Wisconsin’s Charter “Czar”

Doug Ericsson:

Gary Bennett wants to assure you he’s not out to destroy the Madison School District.

The former legislative staffer leads the new Office of Educational Opportunity at the University of Wisconsin System. That makes him the unofficial “charter czar,” the guy who now has the ability to bypass local school boards and authorize independent charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

It’s a controversial idea, deemed by opponents as unnecessary at best, poisonous at worst. Critics believe independent charter schools siphon money and resources from traditional public schools. Supporters contend they’re needed to stimulate innovation and correct failures in the current system.

In an interview, Bennett acknowledged that his new role is viewed negatively by some, but he suggested he’s not the enemy. At times, he spoke rather kindly of the Madison School District.

“We have good schools here,” said Bennett, 33, who has lived in Madison since moving to the city in 2008 to attend UW Law School. “We just need more good schools in more areas.”

Related: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.