Politics & Government
1:00 am
Fri January 10, 2014

Division Over Charter School Expansion in Wisconsin

An Assembly committee Thursday held a public hearing on a bill that would expand independent charter schools statewide.
Credit althouse

Charters are public schools operated by private businesses or non-profits. They operate independently and have greater flexibility than traditional public schools.

School districts can issue charters. Then, in Milwaukee, there are independent charter schools.

The state gave three entities permission to issue those charters - UWM, MATC and the city.

Now, Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga wants to allow all UW-System institutions and technical college boards in Wisconsin to authorize independent charter schools. He told and Assembly committee Thursday they might provide a better education for minority students, statewide.

“It is with a very heavy heart that we bring to the public attention that the graduation rate for black students in Madison is 48 percent. 48 percent of black students will graduate from the Madison Public School system. That is 100 percent unacceptable,” Kooyenga says.

Kooyenga insists the state would set high standards for the new charter schools. Democratic Rep. LaTonya Johnson is not convinced.

“In Milwaukee, we have failing charter schools. We have charter schools that put individuals in the classrooms, office staff, parents who are not certified teachers and they use these individuals regularly. How can we make sure that we are not expanding problems that exist in Milwaukee to other parts of the state?” Johnson asks.

Another person opposed to the bill is Democratic Assemblywoman Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee. She calls the plan another financial attack on public schools.

“You cut $650 million out of public education in the state of Wisconsin. We don’t know what the potential is on this bill to cut further money out of public education to fund these new charter schools you want to create. So, to dive headlong into creating a whole other school system is foolish until we know what the impact is going to be,” Sinicki says.

Despite the unknowns, proponents say the idea is worth a try. Kaleem Caire works for the Urban League of Greater Madison. He says he grew up in poverty and attended both public and private schools.

“Don’t take an opportunity off the table to actually be able to do something differently for our children. I don’t think charter schools are a panacea, I don’t think vouchers are either. There are inherent problems in every education system in our country, but we need every opportunity we can get to try to get it right for our children,” Caire says.

Both houses of the Legislature would need to pass the bill by April; then the two-year session ends.