by Barry Golden, ISN Consultant
What is Your Path to Innovation? Charter Schools or Zones of Innovation?
Act 55, passed by the Wisconsin legislature and signed by the Governor in July 2015, created a new process for outside “authorizers” to establish “independent” charter schools across the state of Wisconsin. In the past, local school districts, with the exception of Milwaukee and Racine, were the only entities allowed to establish a charter school within a school district.
In Act 55, there are 9 entities that can now authorize charter schools in regions across the state. The following chart identifies the authorizing agencies and the regions of Wisconsin for which they can authorize a charter school.
|School Location||Pupil Residency||Number of Charter Schools|
|City of Milwaukee (2r)||Statewide||Statewide||Unlimited|
|*Gateway Technical College (2r)||Racine, Kenosha, Walworth (only high school grades and provides curriculum focused on STEM or occupational education and training)||Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Jefferson, Rock||Unlimited|
|*Waukesha County Executive (2r)||Waukesha County||Statewide||Unlimited|
|*College of Menominee Nation (2r)||Statewide||Statewide||No more than 6 schools between these two authorizers|
|*Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwa Community College (2r)||Statewide||Statewide|
|*Office of Educational Opportunity (UW System) (2x)||In districts with over 25,000 pupils||Statewide||Unlimited|
Independent authorizers may not establish a virtual charter school.
A summary of the new charter school law, 118.40 can be found at the following web site: http://goo.gl/wQcSMl. Now local school districts should be(?) asking “can this law potentially affect our school district? “ This simple answer is “yes!” In the interest of establishing competition in 4K-12 education throughout Wisconsin, there are now 9 agencies that can authorize charter schools in addition to your local school district.
Most of the districts the ISN is working with either have their own charter schools or are investigating how they can establish an “innovation zone” within their district that will not only foster and establish innovative schools, but will prevent other authorizers from establishing charter schools outside of local control.
Several local districts are collaborating with the ISN to investigate how to establish an innovation zone that has the freedom to innovate within the existing framework of their local school district while offering optional learning models to better meet the varying needs and interests of students and the local community. Essentially this involves establishing schools or programs where students work and learn differently. Most of the options being created center around some variation of “project based or problem based learning”. These practices are well established in Wisconsin where many schools are already operating either a charter school or project based learning within a quasi-independent innovation zone. Such a school provides significant student autonomy and fosters strong leadership, curiosity, independent learning and critical thinking, and social skills.
The ISN is on the cutting edge of creating these types of options within school districts. If you have concerns that someone might establish an independent charter school in your district, we welcome the opportunity to work with any district that is serious about establishing an “Innovation Zone” or their own charter school.
Next week, I will further discuss the financial impact of independent charters being established in your district. I’ll also discuss how such innovation zones can be established that would achieve levels of innovation while still maintaining the existing model.
Learn more about Innovation Zones: Innovation Zones Explained
Follow-up resources from Dan Butler with the National Charter School Resource Center