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WISCONSIN: Bill would allow charter schools to expand free of districts, unions

wisconsinWisconsin could see a dramatic rise in the number of charter schools operating outside of districts and without teachers unions, under a new Assembly bill brought by Republicans that would take independent charters statewide.

The proposed legislation would eliminate district-staffed charters and empower a new slate of authorizers to approve independent charters: all four-year and two-year University of Wisconsin System institutions, as well as all the state’s regional educational service agencies and technical college district boards.

The measure comes as Republican lawmakers intensify their efforts to pass a charter-school bill in the remaining months of the session.

Independent charters are controversial because they are public schools run like private businesses; they don’t employ unionized staff and don’t have to answer to school boards. They exist through a contract, or charter, with an approved nondistrict entity.

Advocates see the schools as important to reform efforts because they’re not bogged down by school system bureaucracy and have more flexibility in curriculum and staffing.

Opponents criticize the schools for not having to follow the same rules as traditional districts, and for being the darlings of business interests. The schools also, in effect, reduce funding for traditional public schools the charter pupil otherwise might have attended.

Only the Milwaukee Common Council, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside authorize independent charters, and most of the schools are in the city of Milwaukee.

The Assembly bill introduced Dec. 9 by a mostly suburban Milwaukee group of Republicans — Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield, Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc, Rob Hutton of Brookfield, Don Pridemore of Hartford and Joe Sanfelippo of West Allis, along with Joan Ballweg of Markesan in central Wisconsin — aims to change that.

Kooyenga said he thought the measure did a good job of expanding charter schools by focusing on granting chartering authority to institutions with a strong tie to education.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said passing some type of charter school bill was one of his main priorities for the few remaining months of the session. Vos said he still favored having a statewide chartering entity — which goes beyond this plan — but said he also wanted to see legislation that could clear the Senate.

Specifically, Assembly Bill 549 would:

■Eliminate the charter designation for charter schools operated by districts and staffed with district employees — which is how many of the state’s 200-plus charter schools operate. School boards could change these institutions to magnet schools instead. Kooyenga said he would adjust the magnet school provisions in the bill if they endangered any federal grant funding for existing charter schools.

■Allow students to attend any independent charter school regardless of location. Most pupils of independent charters are required to live in the district where the charter school is located.

■Compel charter-school authorizers to allow a charter school operator to automatically open up to two additional charter schools per year if their schools demonstrate high performance. Specifically, the charter schools would have to outperform local public schools by 10 percentage points in tested subjects.

■Allow district charter schools to use an alternative method of evaluating teachers and principals than whatever the district is using.

Concerns raised

Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Bob Peterson said he was concerned the legislation would threaten successful district-staffed charters in Milwaukee Public Schools, such as The Alliance School, ALBA, Fairview, IDEAL, Humboldt Park and Hawley Environmental School.

“It’s another example of right-wing legislators pushing privatization while ignoring and attacking successful public schools in our state,” Peterson said.

But Sean Roberts, the executive director of Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, said eliminating district-staffed charters makes sense because “they’re not independent and they don’t have independent boards” of directors.

The latest measure is similar to an amendment to another charter bill that was recently rejected by the Senate Republican caucus.

That proposal called for the same expanded authorizers, a clause for high-performing independent charter schools to automatically expand and the ability for independent charters to opt out of the state’s educator evaluation system in favor of an alternative method.

Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) said he wasn’t sure that this latest chartering school bill could pass the Senate.

“It’s all the stuff we were trying to do but we couldn’t get the votes in our caucus,” Olsen said.

The Senate Education Committee chaired by Olsen is expected on Wednesday to take up a scaled-back version of that earlier charter school legislation.

Source: Journal Sentinel – by Erin Richards and Jason Stein

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This entry was posted on December 17, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Legislation, Regulation, States, Wisconsin.

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