Charter Schools in Milwaukee: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
What is a Charter School? Charter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. As public schools they are open to all children, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements. Read the Truth About Charters from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Are charter schools really public schools? Yes. They are open to the public for free and are paid for with public funding at a per-pupil allocation. Charter schools may accept private monies, however, through grants, just like a public school district. For example, in 2011, the GE Foundation awarded Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) with $20.4 million to overhaul and standardize the MPS science and math curriculum; and in 2003, the Gates Foundation awarded $17 million to redesign 7 large MPS high schools and create 40 small schools throughout Milwaukee. Charter schools can also apply for, and receive, private funds to supplement their budgets.
Do charter schools enroll students with Special Needs? Yes. Charter schools must adhere to all federal laws regarding special education. About 9 percent (9.3%) of students who attend independent charter schools in Milwaukee are identified with special needs. Charter schools are actually on par with MPS in several special education categories based on the percentage of students enrolled with Autism, Emotional-Behavioral Disabilities, and Speech and Language disabilities.
Do charter schools have licensed teachers? Yes. Charter schools operate with licensed teachers, as required by law.
Who can authorize a charter school contract? Across the state local school districts can authorize a charter school through a contract. In Milwaukee, authorizers include Milwaukee Public Schools, UW-Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), although MATC has not chartered any schools. In Racine, UW-Parkside may authorize a charter school. In July of 2015 the state budget passed with new provisions for additional authorizers such as the Waukesha County executive, tribal colleges, and Gateway Technical College. As of 2016, the UW System President has also appointed a director to approve new charters in Milwaukee and Madison.
What does an “independent” charter school mean? “Independent” charter schools are defined as those schools that operate with autonomy from the school district through a Non-Instrumentality Charter or 2R Charter. Their employees are not employees of the district. Milwaukee has both of these categories of “independent” charter schools, whereas Racine has just the “2R” category. “2R” is simply the legislative code under which these schools were created. Very few charter schools in the state, outside of Milwaukee and Racine, are considered independent charter schools because nearly all of them operate directly through their school district.