Education Committees Take Up Charter School Expansion Bills

MacIver News Service | December 18, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] A law that would allow high-performing charter schools to open up new campuses and expand outside of Milwaukee city limits is one step closer to reality.

Education Committees in both chambers of the state Legislation discussed a pair of bills that would allow independent charter schools to grow if they can prove that they are outperforming the district average when it comes to student outcomes. While the Assembly version of the bill was put up for public debate on Wednesday, the Senate version passed through the Education Committee behind a partisan 5-2 vote.

Though the hearings revolved around two separate bills, the content of each proposal was essentially the same. Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) authored AB-126 while appearing as a sponsor of its sister bill, SB-76. Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Falls) authored that legislation while signing off as a sponsor of AB-126. Both bills would allow independent charter schools with “a proven track record of success” to create additional campuses without having to be authorized by a local school board first.

Independent charter schools have a history of success in Milwaukee. Recent data suggests that these schools have outscored their peers on both the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination and on the state’s School Report Cards by significant margins. These gains have occurred despite the city’s independent charters educating a similarly high amount of economically disadvantaged students as their MPS peers.

“If we can move success forward faster, then I am all for it,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). “MPS schools are trying, but it isn’t working…we need opportunities for successful schools.”

The legislation would also allow these schools to opt-out of the state’s Educator Effectiveness program – a policy that will grade teachers in Wisconsin in the coming years. Instead of using the state-derived program, independent charter schools would have the option of using 2011’s Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (ITASC) standards for their teacher evaluations instead.

The bills still have several steps to go before they can be signed into law. AB-126 will be heard and voted upon by the Assembly Education Committee before heading to the Assembly for an overall vote. SB-76 will now be sent to the Senate where its fate will be decided sometime in the coming year.