Good morning. My name is Sean Roberts, I am the executive director for the Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, a non-profit organization representing the interests of independent charter schools in Milwaukee and Racine. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the important work being done by charter schools in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin currently has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, and independent charter schools have led the way for our state in making progress toward closing that gap. In the most recent statewide report card, independent charters were rated as “meeting expectations” at nearly double the rate of traditional public schools in Milwaukee. Independent charters outpaced both the city and the state, overall, in terms of student growth last year. This means that a student attending an independent charter was more likely to demonstrate significant growth last school year than a student in a public school anywhere in the state.
There is much work to be done for students in our city and state, but these results are promising. Our schools have accomplished this even though Wisconsin has one of the largest funding gaps in the nation between traditional public schools and charter schools.
To continue to thrive and serve students, charter schools must have autonomy to best serve the needs of students. In exchange, these schools are held accountable toward measurable student outcomes.
Senate Bill 76 has a provision that would allow non-instrumentality charter schools to be eligible to apply for equivalency to the state’s mandatory teacher evaluation system, just as independent 2R charter schools and school districts already can. Without this provision, these independent schools will have to evaluate their teachers based on the local school district’s measures, which in some cases could add additional testing requirements or cause schools to violate their own charter contracts with the school district. We urge the legislature to correct this oversight from the educator effectiveness bill, as DPI, the school district, and the charter schools all need clarification.
This bill would also repeal the enrollment cap on 21st Century Preparatory School in Racine. The cap currently in law unfairly penalizes one school in Racine, despite there being no caps on any other schools in the city—including public, charter, and voucher schools. 21st Century Prep holds a waiting list of students that are unable to attend because of the current student limit.
Finally, I want to strongly encourage the legislature to consider measures to further promote and guarantee the autonomy and independence of charter schools. We support the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ recommendations to strengthen Wisconsin’s charter school laws. Our charter schools that are working and making a difference in the lives of students every day deserve the freedom to continue their educational programs and make the choices that will have the greatest positive impact on student achievement.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests.