Charter schools are public schools in that they are funded by taxpayer money, cannot charge tuition, and must be open to all students, through a lottery system if needed.
In Wisconsin, they must participate in the state assessment system, and their teachers must be state-licensed.
They are intended to foster innovation and parental choice and are free from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools.
There are two types of charter schools: independent ones, and ones that are part of a school district.
Madison has three “in-district” charter schools, meaning the School Board approved them and maintains ultimate control over them. These are Wright Middle School, the bilingual Nuestro Mundo Community School and Badger Rock Middle School.
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Independent charter schools operate outside of the local school board’s authority. They receive taxpayer funding but are led by nonprofit organizations or, in some cases, for-profit companies.
These are the kind of charter schools that Gary Bennett, as head of the new Office of Educational Opportunity at the University of Wisconsin System, will have the authority to authorize in Madison and Milwaukee.
Milwaukee already has more than two dozen independent charter schools. Madison has none.
Under current state law, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is required to reduce a school district’s funding by the same amount that is paid per student to an independent charter school, currently about $8,100. The home district still may count the student for revenue limit purposes to the extent permitted by law. This can allow the district to tax its property owners for the balance that is not lost to the charter school, although this not necessarily true in all cases.