To: City Council of Milwaukee
From: Sean Roberts, Executive Director, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates; Steve Baas, Vice President of Government Affairs, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
Subject: Charter School referrals
As advocates for high-quality public schools in our community, we believe it is essential for schools to have the resources and tools they need to succeed in serving all students. With that in mind, we would like to encourage the city council to ensure that any motion passed that restricts the city’s 2R charter schools’ ability to use their funds for enrollment and community outreach is narrow in scope and does not have unintentional consequences for the services that these schools provide for students and families in our community every day.
If the city were to restrict its charter schools from using funds to encourage new enrollment, it could adversely affect underserved children and their families. Take, for example, a school that awards two free uniform shirts to every new student that enrolls over the summer. An overly restrictive policy may eliminate the school’s ability to do that, while studies show that uniforms greatly contribute to an overall better school climate, and the school rightfully is attempting to remove barriers for low-income students to attend the public school option that they and their families have chosen.
As another example, some schools in Milwaukee host “family nights,” in which they have family reading activities, pumpkin decorating, or family fitness activities. Nobody would consider limiting these community activities which encourage teacher-parent relationship building and fostering of a safe and quality academic environment. Yes, these activities do cost money that the school spends on parents, families, and the greater community as a whole, but a restrictive policy put in place at the city level could take away this community asset that have led to 2R charter schools outperforming the entire statewide average in reading and math growth.
In the case of “referral awards” for families that enroll students in their schools, we understand the need for schools to get word out about their programs and options for students, and that often parent word of mouth referrals are the best way for schools with limited budget and without full-time employee recruiters to reach out to the community. After all, Milwaukee Public Schools’ media and community outreach budget in 2014 was just over $1 million, and it has spent more than $300,000 in the past 3 years on advertisements alone. Independent charter schools, which are inequitably funded compared to district schools, simply cannot afford that kind of campaign.
Independent charter schools, authorized by UWM, MPS, and the city alike are able to use their freedom to reach out to communities and families in a meaningful way that will lead to greater academic achievement for our city’s highest-need youth. We encourage the city to not restrict their ability to do that. Thank you for your consideration.