Jack, the Fox Valley Initiatives's 2022 LEAD Wisconsin scholarship recipient, congratulates 2023 scholarship recipient Jordon.
The principal speaker at Fox Valley Initiative’s May 1 meeting, held at Freedom Project Academy in Appleton, was Randy Melchert, founder of Academy of Excellence.
Before Melchert’s presentation, the 75 members in attendance learned about LEAD Wisconsin, a week-long camp experience for teens ages 13 to 19. Fox Valley Initiative has provided scholarships for LEAD Wisconsin since 2021.
FVI members first heard from Jack, who was last year’s scholarship recipient. He was followed at the podium by two young men vying for this year’s scholarship.
Jack described LEAD Wisconsin’s training in government and civics, noting that “most people won’t ever get to experience how bills are passed into law.” He explained how campers drafted bills and were given an opportunity to speak in favor of their bills or against the bills proposed by others. He said he enjoyed the experience so much he “can’t wait” to attend again this summer.
Our next speaker was 18-year-old Jordon, whose essay “What Makes America Great” focused on our First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion. He said America is great because “we are allowed to practice our faiths without being ... persecuted,” and because “hard work and determination can allow you to be who you want to be to further God’s plan for you.”
14-year-old Ethan also addressed “What Makes America Great,” asking “Why is the bastion of freedom being torn down?” He attributed this to people’s unwillngness to take the time to be educated about the importance of voting and other aspects of good citizenship. He ended on a positive note, saying we still have the ability to “redeem our country” by becoming more involved citizens.
After the presentations, FVI members selected Jordon as this year’s LEAD Wisconsin scholarship recipient.
Jack, last year's LEAD Wisconsin scholarship recipient, talked about the camp and what he learned there.
Jordon, a candidate for the LEAD Wisconsin scholarship, discusses the importance of freedom of religion.
Ethan, a candidate for the LEAD Wisconsin scholarship, discussed America as a bastion of freedom.
Fox Valley Initiative encourages Jack, Ethan, and Jordon to learn from their experiences at LEAD Wisconsin.
Jordon was selected as Fox Valley Initiative's 2023 LEAD Wisconsin scholarship recipient and was congratulated by FVI's Ed Perkins.
Melchert was introduced by Duke Pesta, executive director of FreedomProject Academy.
He opened his presentation by identifying a long list of “problems in education,” including Critical Race Theory, Common Core math, academic underachievement, transgenderism and inappropriate sexuality in schools, etc. He rattled off potential solutions – “back to the basics,” for example – but found them lacking.
He then offered a thorough history of education in the United States and Wisconsin. In 1889, Wisconsin passed the Bennett Law, which compelled students to attend public schools and mandated English-language-only education. Melchert noted that a year later, in 1890, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to ban the Bible from public schools. On a more positive note, a 1971 lawsuit – Wisconsin v. Yoder – reached the U.S. Supreme Court and was the first to conclude that “individual's interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State's interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade.”
Also reflecting well on Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program (MPCP), adopted in 1990, was the first of its kind nationwide. Today roughly 30,000 students in Milwaukee (3 of every 10) attend a school of their parents’ choice using the voucher program.
Melchert contrasted Wisconsin’s four voucher programs – the MPCP, Racine Parental Choice Program, Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, and Special Needs Scholarship Program – with the school choice programs in other states, including Arizona’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program. According to the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona program “gives families a portion of the funding taxpayers would otherwise spend on their child in a public school to instead use for tutoring, private school tuition, at-home curricula, special needs therapies, and more.” Melchert pointed to misuse of funds, increasing school bureaucracy, and state control over curriculum as major pitfalls currently facing ESA programs. During Q&A, he predicted the “next wave of regulation” of school choice programs would be tighter regulation of ESAs, including stricter limits on what purchases qualify for reimbursement under the program.
Melchert concluded by focusing on the Academy of Excellence (AoE), which he described as a “tuition-free, accredited, K–12, private, Christian, online academy.” He noted a Christian education offers a Biblical worldview, saying “parents are not the owners of their children; they are the investment managers for God.” He said a Christian education should offer a Biblically integrated curriculum and explained “a Christian school should be giving you purpose.”
Discussing the accreditation aspect, Melchert contrasted Wisconsin and Illinois (which does not have a publicly funded school choice program but does allow private scholarship programs):
Melchert said AoE has approximately 750 students enrolled in its brick-and-mortar school, and another 1,000 in the online program. According to its website, the online program “is an accredited private online Christian academy in Wisconsin, that combines the support and accountability of a private school with the flexibility of learning from home, in a Christ-centered education, at no cost to the parents.” He encouraged parents and grandparents in attendance to consider a Christian education for their students and emphasized how AoE online offers students teaching with a Biblical worldview, critical thinking, academic rigor, and technology resources.
The audience peppered him with questions during Q&A, among them:
Randy Melchert, founder of Academy of Excellence, discusses school choice in Wisconsin and Christian education.
The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 explained the need for education from a Biblical perspective.
In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance put religion and morality first as reasons for widespread education.
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