Wall Street Journal | Szafir, Petersen: This Building Is for Sale (but Not to a Charter School)

WILL’s Executive Vice President, CJ Szafir and Researcher Cori Petersen write at the Wall Street Journal about how Milwaukee Public Schools refuse to sell vacant schools to Milwaukee’s charter schools.

St. Marcus then tried to purchase the vacant Lee School for the appraised value plus property taxes. Mayor Tom Barrett blocked the deal by demanding that St. Marcus pay an additional $1.3 million—because, he said, the school was in the choice program. “Holding on to underutilized buildings makes financial sense for the district, because it inhibits the growth of high-performing charter and voucher schools,” said Henry Tyson, St. Marcus’s superintendent. “In terms of educational policy and what’s best for the kids, it’s complete madness.”

In 2015, the Wisconsin Legislature had seen enough. It enacted the Surplus Property Law, which was supposed to force the sale of vacant MPS buildings to choice and charter schools. The law requires the city to list vacant buildings online and give choice and charter schools priority. But our organization found that MPS and Milwaukee have been flouting the law. So far, 13 charter and private schools have tried to purchase vacant public schools, but none have succeeded.

In November 2016 Rocketship, a charter school that performs in the top 5% statewide, attempted to buy an MPS building. In the final stage of the negotiation, MPS demanded that Rocketship, which is chartered by the city, obtain a charter from MPS instead. This would allow the district more control over the school. In 2017, because of the ultimatum and protests by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the deal fell through. (MPS declined to comment.)

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