A bill introduced in the state Assembly this week would create the first charter school in Wisconsin specifically for teens recovering from substance abuse.
The bill, co-authored by Sens. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, would allow the UW System’s Office of Educational Opportunity to seek bids for a charter school operator to start a school for no more than 15 students who are recovering from addictions.
The bill also is supported by 10 Assembly Democrats, including Reps. Melissa Sargent and Lisa Subeck, both of Madison.
The school would be the first founded by the OEO, created in the state 2015-17 budget, which has the ability to bypass local school boards and authorize independent charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee. It would also be the first recovery charter school in Wisconsin.
The only recovery school in Wisconsin currently is Horizon High School, a private nonprofit school in Madison.
Nationwide, according to the Association of Recovery Schools 2016 annual report, there were 43 recovery schools operating or poised to open. Of them, 26 percent were charter schools.
Nygren said the operator of Wisconsin’s charter recovery school would be chosen through a request for proposal process, and that would likely dictate where the school would be located.
He said it’s hoped the school would be located in a higher-population area, like Milwaukee or Madison.
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The school would be created as a four-year pilot project and be for students who have begun treatment for substance abuse and maintained sobriety for at least 30 days before attending the school.
Students would have to agree to be screened or tested for drug use, and the school would not be allowed to admit those who test positive.
Nygren said having a school where those who have been treated for drug addiction can resume studies is important, because students in recovery who go back to familiar people and places risk relapse.
“They go back to the same environment they came from, going back to the same school, dealing with the same friends, same pressures, same triggers, that actually got them into that spot,” Nygren said. “So creating a school that is recovery-focused is really kind of the intent behind it. It lets us maximize the investment we have. If we can educate them in a way that will foster a long-term recovery, then it’s worth it.”
Nygren said that while the project is a four-year pilot, he would like to see it evaluated sooner, so other recovery charter schools could be created faster.
The bill also allows State Superintendent Tony Evers to give up to $50,000 in grant funding in the 2017-18 school year to a charter school operator that wants to start the recovery charter school if the UW System can find matching funds.
State Journal reporter Molly Beck contributed to this report.