has sound fiscal and internal control practices.

These practices include paying vendors and employees on time, completing employee background checks and other practices required for participation in the choice program.

Instead of withholding payment, DPI and Holy Redeemer entered into a settlement agreement and the school agreed it would provide all required reports in the future.

But, in 2022 and in 2023, the school failed to meet due dates and provided incomplete reports, according to DPI.

Holy Redeemer Christian Academy has participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program since the 1998-99 school year.

In the latest state school district report card for academic year 2021-22, Holy Redeemer failed to meet expectations, receiving an overall score of 28.4 percent.

That year, the school was about 98 percent Black and 2 percent Latino. About one-third of students participated in the choice program.

Only 8.9 percent of students at the school were proficient in reading in 2020-21 and 5.2 percent were proficient in math in 2018-19 — the latest years data was collected.

By comparison, during the 2021-22 academic year, Milwaukee Public Schools “met expectations” and received an overall score of 58.1 percent. But reading and math proficiency wasn’t much better than Holy Redeemer. Only 15.2 percent of MPS students were proficient in reading and 8.5 percent were proficient in math.

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