What is a Charter School?

Public charter schools are independent, tuition free public schools that are allowed to be more innovative, yet provide a structured, disciplined learning environment and are held accountable for improved student achievement.

Wisconsin’s charter schools provide a option in education for families and help Wisconsin's public school system improve the quality of education for ALL students with innovative curriculums.

How well do you know Charter Schools? Did you know they educate over 30,000 students in Wisconsin with that number increasing every year? 

An Overview of Charter Schools

Charter Schools are:

Public: Wisconsin Charter Schools are tuition free, non-religious, public schools open to all Wisconsin’s students. They provide a high quality alternative to the traditional public school system.

Autonomous: Each individual charter school has the autonomy to choose an educational program that will enhance student engagement and achievement. Autonomy also means teachers have more flexibility to meet individual students’ needs.

Accountable: Charter schools are held to a high level of accountability. While charter schools are free from many state and local requirements, all charter schools must take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam - the annual standardized test. Additional accountability measures are listed in every charter school’s contract. If a charter school fails to meet the requirements of their charter, it will be closed.

FAQ About Charter Schools

What are charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools that are tuition-free and give parents and families a choice for education.

Are Charter Schools private? Can they be?
No, all Wisconsin charter schools are and must be public schools. They are all tuition-free.

Who can attend charter schools?
Wisconsin’s charter schools are open to all children in the state. Some charter schools are at capacity and have waiting lists; in these situations a lottery system is used to determine which students can attend.

In cases where a student wishes to cross district lines to attend a charter school, district approvals may be required.

How are charter schools different from other public schools in the state?
Wisconsin’s charter schools exist under a “contract” (or “charter”) with an authoritative public body (such as a school board). This contract holds schools (including students, teachers, and parents) accountable for improving student achievement.

Do Charter Schools provide a benefit to students who do not attend them?
Charter Schools bring forward-thinking curriculums to our state’s children and are “innovation labs” within existing school district budgets. Charter Schools serve as a “testing ground” for these new curriculums, and as they are modified and developed into successful models, these curriculums can be rolled out to conventional (non-charter) schools.

In the long-run, all Wisconsin students will benefit from the innovative methods found in the state’s Charter Schools.

How do Charter Schools benefit Wisconsin?
In addition to serving as a testing ground for innovative curriculums that can be rolled out to all public schools across the state, Wisconsin’s Charter Schools support the public school systems and local communities in which they are located, and provide other long-term benefits to our state.

Are Wisconsin Charter Schools expensive?
Since charter schools are public schools, the money that they receive comes from the same source of funding for all public education. The money is simply moved from one provider of public education (the district), to another (the charter school). Charter schools often bring new resources into a community’s public school system through foundation, state, and federal government grants.

How are teachers impacted by Charter Schools?
Most Charter Schools in Wisconsin are part of their school districts, and these teachers are employees of the district and retain all of their benefits. In the select areas of the state where Charter Schools do not remain a part of their school district, teachers are employees of the Charter School with any negotiated benefits.

What is the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association and what does it do?
The Wisconsin Charter Schools Association (WCSA) is a statewide voluntary membership organization of charter public schools and friends of charter public schools.

WCSA supports Wisconsin’s charter schools with resources to help these member schools succeed with their “charter.” The WCSA also works to improve the public’s awareness of charter schools and the benefits these schools bring to the state as a whole, and works on the ever-evolving legislative issues surrounding education in our state.