MADISON, Wisc. – The vast majority of charter schools in Wisconsin may finally be allowed to operate like charter schools.
For decades, Wisconsin state law has limited most charter schools to being mere extensions of the nearest public school district. They are staffed with teachers who belong to the public school union, and have been forced to observe the many cumbersome rules of teacher union contracts.
That has hampered their efforts to do what charter schools do best – experiment and innovate, with a focus on student achievement instead of adult labor concerns.
But new legislation being pushed through the state Assembly by the majority Republicans would allow new charter schools to exist independently of local school districts. They could be sponsored by any four-year or two-year colleges in the University of Wisconsin system, as well as the state’s regional educational service agencies and technical college boards.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it, “Advocates see (the independent charter schools) as important because they’re not bogged down by school system bureaucracy and have more flexibility in curriculum and staffing.”
The legislation would do a number of things: Allow new charter schools to open without the permission of local school boards, function without the interference of local school boards, change the designation of charter schools currently run by school districts to “magnet schools,” allow students to attend any independent charter school regardless of where they live, and allow charter schools operators to open up as many as two new schools per year if they demonstrate high performance.
It’s not clear whether current charters controlled by public school districts would be allowed to switch to independent status.
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, opposes the bill, because he believes it may have a negative impact on several successful union-staffed charter schools in his city.
“It’s another example of right-wing legislators pushing privatization while ignoring or attacking successful public schools in our state,” Peterson told the Journal Sentinel.
Peterson, like most union leaders, has no respect for the concept of student and parent choice. His first priority is making sure all schools staffed with union teachers have enough students to keep everyone employed and paying union dues.
Providing families with positive non-union school options runs counter to his goal.
That’s too bad for Mr. Peterson. The people of Wisconsin, and Americans in general, want more school choice, not less. And they believe all school staffs should have to work hard and offer outstanding programs to maintain their students, instead of relying on state laws that keep students trapped in geographical districts and mediocre or miserable schools.
The advent of independent charter schools will only increase options for the families of Wisconsin, and increase pressure on all schools to improve the quality of their operations. This may not be good news for the unions, but its great news for the students of the state.