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State-Run District Proposed to Run Milwaukee Schools

Wisconsin may become home to a state-run district modeled after Louisiana's Recovery School District.

That means the state could take over low-performing schools and either turn them over to charter operators or allow school leaders more flexibility in staffing and other decisions than is typically the case with district-run schools, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports.

Representatives from the state's department of education and the government of the city of Milwaukee gathered to discuss such the idea earlier this week. They heard presentations from Patrick Dobard, the CEO of Louisiana's Recovery School District, or RSD, and Elliott Smalley, the chief of staff of Tennessee's iteration of the idea, the Achievement School District, or ASD, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin's state legislature has not considered or passed the legislation that would be necessary to create such a district, but according to the Journal Sentinel, two state senators were at the presentations last week.

The idea of creating state-run school districts like the RSD has gained currency in recent years. Some state officials see it as a way to intervene in low-performing schools without taking over entire school districts. New Jersey and Texas have also considered creating similar districts.

But the creation of state-run districts often has been accompanied by an outcry from community members who disapprove of removing schools from the governance of an elected school board and introducing new charter schools.

For instance, Virginia's Opportunity Educational Institution, or OEI, is not even running schools yet but is the subject of a new lawsuit alleging that the state-run district is unconstitutional. Michigan also runs a district that operates schools in Detroit, called the Education Achievement Authority, or EAA, which attracted its fair share of controversy last year.

Louisiana's RSD, created in 2003, is the only state-run district that's been around long enough to have a real track record. It has been the subject of high praise and harsh criticism: Many of the schools it has turned over to charter operators are faring dramatically better on state tests and are held up as models, but some schools it directly oversees have among the lowest scores in the state.

(A sidenote: EAA, OEI, RSD, ASD...Are the three-letter acronyms a requirement for these state-run districts? Someone should make sure the Wisconsin legislators are apprised so they can start brainstorming...)

For more background, here's an article about the first states that considered replicating Louisiana's model.

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