This week marked National Charter School Week with schools, groups, and students (and even President Donald Trump) celebrating how charter schools offer millions of families access to high performing educational options. In Wisconsin, we have plenty to celebrate. Here’s what you need to know:

So what’s a charter school and what kind of options do parents have access to?

Charter schools are public schools with significantly less red tape than their traditional public school peers. Wisconsin has several types with the most common type of charter school is a school authorized by the school district.

  • “Instrumentality” charter schools are part of the traditional school district, providing an alternative option for students or a unique perspective to the district. For example, according to DPI date, Tesla Engineering Charter School is a high performing instrumentality charter school authorized by the Appleton Area School District.
  • In Milwaukee, there are also several charter schools that are authorized by the district but have some separation between them and the district. These are called non-instrumentality” charters. For example, these charter schools have their own governing boards and hire their own teachers. Milwaukee Excellence, a “non-instrumentality charter” authorized by MPS, is the highest performing school in the City of Milwaukee.
  • Milwaukee also has a high percentage of “independent” charter schools, schools that are authorized by a governmental entity that is not a school district. For example, these schools are authorized by the UW-Milwaukee or by the City of Milwaukee’s Common Council. Schools like Rocketship, with two campuses in the north and south neighborhoods of Milwaukee, are schools serving vulnerable populations of students and helping students achieve academic success. Independent charter schools are beginning to expand outside of Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin-System Office of Educational Opportunity started authorizing charter schools in the Madison area. UW-Parkside also authorized a charter within its community.

But does the charter school model work?

According to the data from most recent state report card, charter schools are some of the highest performing schools in the state. WILL research found that in Milwaukee, both independent and non-instrumentality charter schools exceeded MPS in student proficiency in math and English.

But these charter schools should be celebrated for more than just their academic performance. These schools embrace their students and families, creating a community of support for overall student success. For example, Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy celebrated their 2019 high school senior’s college signing day with 100% college acceptance and over $2.5 million dollars earned in scholarship funds.

Carmen Schools of Science and Technology provide a unique track for college and career readiness through their student internship program. The Carmen network of high performing charter schools serves over 1,800 students from elementary to high school at five campuses across Milwaukee.

In Madison, One City Expeditionary Elementary School is a charter school authorized by the Office of Educational Opportunity focused on serving a diverse population of elementary students by providing Expeditionary Learning curriculum and a longer school day. Students are provided with play-based and project-based education.

Okay. I’m a supporter of charter schools — what can I do to help?

If you believe in charter schools, then it’s time to start asking why Wisconsin doesn’t have more. Data shows that independent and non-instrumentality charter schools perform better than their school district peers. But in large urban districts like Racine and Madison, we have just a mere handful of charter schools. Only 21% of school districts in the state have any type of charter school. Outside of Milwaukee, there are only four independent charters schools with one charter school in Racine, one in Waukesha and two in Madison.

None of this is by accident. There are serious barriers to growth for charter schools (exemplified by Wisconsin’s consistent poor ranking in charter school laws). Our Roadmap has offered policymakers solutions on access to facilities, funding, and additional authorizers.

As National Charter School Week 2020 comes to a close, let’s hope that these challenges will be addressed before next year’s charter school week.

Libby Sobic is the Director of Education Policy for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.