A Parent’s Voice on Equal Funding for Wisconsin Charter Schools
By LaToya Woods Education Organizer, Rocketship Wisconsin
Growing up, my mom believed that the education you receive as a child will determine the quality of your life as an adult. But in my community, there were a limited number of schools that offered a high quality education so my Mom had to make the difficult decision to send my siblings and I to school through a program called Chpt.220. This program allowed inner city students to be bussed to the suburbs to receive an education. While the education was high-quality, the social emotional experience was not. Most of the time, I was the only Black student in the class and there was not one teacher or any curriculum that I could self identify with.
I didn’t understand the reasoning behind my mother’s decision until I became a mother in search of high-quality schools for my children to attend. In Milwaukee, only one in five students are on grade level. In addition, only one in seven Hispanic students are on grade level, and only one in ten Black students are on grade level – which is the worst academic achievement gap for black students in the country.
Fortunately, I found Rocketship Transformation Prep, a public charter school that is just walking distance from my house on the Northside of Milwaukee. At Rocketship, ALL students benefit from personalized learning, socio-emotional supports, and high-expectations for all students. And my kids thrived.
I was passionate about finding ways to be involved as a parent and Rocketship helped me elevate my level of involvement. Coming to the school and attending events allowed me to build relationships with the teaching staff and school leaders and partner with them to make sure my son succeeded. While attending one of the parent coffees I learned about the funding discrepancies for charter schools in Wisconsin.
In the state of Wisconsin, a student can take a voucher with public funds to a private school to enable them access to different options. Those schools are called choice schools. Prior to this legislation, both Charter and Choice schools were drastically underfunded, receiving $5,000- $7,000 less per pupil than traditional public schools. That is 20% less funding and one of the lowest public funding rates for charter and choice schools in the country, despite the fact that more than half of Milwaukee families are choosing charter and choice schools for their children. I couldn’t comprehend the reasoning behind the inequitable funding allocation, given the academic progress the charter schools were making in the communities they served.
With our Milwaukee charter/choice schools all suffering the same fate for their students with this lack of funding, school leaders met to discuss what could be done. Last year, the state of Wisconsin received a 7 billion dollar surplus in aid funds from the federal government and they decided to ensure that our schools were not overlooked when it came to the allocation of education funding. At the beginning of this year’s legislative cycle, we decided to seize the opportunity, bring our families and schools together, and take a stand to push our legislators to equalize funding for our schools. With the support of City Forward Collective, a Milwaukee education nonprofit, and Rocketship’s Parent Leadership & Organizing team, we developed a coalition of 9 charter/choice schools in the Milwaukee area to advocate to close the funding gap in this year’s legislative budget cycle.
Serving as the lead organizer for the campaign, I had the opportunity to support over 200 families in leading five meetings with members of the State Legislator’s Joint Finance Committee, four of their state assembly and senate representatives, and two Education Committee members to build relationships, share data about the state of education in their city, and tell the stories of how their schools have transformed their kids and communities. Most importantly, they asked them to support a bill to increase funding for charter/choice schools.
Parents also mobilized hundreds of families to attend four Joint Finance Committee hearings, two state senate and assembly hearings, and two budget listening sessions with local representatives, where parents were able to testify on behalf of their schools to push for gap closing legislation in the budget. Families showed up in green parent power shirts and took over the room, visually demonstrating how much support there was from families for equalizing school funding.
Natalie Castillo, who’s 10 year old son attends Rocketship Transformation Prep shared her story at the Minocqua hearing, telling the Joint Finance committee members, “My son, an ISE student came to Rocketship as a non-verbal student who had difficulties expressing his emotion. Since attending Rocketship, Tresean has made tremendous progress and has achieved many goals and milestones that were said to be most difficult during adolescence. I know this was only possible due to the staff dedication, their strong work ethics, and commitment to each and every student”.
Throughout the campaign, representatives heard from over 50 other parent leaders from charter/choice schools in Milwaukee, who shared the stories of academic excellence that their children are experiencing in their schools. We ended the campaign with an email campaign where over 600 parents sent over 5,500 emails that asked our elected officials for their support in closing the education funding gap so that our schools can focus on closing the achievement gap for our students of color.
After patiently waiting to see if an increase in funding was allocated in this year’s budget cycle, we finally got word that Gov. Evers and Legislators reached an agreement and put forth a bill that would allocate an additional unprecedented $2,100-$4,000 per pupil to charter/choice schools and a slight increase to special education funding of 3%. This is a tremendous win for charter/choice schools in the state of Wisconsin, ending a 30 year battle of fighting for equitable funding.
After attending the vote hearings in the senate and assembly and speaking with our representatives, I often heard that the efforts of parents in sharing their stories and asking for their elected officials’ support were the determining factors in getting the per pupil funding increase.
Watch Representatives Robert Wittke and LaTonya Johnson share how parents impacted their vote.
A parent’s voice is the strongest advocacy tool that our children have. Where there were only one or two parents involved now there are hundreds. We have more to advocate for in order to close the achievement gap in Milwaukee, but we have shown the change we can make when parents come together to fight for their kids and their communities. We know quality education is a matter of justice for our children and we will keep holding our leaders and systems accountable for making sure high quality schools can thrive in ALL of our communities.
Published on August 3, 2023