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Leaders of High-Performing Milwaukee Schools Say Funding is Biggest Impediment to Adding Seats

San Jose, California-based elementary charter school network Rocketship Public Schools entered the Milwaukee market in 2011 with ambitious plans to open as many as eight sites and serve 4,000 children in the city. Current enrollment between the two campuses is around 700 and is expected to grow to roughly 1,000 in the next two years. 

The network’s emphasis on parental involvement – including regular home visits, parent coffee meetings with principals and monthly community meetings – along with personalized instruction for students and an investment in professional development of its teachers are among the strategies that have helped school performance. Its Southside Community Prep campus exceeded expectations, according to 2019 and 2021 state report cards. 

The school network is in the process of completing renovations to a former Catholic school building at 5501 N. 68th St., where it established its north side campus in 2019.

Funding is the single biggest barrier to the network’s expansion, said Brittany Kinser, executive director of Rocketship Wisconsin, which oversees the network’s Milwaukee schools.  

The school network currently fundraises to sustain its operations, and it used financing to purchase and complete initial renovations on its new building. But Kinser said structural funding disparities, including low per-pupil funding and reimbursement rates to support students with special needs, prevent it from expanding beyond those two campuses. 

“We won’t be able to grow until we get more money per kid,” she said. 

Leaning on philanthropic dollars alone to make up the gap for schools across the city isn’t a sustainable solution, Kinser said. 

“You have all these (charter) schools that are doing well … and private schools too, but … you have a limited number of funders,” Kinser said. “If everyone is asking those same foundations and organizations and people, there’s just a limited amount, and we’re all asking for that same bucket of funding.” 

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