It was déjà vu all over again last week in Madison.
In July, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a paper showing 35 states made policy improvements between January 2010 and December 2012 that resulted in increases in their scores on the National Alliance’s annual state charter law rankings report. Only seven states have not made policy improvements; one of them is my home state of Wisconsin, whose law is currently ranked #37 (out of 43) – one of the weakest in the country.
The stalemate in Wisconsin hasn’t been for lack of trying. In 2011, a coalition of national, state, and local organizations (including the National Alliance) worked with a bipartisan group of legislators to craft legislation that would have significantly overhauled the state’s law. Then, Governor Scott Walker decided to tackle public sector collective bargaining. Not only did our Democratic supporters leave the state, they also pulled their support for our bill. Needless to say, in the midst of the battle over collective bargaining, and the ensuing recall elections, our bill stalled and died.
This year, that same coalition worked with Governor Walker to include much of what was in the 2011 bill in his budget. In the end-of-session budget negotiations, however, charters got caught in the crossfire between traditional public school supporters and voucher supporters, and most of the charter provisions were stripped out of the budget bill, with the governor and key legislators pledging that the legislature would take them up in a separate bill this fall.
That’s how I ended up back in Madison last week, testifying at a Senate Education Committee hearing on a charter school law reform bill. Unlike the 2011 bill and the governor’s budget bill this year, this proposed legislation would only make modest improvements to the state’s charter school law, such as the expansion of non-district authorizers statewide.
While these improvements are necessary, there’s much more that needs to be done. Most critically, it needs to ensure that all types of charter schools have the flexibility that is at the heart of the charter bargain, ensure that all types of authorizers hold charters accountable for results, and ensure equitable operational, categorical, transportation, and facilities funding for public charter school students.
Let’s hope the third time is the charm. Wisconsin students who need a better public school option need it to be.
Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools