The independent (“2r”) charter school expansion proposal approved Friday night by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) allows for a swell of independent charter schools across southern Wisconsin. Currently, state law limits “2r” charter schools mostly to the Milwaukee area, with one school in Racine. Students in those schools are funded by shaving off state aid from all Wisconsin districts. Under the plan:
- The UW System would be required to create a new office within four months (fromthe date the budget act takes effect) to authorize independent charter schools in school districts with more than 25,000 students (currently Madison and Milwaukee) without local school board approval.
- The new UW System office would oversee charter schools’ operations and student academic achievement as well as evaluate charter school proposals. It 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 proposal also allows the Waukesha County Executive to authorize independent charter schools in that county. Sen. Paul Farrow, who headed the Senate’s effort to overhaul accountability for schools, is leaving the Senate in July after recently being elected Waukesha county executive.
- 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 “2r” 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 in that district who chose to attend the new “2r” charter schools. If a district’s general aid payment is insufficient to cover the aid reduction, the balance would be reduced from other state aid (e.g., categorical aid) received by the district. A district would not be able to levy property taxes to backfill the aid reduction.
Madison School Board member Ed Hughes called the proposal “breathtaking.”
“It looks like the UW President is required to appoint someone who could then authorize as many publicly funded but potentially for-profit charter schools in Madison as that unelected and unaccountable person wanted,” he said.
This independent “2r” charter expansion is in addition to replication language adopted by previous action by the JFC under which an operator of an independent charter school could open additional schools if all of the schools operated by the governing board have received one of the top two ratings on the prior year’s school report card.