State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, will face challenger Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, in a recall election this summer for Wisconsin’s 14th Senate District.
In the second of a two-part series on public education, the two candidates discuss charter schools and open enrollment.
Olsen is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 22, which would expand charter schools in Wisconsin. It would also change the way they are funded.
First established in 1993, there are now more than 200 charter schools in Wisconsin. Olsen’s bill seeks to eliminate caps on the number of charter schools.
Charter schools operate independently of local school boards. The goals of having charter schools are to encourage innovation and flexibility in teaching methods, improve public schools through competition for pupil enrollment, and offer more options to students and their parents.
Locally, the school districts of Waupaca, Weyauwega-Fremont, Iola-Scandinavia and Manawa are working with the Department of Health and Human Services and CESA 5 to operate the Waupaca County Charter School. Located in Weyauwega, the charter school serves at-risk students between the ages of 12 and 16. In addition to core academic subjects, the school offers a highly structured environment and focuses on helping students understand the consequences of their behavior.
The Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) estimated that SB 22 would reduce state funding for charter schools by at least $21 million during the 2011-13 biennial budget.
“This reduction would be made up for at the local level by property tax increases,” the DOA report said.
While some districts would be able to compensate for lost revenues by increasing property taxes, other districts could see significant decreases in their revenues.
School revenues come from state aid and local property taxes. Each school district has a cap on how much it can collect in revenues. That cap and the amount a district receives in state aid are determined by the number of students enrolled in the district and the total property values in the district. If the number of students enrolled in a district goes down, then the property value per student goes up and the amount of state aid to the district goes down.
“More pupils enrolling in independent charter schools may drive increased property taxes and lower revenue limits in districts,” the report concluded.
Senate Bill 22 seeks to expand charter schools in Wisconsin. How do you think this bill will affect the quality of public education in Wisconsin? How do you think SB 22 will affect local school districts and taxpayers?
Olsen: I am fortunate to chair the Senate Education Committee, which had a hearing on Senate Bill 22.
After listening to 10 hours of testimony from the public, I took their concerns and am working with the Wisconsin School Board Association, the School Administrators Association and the Charter School Association to come up with an improved version of the bill. This version will give students more opportunities to receive a high-quality education that will better meet their learning needs.
The new version of the bill will have no affect on district taxpayers and local school districts will have the right of first refusal for any new charter in their district.
All charter schools in Wisconsin are pubic schools, and anytime we can give more opportunities for quality education we improve the quality of public schools throughout Wisconsin.
One of the goals for charter schools is to be an incubator for new and innovative educational practices that can be adopted by the traditional public schools so that all children will benefit. This bill does not expand virtual schools.
Clark: Senate Bill 22 will create a dramatic expansion of a statewide private school system that will be fully funded by taxpayers, but will be unaccountable to voters.
Private charter schools created under this bill will operate independently of public schools and elected school boards. The creation of an unlimited number of private schools statewide will increase the tax burden for property owners within every school district where they are created. They will contribute to the decline of public schools by causing declining enrollment and taking resources directly away from every school at a time when budgets are already very tough.
Meanwhile, the minimal measures of performance and teaching standards at private charter schools will not even allow comparison of outcomes or student performance, making it impossible for taxpayers to evaluate the benefits or costs of spending millions of public dollars to create a private school network.
If enacted, SB 22 would accelerate the dismantling of public schools throughout Wisconsin, and its effects would be felt most painfully in rural school districts.
Olsen has authored a bill, SB 2, that would expand open enrollment.
Under current law, parents who want to enroll their children into a school outside of their home district have about three weeks in February to apply for a fall transfer.
Olsen has proposed expanding the period for open enrollment applications from early February to late April.
The bill would also allow year-round exceptions to the open enrollment period for homelessness, custody issues, bullying or families with military orders.
What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of expanding open enrollments as proposed in SB 2?
Clark: There are clearly circumstances where it makes sense for a student to transfer to another district through limited open enrollment. Some provisions of SB 2 address those needs and are reasonable.
However, throwing the door open for any student to leave a school at any time for any reason is not realistic and may result in competition to recruit students all year long, which is not in the best interests of students.
I would support this bill with amendments that limit its scope and remove the open-ended transfer of students without the approval of all parties involved.
Olsen: I am the author of Senate Bill 2. This bill expands the time period for a student to apply to attend a school in another district that is not their resident district.
The current law only allows three weeks in February for applications to be submitted.
This bill expands the application period to three months for attendance in the following year.
The advantage of this bill is that it gives parents a longer period to make this important decision on where they would like their children to attend school. It also allows students to transfer schools in midyear for extenuating circumstances such as harassment, repeated bullying, families moving because of military order, homelessness, court orders, custody agreement, foster home placement or the student has been the victim of a violent crime.
The bill will require school districts in January to determine the openings that they may have in each class and school for the following year. This will provide parents with the information needed regarding openings in the class and school that they would like their children to attend.
State law requires that school districts give nonrenewal notices to their teachers in the spring. Schools may not know student enrollment numbers until summer, which could be a disadvantage.