Wisconsin school boards would have less control over their own charter schools under Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal.
The changes could have major implications for districts such as Madison, where the School Board has exerted tight control over charter school expansion, including rejecting a school proposed by Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire that sought exemptions from district policies.
On Monday night, Madison School Board members said they might have to halt plans to revamp the district’s charter school policy.
“We’ve saved money and we’ve implemented programs and then with the swipe of a pen we have been outnumbered and outmanipulated by a governor who apparently wants to run for president,” board member Maya Cole said.
“I hope he’s really happy.”
The majority of charter schools in the state have less autonomy than others around the country, said Carrie Bonk, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. Walker’s proposal would change that.
“This is encouraging because it is moving our charter schools to the point where the dollars are following the students,” Bonk said.
But Dan Rossmiller, government affairs director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the proposal would create a disincentive for school districts to create or renew charter school contracts.
He added that recent changes in public sector collective bargaining allow districts to give charter schools more autonomy in hiring than other schools, so it’s unclear why the changes are necessary.
“When the school board does it, taxpayers have local accountability,” Rossmiller said. “When you give everything up to a charter school operator, you can have bad things happen.”
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie did not respond to emailed questions about the proposal.
Walker also proposed creating a state board that could enable local nonprofit organizations to authorize independent charter schools.
Currently, outside of Milwaukee and Racine, only school districts can authorize charter schools.
The state board would be appointed by the governor, Legislature and Department of Public Instruction.
Proposed charter changes
Walker’s 2013-15 budget bill would:
• Prohibit a school board from imposing district rules on instrumentality charter schools. Instrumentality charter schools employ district staff, whereas non-instrumentality charter schools employ their own staff.
• Require that public funding of instrumentality charter schools be equal to the district’s average per-pupil cost.
• Grant charter school operators sole discretion over the budget, curriculum, professional development activities, hiring of personnel and personnel policies for the charter school, unless a decision in any of those areas affects the health or safety of pupils.
• Allow school districts to convert all of their schools into charter schools without approval from teachers. Districts with only charter schools would be exempt from a law banning compulsory attendance at a charter school.
The state has 236 public charter schools, including 19 independent schools in Milwaukee and one in Racine, 189 instrumentality charter schools and 28 non-instrumentality charter schools.
Impact on Madison
Walker’s proposal could drive up the cost for Madison’s three charter schools when their contracts are renewed.
The district’s budget for Badger Rock Middle School, for example, calls for total spending of $9,129 per student next year, though the district spends about $14,000 per student for all students.
Nuestro Mundo’s charter contract expires in June 2014 and Badger Rock and Wright Middle School have contracts through June 2015.
School Board members are waiting for further district analysis before deciding to hold off on revising the district’s charter school policy.
Those revisions have been in the works since shortly after the board rejected the proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy in December 2011.
One of the main sticking points of the proposal was whether it would employ district staff or its own staff. Caire did not respond to requests for comment.