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State Law Forces Milwaukee to Put Vacant Schools Up for Sale

The Milwaukee school system will put all its vacant and surplus buildings on the market this fall, and only charter school and private school operators will be allowed to submit bids for them, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.

Historically, the district has been reluctant to sell the facilities to potential competitors that could siphon off its students—and state funding. But a new Wisconsin state law is forcing the district's hand.

The legislation's authors said they want "independent school operators to have more access to underused public buildings," the newspaper reported.

A report from the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty, which supports the legislation, said the state needed to intervene because Milwaukee's empty schools have sat unused for an average of seven years, and the district played shell games by shuffling buildings "on and off the market."

Though Milwaukee remains the state's largest school system with roughly 78,000 students, enrollment has hit a downturn in the past decade, leaving the district with more vacant and underutilized buildings as families choose other education options, including charter and private schools.

Milwaukee school leaders deny claims that they've been hoarding unused properties to stifle potential competitors. The Journal Sentinel reported that the administration "has become more active in recent years, repurposing, selling or leasing" its underutilized buildings.

The legislation is part of the broader Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, which will put Milwaukee County in charge of some of the district's lowest-performing schools. A Milwaukee schools spokesman told the newspaper that the district will transfer 10 schools that leaders have identified as surplus.

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