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Education deserts

By By M.D. Kittle 

Wisconsin Spotlight | July 31, 2020

MADISON  — It’s a sad fact, but receiving a quality education in Wisconsin has everything to do with where you live.

“While some students have ready access to high-performing public, private, and charter schools, many areas of the state are high-performing school deserts—where families have few high-performing school options to help push their child forward,” states a new study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

“Without a Choice: Wisconsin’s High-Performing School Deserts” is a statistical analysis using WILL’s school mapping tool to track areas of the state where these “deserts” exist.

The report finds:

• Wisconsin has 134 ZIP codes with up

 to 40,112 school-age children with no high-performing school options within 10 miles. 134 ZIP codes across 49 counties have no high-performing school options— public, charter, or private—within 10 miles. High performing school deserts represent regions of the state lacking educational equity and opportunity.

• High-performing school deserts are most common in rural areas. While urban schools are often the focus of education policy makers, this report sheds light on the many rural regions of Wisconsin without high-performing school options. Shawano County (11) and Langlade County (7) lead the way with the most ZIP codes without easy access to high-performing schools. Another eight Wisconsin counties have four or more ZIP codes without high-performing school options.

• Rural Wisconsin needs more choice and public charter schools. The vast majority of the high-performing school deserts have no private schools participating in the state’s school choice programs or public charter schools. Without options, students in high- performing school deserts are left waiting for their school districts to improve themselves.

The report, produced the institute’s Research Director Will Flanders and Policy and Communications Associate Jessica Holmberg, asserts the policy implications are clear. Wisconsin must continue to work to expand access to high-quality educational options.

“This includes removing limitations on enrollment in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) that prevent schools from opening to primarily serve choice-funded students,” the report states. “It should also include policies to encourage more public school districts and government entities to authorize and create public charter schools since charter schools tend to be quality options for Wisconsin students.”

Additionally, policies that increase the ability of students to access courses online, particularly the Part-Time Open Enrollment Program, should be expanded to break down barriers to learning opportunities, WILL  asserts.

Too many Badger State schools are failing or not meeting expectations. Too many students are falling behind. Six in 10 of the state’s K-12 students can’t read, write or solve a math problem at grade level, according to the most recent state Department of Public Instruction performance “report card.”

“Wisconsin famously pioneered school choice with the development of the Milwaukee voucher program. But until every Wisconsin family has ready access to high-performing schools, the goal of school choice remains out of reach. We must do better to increase the number of high-performing schools in Wisconsin,” Flanders said.

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