Wisconsin State Regulations
Updated August 16, 2013
State Regulation of Private Schools (Revised July 2009) is the last full report.
Accreditation, Registration, Licensing, and Approval
- Accreditation is optional except for schools participating in one of the three voucher programs: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the Parental Private School Choice Program (PPSCP – Racine), and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP). Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(a)7 and §118.60(2)(a)7.
- Under 2011 Act 47, new schools interested in participating in the WPCP, MPCP, or PPSCP voucher programs must be preaccredited by the Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, Wisconsin North Central Association, the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod School Accreditation, National Lutheran School Accreditation, Wisconsin Association of Christian Schools, or the archdiocese or diocese within which the private school is located. Schools new to the program for the 2013–14 school year must apply for accreditation by December 31, 2013. Wis. Stats. sec. 119.23(2)(a) 7.b., amended by Act 47 sections 17.
- Preaccreditation is not required if the school is fully accredited by the Wisconsin North Central Association, the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod School Accreditation, National Lutheran School Accreditation, Wisconsin Association of Christian Schools, or the archdiocese or diocese within which the private school is located. Wis. Stats. sec. 119.23(2)(a) 7.b., amended by Act 47 sections 17.
- All private schools participating in the WPCP, MPCP, or PPSCP voucher programs are required to achieve accreditation by the Wisconsin North Central Association, the Wisconsin Religious and Independent Schools Accreditation, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod School Accreditation, National Lutheran School Accreditation, Wisconsin Association of Christian Schools, the archdiocese or diocese within which the private school is located or any other organization recognized by the National Council for Private School Accreditation. Schools new to WPCP, MPCP, or PPSCP for the 2013–14 school year must be accredited by December 31, 2016. Wis. Stats. Sec. 119.23 (2)(a)7.a. amended by Act 47 section 16.
- Schools that were approved for scholarship funding for the 2005–06 school year by Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE) must be accredited by an approved agency no later than December 31, 2015.
- Private schools that do not participate in the WPCP, MPCP, or PPSCP programs are not required to be accredited.
- If an accrediting agency submits an affidavit indicating that a private educational institution meets or exceeds the criteria of Wis. Stats. §118.165 and the state superintendent determines that the institution does meet or exceed the criteria, the superintendent shall determine that the institution is a private school. Wis. Stats. §118.167.
- No requirements for Registration.
- No requirements for Licensing.
- Approval is optional.
- An institution may request the state superintendent to approve its educational program as a private school. The state superintendent must base his or her approval solely on whether the educational program meets the following criteria: 1) the primary purpose is to provide private or religious-based education; 2) the program is privately controlled; 3) the program provides at least 875 hours of instruction each school year; 4) the program provides a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health (a school is not required to “include in its curriculum any concept, topic or practice in conflict with the program’s religious doctrines or to exclude from its curriculum any concept, topic or practice consistent with the program’s religious doctrines”); 5) the program is not operated or instituted to circumvent the compulsory school attendance requirement; and 6) the pupils return home annually for not less than two months of summer vacation, or the institution is a licensed child welfare agency. Wis. Stats. §118.165.
- Private schools are not obligated to employ licensed or certified teachers. However, the state superintendent of public instruction has the authority to license or certify teachers employed at private schools. Wis. Stats. §115.28(7)(b).
- Teachers employed by a school participating in the MPCP and the PPSCP are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education. Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(a)(6)a and Wis. Stats. §118.60(2)(a)(6)a.
- Administrators at a school participating in the MPCP and the PPSCP must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(a)(6)b and Wis. Stats. §118.60(2)(a)(6)b.
- MPCP and PPSCP teachers teaching courses only in rabbinical studies are not required to have a bachelor’s degree. MPCP and PPSCP administrators at a school that prepares and trains pupils in rabbinical studies are not required to have a bachelor’s degree. Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(c) and §118.60(2)(c).
- Any teacher’s aide employed by a private school in the MPCP and PPSCP must have graduated from high school or have been issued a GED or high school equivalency diploma (HSED). Wis. Stats. §119.23(7)(b)3 and §118.60 (7)(b)3.
Length of School Year and Days
- According to Wisconsin’s statutory definition of a private school, a private school must provide at least 875 hours of instruction each school year. Wis. Stats. §118.165(c).
- Private schools participating in the MPCP and PPSCP must provide at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction for grades 1–6 and 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction for grades 7–12. Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(a)8 and §118.60(2)(a)8.
- According to Wisconsin’s statutory definition of a private school, the private school must provide a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health. This requirement does not mandate teachings in conflict with the school’s religious doctrines or exclude any teachings consistent with the school’s religious doctrines. Wis. Stats. §118.165(1)(d).
- Private schools must display the U.S. flag during the school hours of each school day. Each private school must offer the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem in grades 1–12 each school day unless the governing body of the private school determines that the requirement conflicts with the school’s religious doctrines. No student may be compelled to recite the pledge or sing the anthem against his or her objections or those of his or her parent or guardian. Wis. Stats. §118.06.
- The school board of a school district operating high school grades shall allow a pupil enrolled in a private school, who has met the school district’s standards for admission to high school, to take up to two courses during each school semester if the pupil resides in the school district in which the public school is located and if the school board determines that there is sufficient space in the classroom. Wis. Stats. §118.145(4).
Recordkeeping and Reports
- By October 15, private school administrators must report to the Department of Public Instruction the school enrollment on the third Friday of September. Based on this information, the department will prepare reports to enable the private schools to make projections for school buildings, teacher supply, and necessary funds. In addition, private schools must report whether the school meets the criteria under Wis. Stats. §118.165(1) (cited above). Reporting forms are provided by the department. Wis. Stats. §115.30(3).
- Private schools must maintain records required under Wis. Stats. §115.30(2) and Wis. Stats. §120.18. Records must be open to inspection by school attendance officers at all reasonable times. When requested by a school attendance officer, the private school must provide information regarding any pupil enrolled. Wis. Stats. §118.16(3).
- Private schools must provide all necessary information and reports to the local school board, when requested, to assist in coordinating public and private school bus transportation. Wis. Stats. §121.56.
- Also see Health and Safety Requirements regarding annual reports of fire drills.
Health and Safety Requirements
- Private school buildings may be inspected for communicable diseases under a warrant. Wis. Stats. §252.02(1).
- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) may close a private school to control outbreaks or epidemics. Wis. Stats. §252.02(3).
- During a disease outbreak, the DHS may order a private school to exclude students who are not immunized. Wis. Stats. §252.04(7).
- If a teacher, school nurse or principal of any school or day care center knows or suspects that a communicable disease is present in the school or center, he or she shall at once notify the local health officer. Wis. Stats. §252.21(1).
- By the 15th and 25th day after admission to school, a private school must provide written notification to the parent or guardian of a pupil who has not met the state’s requirements for immunizations or received a waiver from the requirements. The school is required to notify the district attorney of the county in which the pupil resides of any minor student who fails to provide evidence of required immunizations or a written waiver within 60 days after being admitted to the school. Wis. Stats. §252.04(5)(a) and Wis. Stats. §252.04(6).
- Private schools are required to conduct fire drills monthly unless inclement weather endangers the health of the students. Private schools are required to conduct tornado or other hazard drills at least twice annually. The governing body of the private school shall maintain for at least seven years a record of each fire drill and tornado or other hazard drill conducted. In each community having a recognized fire department, the private school shall annually file a report pertaining to such drills, on a form furnished by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, with the chief of the fire department. When no fire drill is held during any month, or when only one or no tornado or other hazard drill is held in a year, the person having direct charge of the school shall state the reasons in the report. Wis. Stats. §118.07(2).
- The administrator of a private school is required to report to the state superintendent certain instances of engagement in immoral conduct by school employees and convictions of school employees of certain crimes. Wis. Stats. §115.31.
- No person may possess or consume alcoholic beverages on private school premises, in a school’s motor vehicle if a pupil is present, or at a school-sponsored activity unless approved by the school administrator in writing and consistent with applicable laws and school policies. Wis. Stats. §125.09.
- Licenses to serve or sell alcoholic beverages may be restricted on premises located within 300 feet of a parochial school. Wis. Stats. §125.68(3).
- Private school employees are prohibited from conducting a strip search of any pupil. Wis. Stats. §118.32; 948.50.
- Private schools must maintain a standard first aid kit for emergencies. Wis. Stats. §118.07(1).
- School warning signs will be placed on any street or highway bordering a private school by the applicable authority. The authority may also designate school crossings across any street or highway whether or not it borders on the grounds of a school. Wis. Stats. §118.08(1).
- Private school administrators, principals, pupil services professionals and teachers are not liable for referring pupils to law enforcement authorities or removing pupils from school or school-sponsored activities for suspicion of possession, distribution or consumption of alcohol or a controlled substance or a controlled substance analog. Wis. Stats. §118.257.
- A private school employee or volunteer, with written authorization from the private school administrator or principal, may administer certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs to a pupil under certain circumstances and with specified written instructions and consent from the student’s parent or guardian and/or practitioner. The private school administrators and principals as well as the employees and volunteers so authorized are immune from civil liability unless their actions or omissions constitute a high degree of negligence. Wis. Stats. §118.29(2).
- A private school employee or volunteer, other than a health care professional, who in good faith renders emergency care to a pupil is immune from civil liability for his or her acts or omissions in rendering such emergency care. Wis. Stats. §118.29(3).
- In consultation with one or more appropriate health care professionals, the governing body of a private school whose employees or volunteers may be authorized to administer drugs or prescription drugs to pupils under this section must adopt a written policy governing the administration of drugs to pupils. Wis. Stats. §118.29(4).
- With some exceptions, school boards operating high schools must provide transportation for K–12 private school students if all of the following conditions are met: (1) the pupil resides two miles or more from the private school they attend; (2) the pupil resides within the private school’s approved attendance area; and (3) the private school is located not more than five miles beyond the boundaries of the pupil’s resident school district measured along the usually traveled route. Wis. Stats. §121.54(2)(b)(1).
- By April 1 of each year, each private school must submit its proposed attendance area for the next school year to the school board of each school district having territory within the proposed attendance area. If no proposal is submitted, the existing attendance area remains in effect. Wis. Stats. §121.54(2)(b)3.
- The attendance areas of private schools affiliated with the same religious denomination may not overlap unless one school limits its enrollment to pupils of the same sex and the other school limits its enrollment to pupils of the opposite sex or admits pupils of both sexes. Wis. Stats. §121.51(1).
- By May 15 of each year, each private school must notify the school board of the names, grade levels, and locations of all pupils, if any, eligible to have transportation for the next term. The deadline may be extended by the school board. Wis. Stats. §121.54(2)(b)4.
- School boards providing transportation to private school pupils may do so by contract with the proper officials of any private school, school association or the parent or guardian of the pupil to be transported. Wis. Stats. §121.55(1).
- School boards may provide transportation for private school extracurricular activities if the private school or the persons transported reimburse the board for the costs. Wis. Stats. §121.54(7).
- The local school board coordinates public and private school transportation to ensure the safety and welfare of the pupils. Wis. Stats. §121.56.
- Private schools operating school buses must maintain an insurance policy covering bodily injury and property damage. Wis. Stats. §121.53.
- There is no state policy at this time pertaining to textbooks for private schools.
- Assessment is not required for pupils attending private schools with the exception of assessment requirements for pupils attending private schools under the three state choice programs: MPCP as set out in Wis. Stats. §119.23(7)e and both PPSCP – Racine and WPCP as set out in Wis. Stats. §118.60. MPCP, PPSCP, and WPCP schools are required to administer to MPCP, PPSCP, and WPCP pupils in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10 the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE). Wis. Stats. §115.38(4).
The WKCE is a customized instrument designed for use in public schools to measure student performance, based on the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards, and to comply with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act assessment requirements. The fall 2011 WKCE includes the following grades and content areas:
- Grades 3−8 and 10 for reading and math
- Grades 4, 8 and 10 for language arts, writing, science and social studies
MPCP, PPSCP, and WPCP schools report all scores from all standardized tests to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction annually.
- Private schools may purchase the WKCE directly from the vendor.
- Private schools in Wisconsin are not required to provide special education services. The public school district is responsible for identifying students with disabilities attending private schools in their jurisdiction and working with the private school to develop a service plan for the students. Wis. Stats. §115.77(1m)(e) and Wis. Department of Public Instruction Bulletin 06.03.
- Parents should contact the school district in which the private school is located for more information on the services the school district provides to children with special needs who are enrolled in the public schools and the services that the school district provides children with special needs who are enrolled in private schools. Wis. Stats. §115.77(1m)(e) and Wis. Department of Public Instruction Bulletin 06.03.
Nursing and Health
- There is no state policy at this time pertaining to nursing and health for private schools.
- The Department of Public Instruction is required to make online courses available for a reasonable fee, through the Wisconsin Virtual School, Wisconsin’s Web Academy, to private schools located in Wisconsin. Wis. Stats. §115.29(53).
- The Wisconsin Department of Administration is required to provide subsidized access to data lines and video links to educational agencies including private schools. Wis. Stats. §16.997.
- The Department of Public Instruction is required to develop and conduct training programs for the professional staff of public and private schools in the following subject areas: (1) alcohol and other drug abuse prevention, intervention and instruction programs; (2) suicide prevention programs; and (3) protective behaviors programs and anti-offender programs. The department is also required to provide consultation and technical assistance to private schools for the development and implementation of these programs and their coordination with those programs of state and local agencies. Wis. Stats. §§115.36, 115.365 and 115.368.
Reimbursement for Performing State and Local Functions
- Under certain conditions private schools may be reimbursed for providing services to students with disabilities and for providing student transportation. See the Transportation and Special Education sections above.
- Property owned and used exclusively by educational institutions offering regular courses six months in the year, or by churches or religious, educational or benevolent associations, may be exempt from general property taxes. Wis. Stats. §70.11(4).
- Private schools may apply for nonprofit status and exemption from federal taxes as a 501(c) 3 organization.
Public Aid for Private Education
- Constitutional Provisions: The Wisconsin Constitution prohibits any withdrawal from the state treasury for the benefit of religious societies or religious or theological seminaries. Wis. Const. Art. 1, Sec. 18. The term “religious seminaries” has been interpreted to include nonpublic schools where religious instruction is provided. State ex rel. Reynolds v. Nusbaum 115 N.W.2d 761 (1962).
Wisconsin’s constitution expressly permits the state legislature to provide for the transportation of children to and from any parochial or private school. Wis. Const. Art. 1, Sec. 23.
Parents or guardians may request the school board to provide a child with a program modification which includes enrollment in any nonsectarian private school located in the school district which complies with federal civil rights laws. Wis. Stats. §118.15(1)(d).
- Programs for Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Schools: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) provides state aid payments to parents of students who reside in the City of Milwaukee to attend participating private schools in Wisconsin. To be eligible, students must be from families who reside in Milwaukee and whose parents’ income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level or $70,947 (for the 2013–14 school year) for a family of four. Participating private schools may not charge eligible students in grades K–8 tuition to attend the school. Once a student is found eligible to receive financial assistance to attend a private school under the MPCP, that student may continue to be eligible for the MPCP if future residency and application requirements are met, regardless of the parents’ future income. Parents who earn between 220 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level and submit applications for high school student admittance may be charged additional tuition by the school. Wis. Stats. §119.23(2)(a)7.The Parental Private School Choice Program (PPSCP – Racine) provides state aid payments to parents of children who reside in the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) to attend participating private schools in the state. Under the school attendance requirement, a student must either have been enrolled in a public school in RUSD in the 2012-13 school year, have not been enrolled in school in the 2012-13 school year, is applying for kindergarten, first or ninth grade at the private school in the 2013-14 school year or participated in the PPSCP in the 2012-13 school year. The family’s income must not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level or $70,947 (for the 2013–14 school year) for a family of four. Wis. Stats. §118.60(4m).
The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) provides state aid payments to parents of students who reside in a Wisconsin school district to attend any participating private schools. To be eligible, students must be from families who reside in a Wisconsin school district, other than Milwaukee and Racine. Income requirements are set at 185 percent of the federal poverty level and use family size to determine the maximum yearly income. For the first year of the program (2013-14), there is a student participation limit of 500 full-time equivalent students. This cap increases to 1,000 students after the first year.
- A home-based private educational program is instruction provided to a child by the child’s parent or guardian or by a person designated by the parent or guardian. An instructional program provided to more than one family unit does not constitute a home-based private educational program. Wis. Stats. §115.001(3g).
- A parent, guardian, or designee has the right to select a home-based private education program for his or her child or children, in order to comply with the compulsory school attendance law. Wis. Stats. §118.15(4).
- A home-based private educational program is not a private school under state law.
Initial and Renewal Applications
- On or before each October 15, each administrator of a public or private school system or a home-based private educational program shall submit to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, on forms provided by the department, a statement of the enrollment on the third Friday of September in the elementary and high school grades under his or her jurisdiction. This information is required be submitted electronically by completing and submitting the online PI-1206 Homeschool Report. Wis. Stats. §115.30(3).
Curriculum and Instruction
- The program of instruction must provide a sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and health for at least 875 hours each year. Testing of students is not mandatory under Wisconsin law. A student enrolled in a home-based private educational program may pursue the requirements for a GED certificate but do not receive a traditional Wisconsin high school diploma. Wis. Stats. §118.165 (1)(d).
- Home-based private education students are allowed to attend their local public high school on a part time basis. A school district, space permitting, must admit a home-based private education student to take up to two courses per semester in the high school in which the student is a resident. Students must satisfy the high school admission standards of the school district. Wis. Stats. §118.145(4).
Public School Access
- Parents or guardians requesting permission for homeschooled students to participate in public school curricular, athletic or extra-curricular activities should contact the student’s school district of residence.
Information and Legislation
- Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI): Private Schools Information
- Wisconsin DPI: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
- Wisconsin DPI: Parental Private School Choice Program (Racine)
- Wisconsin DPI: Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (Statewide)
- Wisconsin DPI: Home Based Private Education Program (Home Schooling)
- Wisconsin DPI: Frequently Asked Questions Homeschool Report (HOMER)
- Wisconsin DPI: Private School Education Statutes
- Wisconsin Virtual School
- State of Wisconsin: Legislative Reference Bureau, Statutes and Annotations
Contact Information – State and Federal Departments of Education
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
125 South Webster Street
P.O. Box 7841
Madison, WI 53707-7841
Home Schooling: toll-free at 1-888-245-2732, ext. 1
U.S. Department of Education, Wisconsin
Updated August 16, 2013