Today, Governor Walker announced the expansion of the school choice program, as well as a variety of innovative education initiatives, to give parents and students legitimate alternatives to underperforming schools.
"Every child, regardless of their zip code, deserves access to a great education," said Governor Walker. "While it is our goal to help struggling schools succeed, we need to make sure students and parents can choose the best option and make sure each child receives a truly great education."
Wisconsin has the nation's oldest school voucher program, one of the oldest charter school laws, and one of the most comprehensive public school open enrollment programs. School choice is working in Wisconsin and Governor Walker's budget will include initiatives to expand choice programs around the state.
Among the choice programs and initiatives funded in Governor Walker's budget are:
· Wisconsin Parental Choice Program: Open the choice program to school districts with at least two underperforming schools (those receiving school report card grades of "fails to meet expectations" or "meets few expectations"), at least 4,000 students, and at least 20 students intending to participate in the program. This expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2014 and 1,000 students statewide for fiscal year 2015. Eligibility requirements for students would be similar to current choice program eligibility requirements.
· Charter School Oversight Board: The board will enable the further development of the independent charter school system, while creating a new level of accountability for all levels of the system and helping to preserve local control.
o The budget creates a charter school oversight board to manage the authorization of local, independent charter school authorizers.
o New local authorizers must be nonprofit, nonsectarian entities or groups of such entities.
o While charter schools can be built physically anywhere, only students in school districts with at least 4,000 students and schools with a "D" or "F" on their report card (the same criteria as choice) will be able attend without the possibility of a district veto. Students in smaller or higher performing districts will need district permission to attend an independent charter.
o When applying to the board, applicant entities must include detailed information on the financial and educational viability of the school to ensure accountability. The authorizer would be responsible for ensuring performance targets are set and met.
o On an ongoing basis, authorizers are required to approve only high-quality school applications, monitor performance, and provide annual reports regarding performance.
· Course Options: Expand the part-time open enrollment program by permitting pupils to take up to two courses from a pool of education providers including public (traditional or virtual) K-12 schools, University of Wisconsin institutions, technical colleges, and other Department of Public Instruction (DPI) approved non-profits. This innovative program will allow K-12 students to take any course aligned with their Academic and Career Plan to move them closer to graduation. Students, especially those in rural areas, will now have access to a variety of foreign languages and rigorous AP classes, which they cannot currently access. In addition, it will give students options to take courses with a different approach to a course they are struggling in.
· Special Needs Scholarship: Further enhance the ability of families to choose alternative education options by creating a Special Needs Scholarship Program, through which a child with special needs may receive a state-funded scholarship to attend the school of his or her choice.
· Home Schooled Students: The budget will eliminate grade and residency restrictions on the ability of homeschooled pupils to take courses in a school district. This will expand traditional and virtual options to these students, while allowing school districts to get additional credit (0.25 FTE per course) towards their enrollment counts.
· Moving Towards Funding Parity: In an effort to move towards greater funding equity among all education sectors, Governor Walker will add funding to each sector. The charter school per pupil payment is increased by 1 percent in each year, from $7,775 in the current year to $7,852 for the 2013-14 school year and $7,931 in the 2014-15 school year. Payments to students in choice programs are also increased from $6,442 to $7,050 for K-8 schools and $7,856 for high schools beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the first increase since 2009-10.