The Joint Committee on finance voted 12-3 this week to approve the latest version of Senate Bill 22 (SB-22). The bill expands chartering authority to Wisconsin Cooperative Educational Service Agencies, and most importantly creates an independent statewide charter school authorizing board.
I have blogged recently about the absurdity of Madison Prep having to get its education plan approved by the school board of a district that has proved incapable of effectively educating the very students Madison Prep seeks to serve. The state charter authorizing board would give startup charter schools like Madison Prep an authorizer option outside of their local school board. No longer would a resistant board be a brick wall for new charter schools.
SB-22 only allows schools located in districts with more than 2,000 students (about 25% of all districts in Wisconsin) to be chartered by the statewide authorizer. The provision, likely added to protect small school districts from enrollment loss, limits the options of parents seeking alternatives in smaller school districts.
The bill also misses an opportunity by not extending authorizing authority to public universities and technical schools statewide. Such an approach has a proven track in other states, and right here in Wisconsin where the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee charters some of the city’s highest performing schools.
“Charter schools are not evil, but this bill is being pushed by an awful lot of people who believe public schools are evil…”
Sen. Jauch’s quote is a perfect example of how the education reform policy debate can be driven by factors totally unrelated to improving student achievement. Reform efforts like SB-22 should be evaluated by their content, not their supporters. One can only hope that the individuals serving on a future statewide authorizing board judge school applicants on merit and not ideology.
Even with its limitations, the reforms in SB-22 can give parents more choice and increase the number of Wisconsin schools whose very existence is dependent on their ability to deliver results. Any reform that accomplishes both these things is a reform worth having.