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Wisconsin’s latest charter school haul much smaller than past years

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(The Center Square) – Wisconsin is getting millions of dollars from the federal government to grow charter schools in the state, but the haul for 2024 is tens-of-millions of dollars less than in the past.

The Department of Public Instruction this week announced an $11.4 million grant to either open or expand charter schools across the state.

“The program provides awards for three purposes: planning and implementation subgrants for charter schools opening in fall 2025, implementation subgrants for charter schools that recently opened or will open in 2024, and subgrants to aid the expansion of existing high-quality charter schools,” DPI said in a statement. “The state’s program prioritizes quality schools serving educationally disadvantaged students.”

Quinton Klabon, senior research director with the Institute for Reforming Government, said it is important DPI support charter schools in Wisconsin.

“Charter schools are important for multiple reasons. First, as school districts struggle with declining enrollment, offering specialized options can attract and retain students. Second, the gold-standard CREDO study showed that charter schools are providing better results for students compared to their peers,” Klabon told The Center Square. “However, Wisconsin’s charter schools rank in the middle of the pack nationally, much like our traditional public schools.”

Klabon said there is plenty of room for improvement among Wisconsin’s charter schools.

But that will be a bit more difficult with this latest round of federal funding, because there is a lot less of it.

“This year, only 12 schools received a total of $11.4 million due to lower funding,” Klabon explained. “In 2017, we won $95 million. In 2023, we only won $58 million.”

Klabon said the Biden administration is “not full steam ahead in Washington, hence the lower funding.”

Still, Klabon said there are some exciting opportunities for charters in Wisconsin under this round of federal funding.

“Appleton Area School District is getting Hmong American Immersion School, the second of its kind in Wisconsin. One-third of Appleton’s schools are charters, and it’s one of the reasons their results are so impressive. Students can attend the specialized school that fits them best, including Spanish immersion, Montessori, manufacturing, classical, environmental, African cultural, arts, and engineering,” Klabon said. “Chippewa Falls will soon have a classical school, a growing trend in private and charter schools in Wisconsin.”

Klabon said the next step is to get even more buy-in to fully supporting charter schools in Wisconsin.

“We need more student-centered entrepreneurs and funders to step up to found great, new schools. We need to find ways, including through the state budget, to expand our highest-performing charters so that more kids can get an excellent education,” Klabon explained. “We need our federal legislators to protect and expand federal charter school grants in upcoming budgets to support new and growing schools. And we need the universities and school districts who created these charter schools to hold them to a high standard and give them the tools to succeed.”

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