Wisconsin Budget Bill Contains Big Wins for Public Charter Schools

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A few weeks ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the state’s budget bill into law. This budget bill contains some of the most far-reaching changes to the state’s public charter school law since Wisconsin first enacted its law in 1993.

Most significantly, the bill creates four new pathways for authorizing what are known as “2r” public charter schools in the state. But first, it’s important to understand that there are three types of charters that operate in Wisconsin—“2r,” instrumentality, and non-instrumentality. “2r” charters (named for the provision in statute that creates them) are equivalent to what most people think of when it comes to charters: schools that are independent from school districts, have the flexibility to innovate and are held accountable for student results. Unfortunately, “2r” charters have been largely confined to Milwaukee, thus denying most communities the opportunity to create “2r” charters.

This budget bill begins to chip away at this problem, although it doesn’t yet allow “2r” charters statewide. The four new pathways for authorizing “2r” charters are:

  • The County Executive of Waukesha County will be able to authorize charters in Waukesha County;
  • Tribal colleges will be able to authorize charters in their counties and adjacent counties;
  • The Gateway Technical College District Board will be able to authorize charters in their district; and,
  • Most significantly, the University of Wisconsin (UW) System via a newly created Office of Educational Opportunity (whose director will be appointed by the UW President) will be able to authorize charters in Milwaukee and Madison.

Beyond the expansion of “2r” public charter schools, the bill makes several other much needed improvements to the state’s public charter school law, including removing the state’s remaining numeric caps on charter school growth, strengthening accountability for schools and authorizers, and increasing the independence and the autonomy of charter school governing boards.

Taken as a whole, these changes will open the door for groups and individuals to step forward and create independent, flexible, and accountable public schools for the students in their communities. Not only will these schools provide innovative and high-quality learning opportunities for the students who enroll in them, but they will also nudge the surrounding schools to improve their offerings as well.

Kudos to Gov. Walker, Sen. Alberta Darling, Rep. Dale Kooyenga, and the many others who pushed for these changes. As a result of their leadership, there will be more high-quality public school options for the state’s students.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 


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