Private schools in the state's parental choice programs participate in a multi-layered accountability system that closes low-performing schools, provides fiscal and academic transparency, and most importantly creates an environment conducive to school quality and improvement. Two pieces of legislation supported by School Choice Wisconsin have had a particularly positive impact on program accountability.
The first, 2003 Act 155 created significant barriers to entry that have kept over 100 schools from joining the MPCP. The legislation also empowered the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to removes schools from the program that lack fiscal viability and/or present a threat to the health or safety of pupils. Act 155 has been used to shut down thirty low-performing schools since 2004.
The second, 2005 Act 125 mandated that all schools in the MPCP obtain accreditation from an agency named in the statutes. Act 125 also introduced a standardized testing requirement, and began a five-year longitudinal study of the program by the School Choice Demonstration Project. In addition to compelling schools to improve their academic programs via accreditation, Act 125 has removed many low-performing schools from the MPCP.
Below are specific descriptions of the areas of accountability.
Testing and Transparency
All schools must give the state assessment to all participating students in the same grades and subject areas as Wisconsin public schools.
(Prior to 2009 schools in the MPCP were required to give nationally-normed standardized testes in math, reading, and science in grades 4, 8, and 10.)
The results of all of all standardized tests are given to the School Choice Demonstration Project as part of their ongoing study of the MPCP. In addition, all tests given to MPCP pupils (starting in 2006) are submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
School must give standardized test scores to parents of current students and all program applicants as well. A myriad of other information also must be given annually to all parents and applicants (see other regulation below).
All schools must attend a fiscal training course prior to opening. In addition, all schools must:
- Provide comprehensive evidence of sound fiscal practices
- Have an independent financial audit done by a certified public accountant.
DPI may remove schools that fail to meet these requirements, or whose audits present a “going concern” to the school’s viability.
Click here to view a sample Fiscal Information Report from DPI.
Barriers to Entry
The most effective way to eliminate poor performing schools is to keep them from opening in the first place. Act 155 enables DPI to prevent the opening of any MPCP school that does not obtain a valid occupancy permit, fails to have its administrator attend a fiscal management course, or fails to prove financial viability. Between 2004 and 2009, DPI prevented over 100 schools from opening because of this law. Wisconsin 2009 Act 28 introduced a pre-accreditation process for new program participants that kept additional schools from opening.
Schools imust apply for and obtain accreditation from an approved agency within three years of participation. Among other things, accreditation requires:
- Degreed teachers
- Appropriate curriculum
- Accountable board governance
- Maintenance of students records
- A school environment conducive to learning
Accreditation has the advantage of giving agencies discretion to consider unique situations at individual schools that are not conducive to broad regulations.
All schools must:
- Comply with non-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Employ teachers and administrators with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
- Employ teacher aids with a minimum of a high school diploma
- Admit eligible students on a random basis
- Comply with all health and safety codes that apply to public schools
- Document for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that they meet certain academic criteria defined in the statutes
- Provide at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1-6, and 1,137 hours of instruction in grades 7-12
- Adopt state academic standards in math, reading and writing, geography and history, or create their own standards for the listed subjects
All governing boards of private schools must specify criteria for granting a high school diploma. Beginning in September 2010, no private school may grant a diploma to a student unless that student meets the governing board’s criteria.
Schools must provide pupils, parents, or guardians who apply to the school all of the
- The name, address, and phone number of the school and the name of one or more contact persons at the school
- A list of the members of the school’s governing body and shareholders, if any
- A notice stating whether the school is operated for profit or not for profit, and an IRS certificate of nonprofit status (or equivalent), if applicable
- A copy of the appeals process used if the school rejects an applicant
- A copy of the school’s criteria for granting a high school diploma
- A copy of the non-harassment policy used by the private school, with the procedures for reporting and obtaining relief from harassment
- A copy of the suspension and expulsion procedures, including appeal procedures
- A copy of the policy for accepting or denying the transfer of credits from another choice school
- A copy of the visitors’ policy
Schools must develop a visitor policy and annually schedule two meetings at which members of the governing body of the private school will be present, and at which all pupils and parents/guardians of pupils, applying to attend or already attending the private school, may meet and communicate with members of the governing body.
- DPI must be made aware of the scheduled meeting dates within 30 days after the start of the school year.
- At least 30 days before the scheduled meeting date, the school must notify in writing each pupil or parent/guardian of each minor pupil, applying to attend or already attending the private school, of the upcoming meeting. The written notice must include the meeting date, time and place.
Annually by August 1, schools also must report to DPI:
- The number of choice and non choice students enrolled during the previous school year
- Academic standards adopted by the governing board
- For each of the previous five years that the school was in the program:
- choice students and non-choice students in grade 12 and the number who graduated
- To the extent permitted by federal law, pupil scores on all standardized tests
Schools must provide to DPI a signed statement from each member of the school’s governing body verifying that the individual is indeed a member of that body. There is no due date for this noted in the statutes.
ALSO, upon request, schools must provide all of the information described above to any pupil, parent or guardian who attends or applies to attend the school with the exception of the signed statement from board members.
For a complete list of program regulations please see Wisconsin State statutes chapter 118 and 119.