Wisc. Earns Low Marks on Education Innovation

MacIver News Service
Wisconsin’s charter school law, passed more than 16 years ago, has failed to keep pace with others’ reform efforts and could hurt the state’s chances in a national battle for education funding, according to a new national study.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says Wisconsin’s charter school law now ranks 33rd in the nation in terms of ‘quality and accountability,’ ‘funding equity,’ ‘facilities support,’ autonomy, and ‘growth and choice.’

“State legislation really sets the bar for the charter school movement,” explained National Alliance President and CEO Nelson Smith.  “When states combine equitable resources, real autonomy, and tough accountability, charter schools flourish and meet the high expectations of parents and policymakers. These new rankings not only show which state laws are making the grade, but also show how they do it: by paying attention to specific issues that are crucial to school and student success.”

The Alliance report, “How State Charter Laws Rank Against The New Model Public Charter School Law,” assesses the strengths of each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components of a strong law contained in the new model public charter school law released by the Alliance in June 2009. The Alliance then ranks each law from strongest to weakest.

Wisconsin’s score was hurt by the cap on enrollment in online public charter schools, restrictions on who can authorize a charter school, overall accountability and a lack of transparency in the charter school application/authorization process.

There are 224 charter schools operating in Wisconsin. Those schools serve an estimated 38,005 students. Wisconsin also earned low marks for a lack of clarity in the processes for renewal, nonrenewal and revocation decisions regarding charter schools.

Wisconsin’s application for Race to the Top funding, could be scored lower due to the relatively weak ranking on its charter school law.

The Alliance warned, “As states prepare to submit applications for the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program, the rankings provide clear indications of where some states excel and others come up short in charter-related policies,”

In a statement that accompanied the report’s release, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “It’s very important to have better, clearer charter laws – laws that enable innovation, promote transparency about how charter schools perform and how they are held accountable, and provide fair access to public funds and facilities.  We’re encouraged that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools supports creation of better charter school laws as models of learning, and we encourage authorizers to hold charters accountable for student performance.”

Applications for Race to the Top funding are due January 19th.

The top ten state laws shown to support the growth of high-quality charter schools are: Minnesota (152), D.C. (131), California (130), Georgia (130), Colorado (128), Massachusetts (125), Utah (123), New York (121), Louisiana (120), and Arizona (120).

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement.

The complete analysis can be downloaded at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools web site:

Wisconsin’s evaluation, here.