Wisconsin

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Wisconsin

1993
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
234
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
44,900
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
109
out of
240
Total Score

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Wisconsin’s law is largely cap free, allows multiple authorizing options in some districts, and provides adequate autonomy for charter public schools, but it provides inadequate accountability and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Potential areas for improvement include providing multiple authorizing options in all districts; beefing up the law’s application, oversight, and renewal requirements; ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities; ensuring transparency regarding educational service providers; and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Wisconsin law is generally free of caps on charter school growth. However, Wisconsin law provides that the number of charter schools authorized by the college of Menominee Nation and the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa community college may not exceed six.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Yes
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Wisconsin law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Wisconsin law allows the following entities to be authorizers:
*Local school boards
* The city of Milwaukee
* Any University of Wisconsin Chancellor
* Any technical college district board
* The college of Menominee Nation
* The Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa community college
* The University of Wisconsin System via an Office of Educational Opportunity (whose director is appointed by the University of Wisconsin’s president)
* The County Executive of Waukesha County (in Waukesha County only)

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the elements of the model law's authorizer and overall program accountability system.
The law requires authorizer submission of an annual report that summarizes the agency’s authorizing activities as well as the performance of its school portfolio.

While the law does not require the legislature and the governor to regularly review the performance of the city of Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Area Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the college of Menominee Nation, the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa community college, the University of Wisconsin System, the County Executive of Waukesha County, and the Gateway Technical College District Board as authorizers, they can do so at any time.

In addition, the ability of the city of Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Area Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the college of Menominee Nation, the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa community college, the University of Wisconsin System, the County Executive of Waukesha County, and the Gateway Technical College District Board to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and the governor (the entities that gave them that authority).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
No
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
Yes
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Some
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Some
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
No
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding. The law includes a requirement for authorizers to publicly report the operating costs incurred (detailed in an audited financial statement prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles) and the services they provided to the charter schools under contract with them and an itemized accounting of the cost of the services.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
Yes
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for transparent charter application, review, and decision-making processes. Wisconsin law requires application elements for all schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
No
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
No
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
No
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
No
6F
Application approval criteria.
No
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Under Wisconsin law, charter contracts exist as separate documents from the application and are between the authorizer and governing board of a charter school, but the contract requirements only concern school roles, powers, and responsibilities and don’t address authorizer roles, powers, and responsibilities.
The law provides that charter contracts must include a requirement that the charter school governing board adhere to specified annual academic and operational performance standards developed in accordance with the performance framework of the entity with which it is contracting.

Wisconsin law requires an initial charter term of five years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Some
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Yes
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Yes
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes. While the law doesn’t require authorizers to publish annual school performance reports, it does require that non-district authorizers collect and analyze student outcome data at least annually. It also provides that the charter petition specify the manner in which annual financial audits will be performed and that authorizers the authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
No
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
No
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions.
Under Wisconsin law, a charter may be revoked for violating its contract, if the pupils enrolled in the charter school failed to make sufficient progress toward attaining the state education goals, for failing to comply with generally accepted accounting standards of fiscal management, or for violating the state's charter school law.

Wisconsin law specifies that a charter may be renewed for one or more additional terms not to exceed five years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
No
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
No
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
No
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Yes
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
No
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
No
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
No
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
No
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
No
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for educational service providers.
Wisconsin law does not directly address educational service providers, but allows a contract with an individual or group to operate a charter school. The law also provides that if the City of Milwaukee contracts with an individual or group operating for profit to operate a school as a charter school, the charter school is an instrumentality of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the MPS board must employ all personnel for the charter school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
No
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
No
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
No
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

Wisconsin law provides that, subject to the terms of its contract, a charter school governing board has all the powers necessary to carry out the terms of its contract, including all of the following:
* To receive and disburse funds for school purposes.
* To secure appropriate insurance.
* To enter into contracts, including contracts with a University of Wisconsin institution or college campus, technical college district board, or private college or university, for technical or financial assistance, academic support, curriculum review, or other services.
* To incur debt in reasonable anticipation of the receipt of funds.
* To pledge, assign, or encumber its assets to be used as collateral for loans or extensions of credit.
* To solicit and accept gifts or grants for school purposes.
* To acquire real property for its use.
* To sue and be sued in its own name.

It also requires each charter school to be governed by a governing board that is a party to the contract with the authorizing entity and provides that no more than a minority of the governing board’s members may be employees of the charter school or employees or officers of the school district in which the charter school is located.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Yes
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

Wisconsin law allows charter schools to provide open enrollment to any student in the state.
Wisconsin law provides that a charter school governing board may not discriminate in admission or deny participation in any program or activity on the basis of a person's sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability.

Wisconsin law requires enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions, prior year students within chartered schools, and siblings of students enrolled at a charter school.
Wisconsin law provides that a charter school may give preference in enrollment to the children of the charter school’s founders, governing board members, and full−time employees, but the total number of such children given preference may constitute no more than 10 percent of the charter school’s total enrollment.
Wisconsin law requires that charter contracts require that if the capacity of the charter school is insufficient to accept all pupils who apply, the charter school shall accept pupils at random.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
Yes
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Wisconsin law provides that a charter school authorized by a city, university, or technical college receives an automatic waiver from state and district education laws, regulations and policies, while a charter school that is authorized by a local school board receives an automatic waiver from state education laws, regulations and policies, but not from school district education laws, regulations and policies.
Wisconsin law requires charter school teachers be certified. However, Wisconsin law directs the state department of public instruction to grant a charter school teaching license to any person who has a bachelor’s degree and demonstrates that he or she is proficient in the subject or subjects that he or she intends to teach. The license authorizes the person to teach that subject or those subjects in a charter school. The bill does not explicitly limit the person to teaching only certain grades. The license is valid for three years and may be renewed. Also, if a school’s search for a licensed teacher is unsuccessful, the law provides a special charter school permit for persons with a bachelor's degree in their field who take six credits of training each year and are supervised by a teacher with a regular license.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
Some
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

Under Wisconsin law, charter schools authorized by non-local board authorizers and charter schools authorized by local board authorizers that employ their own staff are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements, while those authorized by local school boards that don’t employ their own staff are not exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
Some
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Wisconsin law provides that a charter contract may provide for the establishment of more than one charter school and a charter school governing board may enter into more than one contract with an authorizer.
Wisconsin law provides that charter contracts must include a provision allowing the charter school governing board to open one or more additional charter schools if all of the charter schools operated by the governing board were assigned to one of the top two performance categories in the most recent school and school district accountability report. If the charter school governing board opens one or more additional charter schools, the existing contract applies to the new school or schools unless the parties agree to amend the existing contract or enter into a new contract. The law also requires independent accountability for each school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
Yes
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Wisconsin law is silent about charter eligibility and access.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

The law provides that independent charters are their own LEAs. In practice, a charter school that is sponsored by a local school board may be either part of the school district LEA that authorized it or its own LEA.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
No
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
No
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

Wisconsin law is silent on how district-authorized charter schools should be funded. It provides that non-district-authorized public charter schools will receive $ $8,199 per pupil in 2016-17. It also specifies different ways of providing these funds depending on the type of non-district authorizer that approved the school.
The operator of an independent charter school may provide transportation to pupils attending the charter school and may claim transportation aid under state law for pupils so transported.

In a recent national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014), Wisconsin charter schools were receiving on average $9,870 per pupil in public funds, while traditional public schools would have received $15,879 for those students. As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $6,009 per pupil - or 37.8% - less than what the traditional public schools would have received for those students. This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals significant inequities for both operational and capital funding (see component #19 for information on capital issues).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
No
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Wisconsin law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for equitable access to capital funding and facilities.
Wisconsin law provides that charter schools are eligible to receive tax-exempt financing from the Wisconsin Health and Educational Facilities Authority and various city redevelopment agencies.

Wisconsin law prescribes how the Milwaukee Public Schools must report and sell underutilized and vacant buildings, while giving a preference to public charter school operators.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
No
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
No
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
Some
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
Yes
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Under Wisconsin law, only those charter schools whose personnel are employees of the school district are eligible to participate in the state retirement system.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
No
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Wisconsin law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions regarding full-time virtual charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
No
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
No
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.