HOPE Christian Schools, a network of eight college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin, participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Racine Parental Choice Program, private school voucher programs for students whose families meet certain income qualifications.
“Through these programs, a HOPE education is tuition-free for qualifying families,” HOPE’s website states. “Many parents already have educational options because their income allows them to pay for private schools of their choice. School choice gives low-income families the same opportunity. HOPE is privileged to serve these families and to be a part of Milwaukee’s nationwide leadership in school choice.”
College Acceptance, Rapid Growth
HOPE High School has achieved its sixth year of 100 percent college acceptance for its students. Zach Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools, says the school system has grown by leaps and bounds since it started in 2002.
“HOPE has grown from a dream and a need serving 47 students in one location in Milwaukee to now serving nearly 3,000 scholars across eight campuses in southeastern Wisconsin,” Verriden said. “We’ve recently taken on an expansion and enhancement of facilities to open up more seats.”
‘The Three C’s’
Verriden says families are drawn to HOPE’s distinct vision and mission.
“HOPE’s identity is ‘the three C’s’: Christ, College, and Character,” Verriden said. “Parents choose us because they want their children to know the unconditional love of Christ and have a growing relationship with Him. We want our scholars to love learning and be academically prepared for the continuing education of their choice. We intentionally focus on growing internally motivated character that lasts beyond the context of the classroom, so our scholars can be inspirations to their families and leaders in the community.”
Verriden says HOPE is also experiencing great success with its counseling programs.
“The STRONG program is a unique partnership with Christian Family Solutions to provide school counseling and Milwaukee’s first all-day treatment program housed within a school,” Verriden said. “This day treatment program provides extra resources to HOPE families and scholars to support their behavioral well-being. The initial pilot at HOPE Semper has proven incredibly successful.”
Verriden says he’s seen firsthand how HOPE transforms students’ lives.
“Ashalah is one of my favorite stories: A student who had been removed from other schools landed at HOPE Christian High School my first year as principal, and she was not at all interested in my arrival nor any of the changes we had in store,” Verriden said. “She pushed back at every turn, sometimes quite loudly. Near the end of the school year, we were exhausted, and she told us that she was transferring to another high school. We talked with her mom and shared that we really believed, despite all the pushback, that HOPE was the right loving and supportive environment for her.
“Ashalah left in a huff when we seemed to convince her mom we were right,” Verriden said. “When the summer ended and the next school year resumed, I was a bit hesitant when I saw Ashalah at registration, knowing what a battle we might be in for again this school year. To my absolute astonishment, Ashalah greeted me with a smile and a hug! Ashalah came back and for the next two years was a fantastic scholar and role model for her peers. She graduated and left for college, only to come back and work part-time in our schools the very next year.”
Verriden says he’s “most proud to see our alumni coming back and working and serving in our schools.”
One HOPE graduate, now a student at Wisconsin Lutheran College, met with lawmakers in July 2017 to lobby Congress to support school vouchers.
‘Epicenter of School Choice’
Verriden says Wisconsin’s vibrant education choice environment makes it possible for low-income families to access the education they want.
“We are blessed to be in Milwaukee, the epicenter of school choice in the form of vouchers children can use to attend private schools,” Verriden said. “Private Christian education options that were once more readily available are nearly gone in most urban centers. Independent Christian schools have struggled to remain open and financially sustainable in urban locations. And yet, families who live in these areas still desire faith-based options. Public-private partnership through voucher programs makes it possible for economically disadvantaged families to have access to the same kinds of educational options as families who live in suburban ZIP codes.”
‘We See Good Every Day’
Verriden says he wants lawmakers to know about the real, beneficial impacts school choice is having on kids who need it most.
“Many people outside our urban centers hear the news and think nothing good ever happens in our cities,” Verriden said. “We see good every day. We see families making the extra effort to send their children to a private Christian school like HOPE, to be involved in their children’s education, to support them in their goals to get to and through college. We see kids overcoming incredible adversity to be in school and persevere. We see incredibly dedicated staff in our schools.
“I would want policymakers to know that their choice to give choices to families is working and appreciated,” Verriden said.
Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.
Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, “Accountability in Action 2017: The Impact of Fiscal Accountability and Parental Choice on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” August 1, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/accountability-in-action-2017-the-impact-of-fiscal-accountability-and-parental-choice-on-the-milwaukee-parental-choice-program?source=policybot