Is Wisconsin on the brink of a charter school revolution?
This is the Choice Media Ed Reform Minute for Monday, March 11th.
That’s the plan under a proposal by Governor Scott Walker. It’s another piece of his effort to increase educational choice in the Badger state.
This comes after Governor Walker’s effort to double the number of students eligible for school vouchers, an expansion he recently acknowledged that he may have to reduce to compromise with nervous members of his own Republican majority. On this charter autonomy effort, by contrast, Walker’s sending signals he’ll be giving no ground to the anti-reform crowd.
So what would it do? His charter expansion plan, laid out in his annual budget, would create a statewide board that would authorize non-profit entities like universities, to approve new charter schools. Currently, only the cities of Milwaukee and Racine have multiple charter authorizers — everywhere else in Wisconsin only the local school board can authorize a charter school, which has been compared to asking McDonalds authorizing a Burger King.
And even in those two cities where independent charters are allowed, there are only 20. That’s not very many charter schools in an entire state which are free from the intrusion and meddling of their local district.
Sean Roberts, Executive Director of Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, has seen this approach up close, and he believes it’s the right one.
I think that it certainly lays the groundwork for additional independent charters across the state. Right now, independent charters are really only in Milwaukee and there’s one in the Racine area. So it opens up another choice to families in other areas of the state where there are failing schools. And families can potentially benefit from options.
Even where the local district has been the charter authorizer, the Walker plan would put an end to the districts’ ability to micromanage, by giving charter operators sole discretion over issues like budget, curriculum, professional development activities, and hiring of personnel, unless the charter does something to risk the health or safety of students.
Another Walker reform would require equal per student funding between most charter schools, and the local districts from which they draw.
If these proposals survive the legislative process, it would in great measure satisfy a long- held goal of charter advocates, says Carrie Bonk, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association.
Our hope and goal is that the per pupil funding will follow students. So whether they are attending a traditional school or a charter school, the funding will follow the student.
Bonk is also excited about the enormous potential for positive change embodied in the proposed charter authorizer expansion.
We are very encouraged about the potential of expanding authorizers in Wisconsin. This would increase the growth of quality independent charter schools. We know that one of the areas that we are looking to really expand charter schools across the state is an effort to help in our workforce development gap, and so we believe that working with the manufacturing community across our state — that this is an excellent opportunity to really partner.
One other Walker proposal already has teachers unions squawking: The plan would allow school districts to convert all of their schools into charter schools — without approval from teachers.
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