Friends of Education Awardees

2016 WCRIS Friend of Education


Senator Paul Farrow

Wisconsin state Senator Paul Farrow received the first-ever WCRIS Friend of Education Award in 2016 for his unwavering support of private school independence from government regulations that hamper the very quality for which private schools are known.

During his brief but very productive four years in the legislature, Farrow showed remarkable leadership  and quickly rose to  chairmanships on the Education and Education Reform committees.

While advocating for increased quality and accountability in education across all sectors, he was respectful of the special role of K-12 private education and its ability to adjust and change in response to parental demands.

By protecting the ability of K-12 religious and independent  schools to pursue their unique missions and values, Sen. Farrow protected Wisconsin’s private educational infrastructure, thus ensuring maximum educational options for parents statewide.

As a private business owner turned legislator, Sen. Farrow showed the value of common sense, citizen contributions to public service, and the role the everyday person can contribute to our Democracy.

2017 WCRIS Friend of Education


Governor Tommy Thompson

The Honorable Tommy Thompson received a 2017 WCRIS Friend of Education Award for his visionary leadership in advancing parental choice in education as the longest serving Governor in Wisconsin history.

Motivated by a sincere desire to help low-income children escape poverty and the temptations of crime, Gov. Thompson created the nation’s first school voucher program in the 1990s and fought to expand it to include religious schools.

Upheld by the Wisconsin and US Supreme Courts, the Wisconsin voucher programs are a national beacon of hope to parents in need of choices for their children. The program has become a model for the nation, and one that all others are measured against.

Through two decades of education reform and opposition by status-quo thinkers, Gov. Thompson has never wavered in his desire to see every child have access to a quality education that matches the parents’ vision and values for their child.

Long after having left office, Gov. Thompson  continues to carry the torch for children in need of quality educational options.

Gov. Thompson’s stature of principled, unwavering leadership is a model for school leaders, who face their own battles against the status quo as they fight to modernize Wisconsin’s educational infrastructure in response to parental choice.

For a history of Wisconsin’s school voucher program, click here.

Senator Herb Kohl

The Honorable Herb Kohl received a 2017 WCRIS Friend of Education Award for his private, philanthropic leadership to create a program to recognize, reward and encourage K-12 educational excellence.

Through the generosity of the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, WCRIS teachers, principals and students have received  nearly $2.5 million in fellowship and scholarship awards since 1992.

U.S. Senator Herb Kohl started his program in the early 1990s by recognizing 100 outstanding teachers and their schools, and 100 outstanding high school seniors with $1,000 awards for each (teacher, school, student).

It was a small drop in the ocean of 800 private schools and 422 school districts. But it started a ripple that has turned into a tidal wave that fosters excellence.

In the mid-1990s, Sen. Kohl amazed the education community by creating a Initiative Scholarship to honor 100 high school seniors who struggled amid intense hardship, but managed to graduate despite the odds it wouldn’t happen.

In 2016, after time had eroded the value of the awards, Sen. Kohl increased the amounts to $3,000 each for teachers, and $5,000 for students.

When educators enthusiasm was flagging from societal critiques of education, Sen. Kohl asked WCRIS how he could help. WCRIS suggested recognizing outstanding principals as the driver of school quality. in 2016, Sen Kohl overwhelmed WCRIS by creating not just one award each for public and private schools —  but 16 awards,  of which WCRIS schools gets four annually.

Also that year, when Sen. Kohl realized there was no Private School Teacher of the Year award to compliment the long-standing Public School Teacher of the Year Award culled from the Kohl teacher winners, he created one.

For a list of the nonpublic school Kohl Award winners, click here.