Last week, the U.S. Department of Education awarded approximately $253 million in new federal grants to fund the creation and expansion of public charter schools across the nation. The grants were awarded to state educational agencies and other state entities, charter management organizations (CMOs) and other non-profit organizations across the country.
Wisconsin was one of nine states to share in a total of $144.7 million in competitive grant funding awarded to states under the Fiscal Year 2017 Charter Schools Program State Entities competition. Nationally, this funding will enable those nine states to run state-level grant competitions to support approximately 445 new, replicating and expanding public charter schools.
Wisconsin’s share of this first-year funding is just under $38 million ($37.95 million) and will be received by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The DPI could be eligible to receive as much as $95.8 million in charter school grants over the next five years, provided Congress appropriates sufficient funding.
This federal funding will allow the DPI to award subgrants to eligible applicants to open and prepare for the operation of new charter schools and to replicate and expand high-quality charter schools. Grant funds may also be used by the DPI to provide technical assistance to eligible applicants and authorized public chartering agencies in opening and preparing for the operation of new charter schools, or replicating or expanding high-quality charter schools; and to work with authorized public chartering agencies to improve authorizing quality, including developing capacity for, and conducting, fiscal oversight and auditing of charter schools.
Provisions in the 2017-19 state budget act greatly broaden the ability of entities other than school boards to authorize (independent) charter schools in Wisconsin and eliminate a number of geographic restrictions on where independent charter schools may be established. Under the budget act, any UW Chancellor (in addition to the UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside Chancellors under current law) and any technical college district board (in addition to the Milwaukee and Gateway Boards under current law) could contract with a person to operate an independent charter school. In addition, the budget act deletes the current law provision restricting the districts in which the Director of the Office of Educational Opportunity (OEO) in the UW System may authorize an independent charter school.