Making Wisconsin The Heart of the American Dream

The letter can be found here and below:

Dr. Miguel Cardona
Secretary of Education
US Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202 

RE: Docket ID ED-2022-OESE-0006 

To Secretary Cardona: 

For 15 years, there was peace in Washington on the matter of charter schools. Democrats and  Republicans, parents and policymakers, and voters of every race and income level agreed: put  kids first, no matter what. As a result, innovative charter schools flourished, especially in areas  anxious for a fresh start. 

We at the Institute for Reforming Government – based in Wisconsin, the birthplace of school  choice – believe that your March 14 proposed rule changes to Charter School Program funding shatter that bipartisan agreement and make parents bystanders in their children’s education.1 

As a leading Wisconsin policy organization for efficient education, workforce, healthcare, and  budget solutions, we oppose your roll of red tape. Specifically, we object to: 

  • requirements that counteract your ability to “increase the number of high-quality charter  schools” in order to “improve the United States education system.”2
  • redundant safeguards on community impact. 
  • unnecessary federal government intrusion into state, district, and parent matters. All will limit the charter possibilities available to children. 

To begin, you propose grant bonus points for any charter school that collaborates with its home  district. Though some districts would happily share busses and training programs with new  charters, many low-performing districts actively combat them as threats. Collaboration is  impossible, and, in the race for scarce federal dollars, this would put charters last in line in the  places that need them most. Milwaukee Excellence, one of just two majority-Black public  schools rated five stars on state report cards,3 had expansion approved and then canceled by  Milwaukee Public Schools multiple times over three years.4 After receiving a 2021 CSP grant,5 they could finally afford a new building to deliver excellent results.6 Tenor, a four-star  Milwaukee high school that gets students both high school and technical college degrees by  graduation,7 could only afford its home after earning a 2019 grant.8 Your changes would stamp  out success stories like these. In the choice between school board harmony and lives  transformed, you should come down on the side of kids. 

Additionally, you would require grant-seeking charter schools to justify their existence through a  superfluous community impact report. A successful recipient would likely take overflow from a district overwhelmed by high enrollment, maintain the district’s diversity, and improve on district test scores. Those are all good reasons to open a new school, but ignore what charter  schools do best: innovate. Wisconsin awarded 2021 CSP grants to two incredible startup  schools.9 Kaehkēnawapahtāēq will be a Menominee immersion school in the rural northeast that  gives a vital culture new life. The Virtual Academy of Agriscience and Technology will serve  small town southeastern Wisconsin, increasing access to specialized trade programs without  requiring exhausting round trips to distant schools. Those new schools may very well be more  racially and economically uniform than their home districts, and small districts feel every student  who switches schools. Yet, the parents and their districts created these options because they will  fill a far more vital need. 

Finally, you may be thinking, “Couldn’t we tweak the rules to foster more great schools like  those?” That is exactly the point. Your rule creates a solution to something states and families  have already solved. No Washington grant reader, however talented, will understand a  community better than the people living in it. Concord between parents and educators to try  something new for kids’ futures is a hallowed thing. Stacking more and more people between  families and the school of their dreams can only make those dreams harder to realize. That is not  something IRG nor the Wisconsinites we represent can support. 

We do value your lifetime of service and appreciate the ability to provide comment. We request  that you do not pursue the proposed changes and instead revert to the previous, bipartisan  guidance. 

Families first, 

CJ Szafir 

President
Institute for Reforming Government             

1 US Department of Education. 87 FR 14197. 2022. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/03/14/2022- 05463/proposed-priorities-requirements-definitions-and-selection-criteria-expanding-opportunity-through
2 20 USC § 7221. 2015. https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:20%20section:7221%20edition:prelim) 2 20 USC § 7221. 2015. https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:20%20section:7221%20edition:prelim)
3 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “Accountability Report Cards.” 2021. https://apps2.dpi.wi.gov/reportcards
4 Teddy Nykiel. “After MPS Lease Falls Through, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School Risks Starting Another  School Year Virtually.” Milwaukee Business Journal. 2021. https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2021/07/31/mps-lease-milwaukee-excellence-charter-school.html
5 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “DPI Awards $13.5 Million to Wisconsin Charter Schools.” 2021. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/parental-education-options/Charter-Schools/dpinr2021-34.pdf
6 Rory Linnane. “Milwaukee Excellence Signs Four-Year Lease for High School in Vacant MPS Building.”  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2022. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2022/02/17/milwaukee excellence-signs-four-year-lease-vacant-mps-building/6832218001
7 Tom Daykin. “Charter School Tenor High School Will Expand Its Operations into Downtown’s Former Milwaukee  Journal Sentinel Complex.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2021. https://www.jsonline.com/story/money/real estate/commercial/2021/03/25/tenor-high-school-expanding-former-milwaukee-journal-sentinel-site/6999972002
8 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “DPI Awards $7 million to 11 New and Expanding Charter Schools.” 2019. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/parental-education-options/Charter-Schools/dpinr2019-38.pdf
9 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “DPI Awards $13.5 Million to Wisconsin Charter Schools.” 2021.  https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/parental-education-options/Charter-Schools/dpinr2021-34.pdf