MADISON — In a highly competitive round of grant applications, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction approved 26 awards totaling more than $17 million to plan, open, or expand charter schools in the state.
The department received 45 grant applications, requesting $29.6 million, about $12 million more than was available for the first year of charter subgrant funding. In October 2017, the state won a $95 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support charter activities over the next five years. In this first round of grants for the 2018‑19 school year, 10 charter schools received planning and implementation grants totaling $7.6 million to support planning activities for public charter schools that will open in the fall of 2019, another 10 schools received implementation grants totaling $6 million for schools that have recently opened or will open this fall, and six schools received grants totaling nearly $3.8 million to expand existing, high-quality public charter schools. Grant activities will span two to five years depending on the grant award.
Grant priorities focused on the growth of high-quality charter schools, especially those that increase access to alternative public school models and improve academic outcomes for educationally disadvantaged secondary (grades six through 12) students. High-quality charter schools:
- show evidence of strong academic results, which may include student academic growth;
- operate in a safe and fiscally appropriate manner that meets statutory and regulatory requirements; and
- demonstrate success in significantly increasing student academic achievement, including graduation rates for all students and for each subgroup of students served by the school.
Additionally, grant evaluators considered applications that would work to promote best practices and collaboration between charter schools and other schools in the state. The structure of the state’s subgrant awards differs from past years in its focus on providing expanded charter opportunities to educationally disadvantaged students in an effort to close gaps.
Part of Wisconsin’s federal grant will support the Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, developed to offer statewide technical assistance and support to both charter and traditional public schools, charter governing boards, and authorizers. Housed within Cooperative Educational Service Agency 9, the center serves as the point of contact for individuals or organizations around charter school development.
During the 2017-18 school year, Wisconsin had 234 charter schools, serving more than 42,000 students, placing the state near the top of the nation in terms of charter schools opportunities per capita. Wisconsin’s 2017-18 charter schools received their charters from 98 of the state’s 422 school districts and three independent authorizers. Grant awards for 2018-19 are going to 26 charter schools authorized by 21 authorizers, seven of which are new authorizers that do not currently have any operating charter schools.
All public school districts in the state can authorize charter schools. In addition, the most recent biennial budget expanded the number of independent authorizers to include any technical college district board and any chancellor in the University of Wisconsin System, bringing the total number of entities in the state that can authorize charter schools to over 450. Applications for the second round of competitive charter school grants for the 2019-20 school year, totaling approximately $17 million, will open in late fall or early winter.