Charter Schools Movement State Timeline
Wisconsin charter schools . . .
First charter law in Wisconsin is enacted. Wisconsin’s charter law was predated by Minnesota (1991) and California (1992), but soon followed as 1 of 6 that enacted laws in 1993. The original law permitted 10 school districts to charter only 2 schools each, with a state wide cap of 20 schools.
With the passing of the 1993 law, Stevens Point Area School Board authorized Wisconsin’s first charter, McKinley Center, in 1994. 12 more quickly followed.
As the law would change, 1995 eliminated the statewide cap on charters and extended authorizing powers to all school boards in the state.
Under Act 27, instituted in 1997, a new source of authorizers were added to the charter law. The Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Technical College (MATC) District Board and the Milwaukee Area would all be authorized or contracted to operate a charter school in Wisconsin.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) is established. Later, in 2009, Act 28 would require schools looking to charter to consider the principals and standards set by the NACSA.
Chancellor of UW-Parkside is added to the list of approved authorizers.
The 2002-2003 school year, Wisconsin opened its first virtual charter school. Wisconsin Connections Academy was chartered by the Appleton Area School District, followed by more virtual charters in subsequent years.
Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction applied and was rewarded with a 86 million dollar federal grant to support the “...development and implementation of new charter schools and the dissemination of best practices of current charter schools.” With this money, the Wisconsin Charter School Program planned to increase the number of charters, improve graduation rates, improve math and reading scores, and overall create meaningful charters.
“In 2006, the law was changed again to allow authorizers to enter into a contract with a charter school that enrolls or offers limited courses to one sex, provided that a comparable school or course is available to the opposite sex.”
In 2007, Wisconsin’s virtual charter schools were found to be violating state education laws in 3 key areas:
- Schools districts are not allowed to operate charters outside of their own districts.
- Students who choose open enrollment, must attend a school in the district that they open-enroll.
- The primary teacher for a virtual charter student was the student’s parent, violating the rule that teachers must be state certified.
Under Act 222, virtual charter schools were officially regulated within the laws of charter schools and open enrollment.
School districts were authorized to contract with federally recognized American Indian tribes to operate charter schools. Such a schools must be located within the chartering school district or within the boundaries of the tribe's reservation.
Though the state had numerous authorizers, prior to 2015 they faced many restrictions. Some were bound by geographical location or limited to a number of charters in a district. 2015 saw the passing of Act 55, which lifted many of these restrictions. In fact, the list of authorizers continued to grow, adding: the Office of Educational Opportunity (OEO) in the UW System; the Gateway Technical College District Board; the College of Menominee Nation; the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College; and the County Executive of Waukesha County.
The are restrictions for the College of Menominee Nation; the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College. Collectively they cannot charter more than 6 schools at a time.
For the 2015-2016 school year, 35 virtual charter schools operate, serving an estimated 6,300 students.
All remaining UW Chancellors and all remaining Technical College District Boards are added to the list of approved authorizers.
For the 2019-2020 school year, 236 charter schools were open, with enrollment approaching 44,700 students, of which 48 virtual charter schools operated, enrolling an estimated 8,600 students.
The state of Wisconsin approves historic increases in per pupil funding to Wisconsin charter schools, erasing significant portions of the funding inequity relative to traditional public schools that have challenged Wisconsin charter
For the 2022-2023 school year, Wisconsin serves 239 charter schools with 48,982 students, including 62 virtual schools.