In the context of the Madison School District’s financial challenges, it’s easy to understand why creating a new program may seem unthinkable. Yet creativity can prove a strong ally in times of adversity. Take the prospect of the latest charter school idea to come before the Madison School Board, and consider these points:
As a charter school, the Studio School can bring in $550,000 in federal grants over its first four years. These grants, earmarked for charter schools, are designed to help districts cover start-up costs. The Studio School can be implemented in a way that keeps operating costs in line with other elementary schools district-wide; yet as a charter with an arts and technology emphasis, it would have the ability to seek additional grants and sources of financial support.
The Studio School would be in an existing public school, just as the district’s bilingual charter school operates. This school-within-a- school model is a cost- efficient way to foster innovation. As a taxpayer and a parent, I see the Studio School as an excellent use of underused space. While its location has yet to be determined by the district and School Board, the idea poses interesting possibilities. Could a charter school draw some students from a nearby overcrowded school? Over the long term, might an innovative option help attract new families to a neighborhood where parents had once worried about the future of an under-enrolled school? And how might such an effort dovetail with our city’s development plans?
Other districts in Wisconsin have encouraged the development of charters and realized significant financial benefits. For example, the Appleton School District has strategically embraced charter schools. Its 13 charters have garnered more than $3 million in outside funding. The Appleton district encourages parents and educators to propose charters that bring new approaches into the public school system and address families’ desires for options. Charter schools have attracted many students from outside the Appleton district, and through open enrollment, this has meant millions of dollars in additional revenue.
Not all students have the same learning style. Maintaining that a uniform approach can equitably serve all students overlooks important differences among children. Charter schools can offer distinct learning environments that suit students who have difficulty thriving in other classroom settings.
Charter schools can offer wonderful opportunities for parents of limited financial means. At the same time, they can keep parents who have the resources to look elsewhere engaged in our public education system. If parents in Madison had more choices within the school district, might some who would move to surrounding districts or opt for private education choose otherwise? Opponents may argue that the district can’t afford to be concerned with such families. I contend that having a mix of students from across the socioeconomic spectrum benefits public schools. When site selection, recruitment efforts and enrollment policies are done in ways that attract a diverse student population, charters can serve students from all walks of life.
For these reasons and others, the Studio School deserves careful consideration even in challenging financial times. The Madison School District cannot afford not to consider charter schools. Also published in the Wisconsin State Journal.