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Ed Hughes

Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to privatize authority over charter schools is a trifecta of bad public policy, “untested, excessive, and irresponsible,” Madison School Board member Ed Hughes on his blog.

Walker’s plan, as laid out in his 2016-2017 budget proposal, would privatize and politicize charter schools beyond what is being done anywhere else in the country, Hughes wrote.

The bill calls for the creation of a new state panel of political appointees that, instead of considering charter school applications itself, would review applications by nonprofit organizations to become charter school authorizers that could, in turn, enter into contracts with charter school operators for an unlimited number of charter schools.

Under current state law, the only charter school authorizers beyond local public school districts are the Milwaukee Common Council, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, Hughes wrote.

Under Walker’s proposed changes to state law, any “nonprofit, nonsectarian organization or consortium of such organizations” could apply to the new state board to become a charter school authorizer.

As specified in model legislation by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, state authorities would be charged to assure that members of Walker’s proposed state board on charter authorization are “geographically diverse and have experience and expertise in governing public and nonprofit organizations; in management and finance; in public school leadership, assessment, and curriculum and instruction; and in education law; and understand and are committed to the use of charter schools to strengthen public education.”

But Walker would go beyond the ALEC model, which calls for a state board that would itself evaluate and approve charter school applications and monitor schools’ performance, Hughes pointed out.

With minimal reporting requirements and the ability to charge fees to the prospective school operators it evaluates, the Walker model would give newly minted authorizers the powers of independent state agencies but none of the responsibilities, Hughes wrote.

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These new, private charter school authorizers “would have no disclosure obligations, would not be subject to the open records law, and would not be bound by conflict of interest restrictions,” he wrote. And they could pay their officers whatever they choose to.

Funding for the new charter schools — $8,075 per student — would come right off the top of the state’s appropriation for general state aid to the state’s school districts. Hughes said.

So, Walker’s “unprecedented scheme” to establish new charter schools all over the state would tap the funding of local public schools to fund private schools approved by private organizations with little accountability.

“What could possibly go wrong?” Hughes said.

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