Many of the things that we publish on RightWisconsin are necessarily doom and gloom. Particularly in the realm of school choice, we are fighting a constant battle against entrenched interests that want to force kids to remain in schools that may not be meeting their needs. 

But today, it is time for a positive story. Last week, it was reported that two independent charter schools are set to open in Madison for the next school year.

Both schools were previously rejected by the Madison School Board. But both schools have found new hope through the Office of Educational Opportunity (OEO), the authority created in 2016 to authorize charters in Milwaukee and Madison. These are the first two schools that appear ready to come to fruition under the OEO.

When it comes to poor performing Wisconsin schools, Milwaukee Public Schools generally receives the brunt of the attention. However, the Madison Metropolitan School District is a school district that is also in desperate need of educational options, particularly for its African American and Hispanic students.  While 57 percent of white students in Madison scored proficient or above on the most recent Forward Exam in English, only 10.4 percent of African American students reached this level. Among Hispanics, the disparity is almost as great with only 17.4 percent of students achieving proficiency. The achievement gap in math is just as woeful.

For far too long, students in Madison have been shut out of the opportunities that school choice provides to other parts of the state. Research that we have conducted recently shows that independent charter schools in Milwaukee significantly outperform their public school peers. Together with non-instrumentality charters and private voucher schools, these schools represent the top performers in Milwaukee. 

Despite this and other evidence of the positive impact of charter schools, the Madison Unified School Board has generally opposed educational choice. Perhaps due to the continued power of the teachers unions in the district even after Act 10, the school district has regularly rejected charter proposals, including a previous ambitious proposal by Kaleem Caire.

Kaleem Caire’s new proposed school, one of two mentioned in the report, has a focus on reaching out to those Madison students most in need of a leg up. The former President of the Madison Urban League and Black Alliance for Educational Options, Caire has dedicated his life to helping lift people out of poverty through educational choice. It is encouraging that his vision will finally have an opportunity to be realized.

Charter schools in Madison represent a significant step forward for the school choice movement in Wisconsin. Not only has school choice moved beyond Milwaukee, but it has reached the very doorstep of the anti-school choice establishment. It is vital that these Madison charter schools be given every opportunity possible for success, as they can stand as a symbol for what happens when the yoke of the teachers union and district regulations are removed so that innovation can flourish. Such a success may not convert the most hardened school choice opponents, but it will make it more difficult for them to spread lies about school choice when the counterevidence is right in front of their eyes.

Dr. Will Flanders is the Research Director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.