School choice in Wisconsin

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School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in Wisconsin include: charter schools, parental choice voucher programs, private school tuition tax deductions, homeschooling, online learning, private schools and public school open enrollment policies.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in Wisconsin

Charter schools were first authorized in Wisconsin in 1993.[3] During the 2012-2013 school year, there were 238 charter schools in the state.[4]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in Wisconsin:[5]

Magnet schools

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects.[6][7]

In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 2,949 magnet schools in the United States. In that year, Wisconsin had four magnet schools that served 1,596 students. Approximately 43 percent of students enrolled in Wisconsin magnet schools were classified as a minority. That percentage of students was predominately black and hispanic. This was higher than Wisconsin's average of 27 percent minority enrollment. The state also reported an average student:teacher ratio of 15:1 in magnet schools, which is the same as the state average of 15:1 in traditional public schools. The table below lists this information again and compares it to Wisconsin's neighboring states.[8][9]

Magnet school participation, 2011-2012
State Magnet schools in the state Students in magnet schools Minority enrollment percentage Student:teacher ratio
Wisconsin 4 1,596 43% 15:1
Illinois 108 75,960 76% 18:1
Michigan 436 203,825 35% 18:1
Minnesota 77 40,815 63% 15:1
Source: Public School Review, "Public School Review state magnet school pages," accessed December 12, 2014

Parental choice programs

Two Wisconsin school districts, Milwaukee Public Schools and Racine Unified School District, have parental choice programs. There is also a statewide parental choice program that launched in 2013 for students living outside the Milwaukee and Racine school districts. Both the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Parental Private School Choice Program in Racine give private school vouchers to students whose families earn up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The statewide parental choice program gives vouchers to students who qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch programes.[10]

Tuition deduction program

Wisconsin offers a tax deduction for any family paying for private school tuition, up to $4,000 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and up to $10,000 for students in high school.[10]


An estimated 19,332 students were home-schooled in Wisconsin during the 2012-2013 school year, which represented approximately two percent of all students in the state.[11]

Home schools in Wisconsin are called home-based educational programs. They must be provided to a child by a parent, a guardian or a person designated by a parent or guardian. Home-based educational programs cannot constitute more than one family unit.[12][13]

Online learning

Wisconsin has a number of online learning opportunities, including full-time options and supplemental options. There were 29 fully online schools authorized to operate during the 2013-2014 school year. Online charter schools served 6,146 students in the 2012-2013 school year, which was a 37 percent increase from the previous school year.[14]

Private Schools

In the 2011-2012 school year 119,036 students, or 13.68 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 799 private schools. Wisconsin ranks ninth highest in the U.S. in private school attendance.[15]

Public school open enrollment

Wisconsin's open-enrollment program allows for students to attend school in a school district other than the one in which they reside. Any student from kindergarten through 12th grade may apply. However, students cannot apply for individual schools. Students may request to be placed in a particular public or charter school, but the placement is not guaranteed. This program does not allow for intra-district enrollment, which is transferring from one school to another within the same district.[16][17]

Studies and reports

ABCs of school choice

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice publishes a comprehensive guide to private school choice programs across the U.S. In its 2014 edition, the Foundation reviewed four Wisconsin programs: the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Private School Choice Program, the statewide Parental Choice Program and the K-12 Private School Tuition Deduction Program.[10] The full Friedman Foundation report can be found here.

Education ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Wisconsin ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in Wisconsin.

Recent news

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See also

External links


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Charter Schools in Wisconsin," accessed November 13, 2009
  4. National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools: 2012-2013 Wisconsin," accessed June 26, 2014
  5. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Wisconsin Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  6. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  7. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  8. National Center for Education Statistics, "Selected statistics from the common core of data: School year 2011-2012," accessed December 12, 2014
  9. Public School Review, "Wisconsin magnet schools," accessed December 12, 2014
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice," 2014 Edition
  11. A2Z Home's Cool - Home Education from A to Z, "How Many Homeschoolers in America?" updated February 3, 2014
  12. A2Z Home's Cool - Home Education from A to Z, "Wisconsin Home School Laws," accessed June 26, 2014
  13. Wisconsin Statutes, "Section 115.001," accessed June 26, 2014
  14. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online & Blended Learning, "Data & Information: Wisconsin," accessed June 26, 2014
  15. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey", 2011-12 v.1a; "State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey", 2011-12 v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014.
  16. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Public School Open Enrollment," accessed July 13, 2009
  17. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, "Public School Choice (open enrollment)," accessed July 9, 2009