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Failing Schools Eligible for Charter and Private Takeover Under Wisconsin Plan

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By Denisa R. Superville. Cross-posted from the District Dossier blog.

If a school overhaul plan in the Wisconsin legislature eventually passes, Milwaukee's lowest-performing schools could be run by charter and voucher schools. 

The plan, which passed the legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday, would apply to school districts with at least 15,000 students; rank among the state's lowest-performing for two years under Wisconsin's state accountability system; and receive transportation aid for minority students, according to the Associated Press.

Under that criteria, Milwaukee fits the bill. But the proposal could also apply to Madison and Racine if those districts' student performance were to drop for two years, according to the Associated Press. Another district, Wausau, receives transportation aid from the state, but with only 8,600 students, it is unlikely that it would qualify for state takeover under the plan, the AP reports.

Under the proposal, the Milwaukee County executive would appoint a commissioner to take over some of the worst-performing schools in the district. The staff in those schools would be fired and would have to reapply for their jobs. The schools could also be converted into non-religious private schools and charter schools, according to the AP.

Up to three schools would be designated for takeover in the first two years. After that as many as five schools could be added annually, according to the AP.

The movement among state governors and legislatures to take over struggling schools as a solution to improving student achievement has been gaining steam of late. Many of those efforts are modeled on Louisiana's Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Tennessee runs the Achievement School District, in which the state is in charge of some of the worst-performing schools in individual school districts. Indiana has a similar law. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a measure last month to create a New Orleans'-like Recovery School District in which the state would take over struggling schools and transfer the management and operations to charter management organizations. The Georgia measure will go to voters in November 2016.  In Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval is also moving along with his plan to create a state-run district for the state's lowest-performing schools, the majority of which are located in the Clark County school system.     

Republican supporters of the Wisconsin proposal portray it as a sweeping effort to effect a dramatic turnaround of chronically-failing schools in a district where 55 schools did not meet expectations on the state's most recent report card, according to the AP. Democrats, on the other hand, argue that the plan neglects to recognize some of the underlying factors for why students may perform poorly, and would shift more funds away from the city's public schools. 

Darienne Driver, the superintendent of the 78,000-student Milwaukee school system, and school board president Michael Bonds told the Associated Press that the measure would weaken the city's public schools.

"The so-called 'turnaround plan' forced on Milwaukee Public Schools is not a plan to improve academic outcomes for students; its focus is on finding ways to put public school buildings into the hands of charter and voucher schools," they said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

The proposal is expected to come up for debate in June, according to the AP.

Related stories:

Charter Operators Pull Back From Memphis Turnaround Effort

Louisiana Charter School Oversight is Flawed, Report Contends


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