My observation in my own congregation, my previous congregations, and in neighboring congregations leads me to the conclusion that there are different attitudes and procedures for LESs in WELS. Each of the attitudes is represented in every congregation; however, local dynamics between the attitudes determines the procedure for each independent WELS LES. Further, these dynamics are not static, therefore LES procedures may change from year to year, depending on which attitude prevails in a given year. Some of these attitudes affect using the LES for outreach.
Does an LES charge tuition? One attitude is that every Lutheran child is entitled to a free elementary education at congregation expense. The opposite attitude is that charging tuition is necessary for an LES to carry its weight. Some individuals who believe that education should be free, do pay tuition begrudgingly then zero their offerings.
Which committee decides tuition rate? Is it the Budget Committee or the Board of Education? Does the congregation set tuition at a voters' meeting? What factors do they consider in setting tuition? Which factors do they follow? One attitude leans on market price, and another attitude leans on cost of operating school. How does highest tuition rate compare with cost of operating school?
Does the LES enroll non-members? Some do, and some don't. What are admission requirements for non-members? One attitude is that an LES should enroll every child who walks in off the street. Other attitudes impose admission requirements. Will the family pay tuition? What is the family's past record for paying tuition at previous schools? Does the LES administer a pre-enrollment exam? Who administers the exam? Does the LES consult the child's previous school for recommendation? Does the LES allow teachers to participate in decision of admitting non-member children, or is it a decision by the principal and pastor? Who reviews the cumulative folder before a child is admitted? Does the cumulative folder contain a psychiatric file? Does the LES enroll families who are solid members of non-WELS churches as well as families who are unchurched prospects? Who has admission priority? Does the LES enroll non-member transfer students mid-year? Does principal conduct home visits before admitting non-member students?
Does the LES enroll every member child who wishes to attend, or does the LES tell some member families that the needs of some children would be served better by a school with more resources?
Does the LES grant members a tuition discount? How much is the discount? Which committee decides the amount of discount? What is the stated reason for granting a tuition discount to members? Does the sum of all general fund offerings by all member school families cover the sum of all member tuition discounts?
Do children from sister WELS congregations attend the LES? Do they pay member or non-member rate?
Do the pastor and principal pay tuition, or does the LES "comp" tuition for clergy? Does the pastor from a sister congregation pay tuition?
Does the LES grant tuition assistance? Which committee approves tuition assistance? If the pastor and principal pay tuition, do they receive tuition assistance?
Does the congregation integrate the school budget with church budget, or are they separate? If they are integrated, does someone compute school subsidy? Has the subsidy changed over the past few years? Is subsidy growing or shrinking?
Do some classrooms have full enrollment and others have empty seats? Is it the same every year, or does it change as a bubble moves through the school?
How often does one parent join church (to enjoy member discount and tuition assistance) but other parent does not?
Does the LES begin the school year before or after Labor Day? How many days are in the school year? How does this compare to other schools in the area? How long is Christmas vacation? Does school resume on Jan 2 or mid-January? Does school year end in time for male teachers to attend district convention? Does school year end in time for teachers to take summer on-line courses from MLC? Is school air conditioned? Does climatology for your region affect school year decisions? Does LES allow families to take vacations during school year, or are missing days treated as truancy?
How long is the school day? How does this compare to other schools in the area? Do teachers want a longer or shorter day? Do parents want a longer or shorter day?
Does the LES operate before & after school child care? Does child care revenue cover cost of child care operation? (Don't forget cost of flushing water, playground water, heat, a/c, liability insurance, workers compensation insurance, and building & playground maintenance.)
Are there schools in the area with waiting lists? Why are people fighting to get into some schools but not others? Do schools with waiting lists advertise, or do they rely on word-of-mouth only?
Looking more specifically at outreach, how many years has the school operated? When did school begin to admit non-members? Looking at LES graduates who are 10 or more years past Grade 8 graduation (that is, age 24 and above [giving 4 years for high school, 4 years for college, and 2 years for transition]), how many of those students or their families are current members of the congregation? How does this retention rate compare with neighboring WELS congregations who do not have a school?
In recent years has the school subsidy grown or shrunk? Has the evangelism budget grown or shrunk?
Does the congregation's Sunday School program operate with same health as the LES? Do non-member children (enrolled in LES or not) attend Sunday School? What fraction of LES-enrolled students attend Sunday School? If LES has X number of students, are there X number of students in Sunday School?
Some of the attitudes and procedures listed above affect the way we run Lutheran high schools, as well. For example, some WELS high schools admit non-members, while others are for members only.
Charis Institute is a research arm of Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) in Milwaukee. Charis has studied information contained in WELS Statistical Reports and has drawn conclusions regarding WELS LESs in congregations. Our Synod publishes annually the source of Charis' data, the Statistical Report. The Statistical Report is a simple spreadsheet of numbers submitted by all 1,000+ WELS congregations. Each row represents a congregation, and each column represents a statistic, such as the number baptized members.
Two Charis studies on WELS LESs are:
Charis' conclusions resonate with WELS homeschoolers because homeschoolers have a unique perspective in congregations and can see what others cannot.
If you are a statistician you could reproduce Charis' analysis or generate a different analysis using the same data from WELS Statistical Reports found at: