Budget expands independent charter schools to 140 districts
The University of Wisconsin System could authorize independent charter schools in Milwaukee and Madison, and other agencies could approve charter schools that compete with districts in many other parts of the state, under a provision tucked into a Joint Finance Committee motion on higher education issues last week.
If it passes in the state budget, it would also allow the Waukesha County executive to approve nondistrict charter schools in Waukesha County, tribal colleges to approve charter schools in local or adjacent counties, and Gateway Technical College to approve and employ staff at technical charter high schools in all of southeastern Wisconsin.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the new provision would allow independent charter schools to operate in 140 school districts.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) created the provision, according to lawmakers.
Darling is co-chair of the powerful budget-writing panel, and is also behind a separate provision to put the Milwaukee County executive in charge ofturning some underperforming city schools over to charter-school or voucher-school operators.
The latest provision to expand independent charter schools statewide would limit the financial impact to the school district in which the would-be charter school student lives. The district could count the child for revenue-limit purposes, but the district's aid would be reduced to pay for that child to attend the competing charter school.
Currently, state law limits independent charter schools mostly to the Milwaukee area, with one school in Racine. Students in those charter schools are funded by shaving off state aid from all Wisconsin districts.
The provision on charter-school authorizing appears at the end of an omnibus motion relating to to the UW System, which the finance committee approved Friday on a party-line vote. All Republicans voted in favor; all Democrats were opposed.
Some of the specifics call for:
■ The UW System to create a new authorizer of independent charter schools, with a director appointed within four months of the 2015-'17 state budget being approved. The new Office of Educational Opportunity would evaluate proposals for charter schools to operate in districts with at least 25,000 students — currently that's just Milwaukee and Madison — and monitor operations at the schools. The director may appoint up to two associate directors.
■ The new office may accept private gifts or grants, and the director could determine how that gift or grant would be used to support the office, or charter schools overseen by the office.
■ The Waukesha County executive — currently Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) — could approve charter schools in Waukesha County.
■ Tribal colleges could approve charter schools in their own counties or adjacent counties.
■ The Gateway Technical College District Board could authorize technical high schools focused on STEM or occupational education in the district — Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties — or any adjacent district, which would include Rock, Jefferson, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. Gateway Tech College staff could teach at the high schools.
■ Pupils attending the new charter schools would be counted by their district of residence for revenue limit and general school aid purposes. The DPI would then reduce a school district's general aid payment to pay for the children residing there who chose to attend the new charter schools.
This story will be updated throughout the day with reaction from lawmakers and stakeholders.Budget expands independent charter schools to 140 districts: