We're not inclined to spend a lot more time bringing attention to the report or detailing their fundamental misunderstandings of how charters operate in Wisconsin (and nationally), but the report tries to make the claim that school closures are evidence of financial mismanagement or waste in charters. However, we do think it’s worth exploring this idea of charter closures more in depth.
First, some background. Charter schools are meant to be public schools that are granted autonomy from the district in exchange for being held accountable for achieving the results laid out in its charter contract. “Accountable” in this case means being allowed to continue to operate the school. School closures are obviously not an ideal scenario. It would be great if all schools—district, charter, or private—were effectively meeting the needs of students and families, but in the absence of that, charter schools have agreed with their authorizer to not operate when they are not living up to those ideals.
So what does charter school closure look like in Wisconsin, and can we come to any conclusions about chartering from these closures?
Between 1998-2013, there were 155 charter school closures in the state. Over 95% of those closures came from school districts that were operating those schools. It’s worth to note, however, that many of these district charter schools did not “close” in the traditional sense- they continued to operate as traditional district schools, or merged with another school, or became an academic program within another existing district school. In fact- that’s the single biggest reason for district school closures over that time period; over a third of those “closures” are actually schools that just changed from charter status to district school status.
Wisconsin Charter School Closure Reasons, 1998-2013:
Authentic accountability is crucial to the success of public charter schools, and it’s something our independent authorizers and their schools absolutely take seriously. These data support the case for expanding independent quality authorizing of charters rather than districts managing a portfolio of “charters.” The academic results from independent charter schools also support the case for independent authorizers.
Independent public charters continue to lead the way in our city for academic performance, but also are highly accountable and transparent school communities that should be embraced and given the resources to continue to operate quality programs.
*Data on school closures based on publicly available data from the Department of Public Instruction and analyzed by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.