When Daniel Bradley found out his five school-aged children would be eligible for a new statewide school choice program last year, he had no idea how much of an impact it would have on his family. The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program was created by Gov. Scott Walker in time for the 2013-14 school year. Bradley says it “has been a blessing. It’s a gift from God.”
For 13 years, Bradley has worked for the Frito-Lay company in Beloit as a forklift operator, and his wife is in school studying to be an accountant. They said they couldn’t afford private-school tuition.
But when news began circulating that the school choice program, currently limited to Milwaukee and Racine, might expand statewide, Bradley’s wife began to read up about what the governor was proposing as a statewide voucher program. Bradley says the couple had all their facts and figures prepared before the expansion even passed the legislature. When the program became official and the Bradleys had 48 hours to get everything in to apply, they were ready. Soon, all five of the Bradleys’ school-aged children (they have one daughter who just graduated high school and one infant) were attending Rock County Christian School.
“It’s such a difference,” says Bradley. “Before, none of them were doing well. They were behind and always in trouble. None of them had plans for college.” Now the family has begun setting money aside for college, because they see it as a possibility for their children.
Much of the transformation in the Bradley children has resulted from the compassionate, attentive, and disciplined atmosphere at Rock Country Christian School. “When my kids get home, they sit down for two hours; they don’t fight, and they work together,” Bradley said. “I have a kid working on a four-month project right now, and he is way ahead on it.”
Bradley’s son, eighth-grader Nathaniel, credits his teachers for helping him become a better student.
“The teachers are a lot more one-on-one,” he said. “You can go to them for help, and they’ll be there because there’s less kids.”
Janet Befus, the school’s administrative assistant, also noticed the positive change throughout the year in the Bradley children. “They are engaged, they enjoy the service projects, they are continuously improving, and you can see the pride they feel when their accomplishments are recognized,” she said.
Bradley says his son was in a class of 30 in public school, but now he’s in a class of eight, which helps teachers give students more personalized attention.
“I used to have to e-mail teachers every day trying to get help—I even went through the boards and couldn’t get answers for weeks,” said Bradley. “Now I e-mail [my son’s] teacher, and I get an answer within an hour. And if, for example, he’s not doing well in math, we have tutors, we have teachers, and even the principal focuses on what they can do better.”
Improving Family Life, Academics
Bradley says each of his five children in the program has “jumped up” academically since entering. “They’re all A-B students,” he says. His fifth grader is now doing what his ninth-grader was doing the year before.
But Bradley emphasizes his enthusiasm for the program is not just about the schooling—it has improved their family life, as well. Much of that has to do with all the kids attending the same school and having similar shared experiences. Bradley said he loves that his kids can sit with each other and get to know each others’ friends. Also, smaller class sizes means they get to know their classmates better, and the entire family now goes to church together, bonding them further.
As the children entered private school, the Bradley family had some unique problems. Several of their kids had special needs, several had speech problems, and some had been diagnosed with ADHD. But their new school focuses on the individual needs of each child.
“They don’t give up,” said Bradley. “Anyone who doesn’t see the benefits has got to be blind.”
Opportunity for Low-Income Families
Bradley urged other low-income families around the state to take advantage of the program.
“I hate to say it, but the rich can get the best,” he said. “People like me, a warehouse worker who can’t afford it, now have the same shot.”
Bradley said he also likes that his kids wear uniforms to school, so they are not singled out as having less money than other kids’ families.
“You don’t have to worry about the $80 jeans. Kids are judged on who they are, not how they dress or their parents’ income,” he said.
“To see the transformation in their child is what every parent wants,” said Bradley. “You can see your child growing, and wanting to learn, and accepting what there is for the future. It really makes me, as a father, proud.”