Proposed Wisconsin Legislation May Expand Charter Schools, Reduce Teacher Licensing Requirements

Two last-minute additions to a bill in the Wisconsin state legislature that would reduce funding to universities would also have significant impact on K-12 education.

Last-minute additions to a bill that would cut funding to Wisconsin state universities would allow the licensing of charter schools throughout Wisconsin and reduce the requirements for being licensed as a teacher in the state’s public schools.

The two provisions were added to the bill to reduce funding to Wisconsin universities by $250 million in a motion made during a meeting of a Wisconsin Legislative Joint Finance Committee held May 29. The highly controversial omnibus funding bill still must be approved in votes, probably the week of June 1, by both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

If passed as is, the bill would give the authority to approve charter schools to a wide range of agencies, depending on their location in the state. At the moment, Wisconsin state law only allows a limited number of private charter schools in the Milwaukee area.

The new law would give the authority to approve charter schools to a new Office of Educational Opportunity that would be operated by the University of Wisconsin system, the Waukesha County executive, colleges run by the state’s Indian tribes and a technical college district board in the southwestern part of the state.

The bill would also divert the average per-pupil state funding of $7,200 for K-8 schools and $7,800 for high schools from school districts to the charter schools for those students who transfer to them. A memo prepared by the Democratic members of the state legislature claimed the changes would mean a reduction of $800 million in state funding to public school districts over the next 10 years. However, Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, called the memo “speculative.”

The second controversial provision of the funding bill would give school administrators the authority to hire teachers that have bachelor’s degrees but no state teaching license to teach English, math, social studies or science in the sixth through 12th grades. It would give those administrators the authority to hire anyone they wish – regardless of whether they have a license or degree – to teach non-core academic subjects.

The legislator who introduced the bill, Republican State Rep. Mary Czaja, said it was part of an effort to help rural school districts that may have trouble attracting qualified teachers. However, in a statement, State Superintendent Tony Evers said the move would make all teacher licensing standards irrelevant.

“It essentially takes the licensing system out of the state’s hands and puts in in 424 school districts’ hands,” Evers said.

The two proposals, along with many others, are part of Walker’s campaign to reduce university funding and eliminate tenure for professors. During last week’s debates in the state legislature, Walker was in New Hampshire preparing for what is expected to be an imminent announcement that he is running for the Republican nomination for president.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.