UW System Hires Legislative Staffer to Oversee Creation of Independent Charter Schools in Madison

The chief of staff for state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), has been hired by the University of Wisconsin (UW) System to oversee the creation of independent charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Gary Bennett will head the new Office of Educational Opportunity (OEO), an entity proposed by Darling and other Republican legislators and approved last year as part of the state’s biennial budget process. He will assume that post April 1, according to the UW System.

The OEO will have the ability to bypass local school boards and directly authorize new independent charter schools in districts with more than 25,000 students. Currently, that’s just Madison and Milwaukee.

The funding model for these new independent charters (known as “2x” charters after the statutory section which allows them to be established) roughly aligns with the public school “open enrollment” program model.

This model differs from the way existing independent charters (known as  “2r”charters) are funded. Rather than drawing state aid funding away from all public school districts in the state as the “2r” funding model does, the “2x” funding model draws state aid funding directly from the district in which a “2x” charter student resides.

Under this model, for each student that enrolls in a “2x” charter, state aid in the amount of the charter school payment amount (about $8,188 in the 2016-17 school year) will be deducted from the student’s district of residence.  Students enrolled in a “2x” independent charter school on the third Friday of September will be counted by their district of residence for state aid and revenue limit purposes.

For revenue limit purposes, a “2x” charter student is counted in the resident district’s membership for one of the three years used in the three-year rolling membership average. For aid purposes, a “2x” charter student would not generate any additional aid until the following year (because aid is based on prior year membership).

Mr. Bennett is widely credited as one of the primary architects of a “mini-takeover” of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) that was also included in the 2015-17 state biennial budget enacted last year. Those provisions created an Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP) in MPS that is under the management and control of a Commissioner appointed by the County Executive rather than the MPS board.

The Commissioner will select the schools to be transferred to the OSPP as well as the person or entity that will manage each school upon the school’s transfer to the OSPP.  The possible operators of the schools that are transferred to the OSPP include: (1) individuals or groups operating an independent charter school; (2)the governing body of a nonsectarian private school that is participating in a private school choice (voucher) program; and (3) other persons not currently operating a school.

Read More:  Wisconsin State Journal article