Milwaukee Hires Private School in 1-Year Deal
School officials in Milwaukee, a city that is already on the cutting edge of school choice experiments, have hired an entire private school to educate more than 500 city students.
The district has signed a one-year contract with Bruce Guadalupe Community School to teach students in grades K-8, said Michael Turza, the district's director of parent and student services. The private, nonsectarian school formerly participated in the state-funded voucher program in Milwaukee.
District leaders opted to hire the school to ensure "economic benefits through the state-aid formula," added Mr. Turza, who negotiated the contract. The district will pay the school an average of $4,800 per student out of the $6,000 it receives for every pupil from the state.
Last year, 260 students attended the school through the Milwaukee voucher program, which, along with Cleveland's, is one of only two such state-financed experiments in the nation.
Though it has become common for districts to contract with private schools to teach some portion of students, notably special-needs children, it is rare for a district to form such an arrangement with a whole school.
The Milwaukee district has contracted with private schools for more than a decade to provide at-risk students with schools and programs that meet special needs, said Wayne F. Brzezinski, a district spokesman. In 1998-99, the district will pay for such services for more than 1,700 students.
Pioneering Choice Plans
In addition to being the site of the pioneering voucher program created by the Wisconsin legislature, Milwaukee is believed to be the first city in the nation to create its own charter schools independent of the local school district.
That unique arrangement, however, is mired in controversy as city officials squabble with the state over funding for special education students. ("Milwaukee, State Battle Over Charter Schools," Oct. 21, 1998.)
As a result, district administrators and officials at the Guadalupe School decided not to go the charter route.
All the students at the school will now be considered Milwaukee public school students. Those who paid the school's regular $1,000 tuition last year will no longer be required to do so as long as they live in the district.
The state choice program, started in 1990 and expanded in 1995, provides 1,500 low-income families in Milwaukee with vouchers worth $4,400 to send their children to private schools. An expansion of the program to include religious schools has been challenged in a lawsuit, and an appeal in the case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Working through the district affords Bruce Guadalupe more money per student than the choice program did, local officials said.
Union Concerns Met
School choice advocates, who are watching developments in Milwaukee closely, hail such innovative arrangements.
"Our education system is a monopoly, and any kind of competition can only benefit it," said Nina Shokraii Rees, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
Even more interesting, such observers say, is the lack of union representation at the school.
"The implications are pretty staggering if suddenly it becomes clear that an absence of a union contract frees schools up to be flexible," said George A. Mitchell, a public-policy consultant who studies school choice in Milwaukee. "Somebody might say, 'Maybe we need to do more of this.'"
The contract arrangement came after lengthy negotiations with the local teachers' union about the status of the school's teachers.
Only one teacher at the school will have a contract with the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. District officials wanted at least a minimal union presence to ensure quality control, Mr. Turza said.
The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, approved the one-year contract, but would like to see more union representation at the school in the future, said Sam Carmen, the executive director of the 8,000-member organization.
"In the present scheme of things, it's a good thing," he said last week. "It allows the school district to count those children as Milwaukee public school children for purposes of state aid and revenue limits."
No one knows, however, whether the unusual deal will survive beyond the current school year.
Vol. 18, Issue 9, Page 3