Wisconsin schools have consistently been ranked among the best in the country. In Milwaukee County, school districts are “unified,” which means they include elementary, middle and high schools. In suburban counties, however, there can be separate school districts for elementary and high schools. In these situations, several elementary school districts will feed into a single high school district. Information about the public schools serving the area is provided on pages 60-62 the current edition of Discover Milwaukee. Click on the "Order Copy Now" button to receive your free copy. The state also publishes report cards for all public schools which can be viewed at: reportcards.dpi.wi.gov.
Charter schools are public schools that are granted greater freedom in their operation so that they can develop innovative programs and curricula that could improve education as a whole. State lawmakers drafted charter school legislation in 1993 to foster an environment of creativity. Wisconsin charter schools are non-religious, free to the public, and open to all children in the state. They are created through a contract, or “charter,” between the school’s operator and the authorizer, which is typically a school board, technical college or university.
Although charter schools are exempt from many of the state laws and rules that govern public schools, they are required to have a licensed instructional staff, participate in the state student testing program and school performance report, and must comply with student health and safety regulations. Public charter school students take the state tests required of all other public-school students. Charter schools do not charge tuition. It is paid with money collected through property taxes and state funding. For more information, contact the state’s Department of Public Instruction at (800) 441-4563 or visit: dpi.wi.gov/sms/charter-schools.
Virtual Charter Schools
Virtual charter schools provide all or a portion of their instruction through the Internet. The students and instructional staff are typically located in different geographic areas. Like other charter schools, virtual schools are publicly funded, nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer their classes online. Pupils typically attend from their homes and communicate with teachers using e-mail or online discussions.
Wisconsin’s public-school open enrollment allows parents to send their children to any public-school district in the state. The open enrollment application period is the only tuition-free opportunity for most parents to apply for their children to attend a public school in a school district other than the one in which they live. The application period runs from early February through the end of April. School districts notify parents in early June whether their applications have been approved. Transportation is generally the responsibility of the parent. Reimbursement for some of the transportation cost is available for families whose children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals based on federal income guidelines. Parents are urged to apply online directly from the Department of Public Instruction’s website (dpi.wi.gov/open-enrollment) or by completing the paper applications available from the Department of Public Instruction or the public-school district.
Parents may submit applications to up to three nonresident school districts for each child during the open enrollment application period. Parents may apply for their children to attend 4-year-old kindergarten if the resident school district also offers a 4-year-old kindergarten program for which the child is eligible. Most students who attended a nonresident school district under open enrollment last year are not required to reapply for the following school year. However, if the student will be entering middle school, junior high school, or high school, parents should call the school district to find out if they will be required to reapply for open enrollment status.
A variety of programs allow high school students to be dually enrolled in high school and college to earn both high school and college credits. These programs can make college more affordable for families and introduce students to college-level coursework while they are still in high school.
Wisconsin currently offers courses through the Early College Credit Program. The program allows Wisconsin public and private high school students to take one or more courses at an institution of higher education for high school and/or college credit. For a detailed explanation of the program, please visit dpi.wi.gov/dual-enrollment.
Wisconsin allows a parent or guardian to provide a home-based private educational program for her or his child or children as part of the compulsory school attendance law. In order to home school, the parent or guardian must complete Form PI-1206 and submit it to the state Department of Public Instruction every school year.
State law requires home schooling to provide at least 875 hours of instruction each school year and a “sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.”
Home Schooling Resources
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction offers detailed information about home schooling requirements, resources and forms at dpi.wi.gov/sms/home-based. In addition, the Wisconsin Parents Association (homeschooling-wpa.org), a grassroots organization committed to protecting the right of parents to provide an education to their children according to their own principles and beliefs, also provides assistance for parents.