Charter School Program to Expand Through Wisconsin

Under a bill passed Wednesday by Republicans on the Legislature's budget committee, an independent charter school program is to expand to medium and large school districts around Wisconsin, write Jason Stein and Erin Richards at the Milwaukee/Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Charter schools already exist all over the state but are now authorized entirely by local school boards, except in Milwaukee and Racine, and the new bill would allow independent charter school programs to start up in other districts.

Republicans said it would help provide another options for students whose schools are failing them.

"The bill we are taking up today is truly something that is going to help the long-term prospects of Wisconsin," said Republican Robin Vos, a co-chairman of the committee.

However, Democrats said the program would undermine local control of schools by elected officials in favor of an unelected board.

They believe the proposal would also prove another financial blow to regular public schools that are losing nearly $800 million in state aid over two years as part of the state budget and having tight state caps placed on their property tax levies, writes Stein and Richards.

"Charter schools are not evil, but this bill is being pushed by an awful lot of people who believe public schools are evil," Senator Bob Jauch said.

In the bill, the chair of the statewide charter board and another member would be appointed by Gov. Scott Walker and future governors. The Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly would each have one appointee to the board.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers would also sit on it.

Nonprofits would receive the contracts to run the charter schools, and the statewide board could enter into five contracts in the 2012-'13 school year, with five more being added each year until the 2017-'18 school year, when the board would be able to have an unlimited number of contracts.

The state would pay for the program by giving charter schools $7,775 for each student, calculated by figuring how many students in a given district are attending a charter school rather than a regular public school.

The proposal passed 12-3 on a party-line vote, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against.

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