Education Committee Passes Statewide Charter Authorizer Bill

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Charter school legislation took another step toward becoming law Thursday morning, as the Assembly Education Committee approved a bill that would create a statewide authorizer for charter schools in Wisconsin. This same legislation had already passed through the Senate Ed. Committee on Tuesday.

The statewide charter school authorizer would be a nine-person committee that oversees charter applications from local and national non-profit organizations. If a district is unable to come to an agreement with a non-profit to open a school in its locality, these groups will have the opportunity to convince the state to grant their charter. This board will be given the power to grant five contracts with charter schools in 2011-2012, but this limit would increase by five more contracts each year until the cap is lifted in 2017-2018.

This legislation would increase the presence of charter schools throughout Wisconsin. This means more schools, more options, and a stronger educational presence throughout the state. Currently, most of the state’s charter schools are situated around Milwaukee and Racine – two cities with measures beyond local school district approval to create charter schools.

The bill will be heard in the Assembly later this month. If it passes both the Senate and Assembly, it will be sent to Governor Scott Walker to be signed into law.

However, another piece of legislation up for debate failed to earn enough votes to move on to a larger discussion in its current form.

Supporters of AB 130, which included several minor reforms for schools in Wisconsin, will have to go back to the drawing board after a vote to pass the legislation to the Assembly failed Thursday morning. After the two bills passed through committee on the strength of party line votes, a pair of Republican Representatives broke from their colleagues to help reject the bill.

Representatives Evan Wynn (R-Whitewater) and Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) both rejected the proposed reforms, swinging the vote to a 4-6 rejection (Rep. Don Pridemore was absent for the vote). Changes included in this bill included, but were not limited to:

  • Allowing students to substitute extracurricular athletics for one semester’s worth of credits in physical education.
  • Allowing administrators to use WKCE results as part of a teacher’s evaluation that could lead to disciplinary action.
  • Repealing a 200 day teaching limit in Milwaukee Public Schools.
  • Allowing charter schools to refuse to admit students from other states with a history of expulsion.

Thanks to concerns about the state of physical education in students’ lives, the ability of the WKCE to accurately measure a teacher’s impact in the classroom, and other issues, the bill failed in Committee after 45 minutes of discussion. Whether or not the elements of the proposed legislation will be stripped, retooled, and reintroduced in 2011 has yet to be determined.