Charter schools have been a welcome addition to Wisconsin’s educational environment. For supporters of education reform, charter schools are a win-win: They are free to adopt curricula that differ from often-rigid public school methods, yet they remain accountable to taxpayers because they answer to local school boards. Examples include Chippewa Valley Montessori and McKinley charter schools in the Eau Claire district and Wildlands School, a collaboration between the Augusta school district and Beaver Creek Reserve.
Institutions like these offer options within public education for students who might not reach their full potentials, or even learn effectively, in traditional settings. Nonetheless, the state Legislature should be cautious as it considers opening the door to so-called independent charter schools. Unlike traditional charter schools, which maintain contracts with local school districts, independent charter schools are answerable instead to outsiders – in the case of pending legislation, a yet-to-be-created statewide board. Currently, such independent charter schools are allowed only in Milwaukee and Racine; under the bill, they could operate in any district with more than 2,000 students – including Eau Claire.
Last week, the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee passed the bill. Next it will go to the full Legislature.