The University interprets its responsibility to authorize charter schools as a part of a larger attempt to improve education for children and in this instance, the education of children who live in an urban area. Charter schools must have programs that provide quality education to students and address the critical issues of today’s urban education environment. The academic achievement of children who are viewed as at-risk should be the central focus of the charter school application. Substantive outcomes must be given priority over process experiences if academic achievement is to serve as the central focus.

Being granted a charter to operate a school requires thought and planning as well as a committed organization that can sustain the development and operational requirements of a charter school. Potential applicants must be able to commit eighteen to twenty-four months of planning time before a charter school can become a reality.

The University and SOE consider the following principles to be essential to the development of charter schools authorized by the University. These principles are as follows:

  • The charter school should be developed to improve the overall education conditions for urban children who live in urban areas.
  • The charter school should reflect the “best educational practices” based upon professional standards and current research.
  • The charter school should be developed to reflect linkages between and among the school, families, and community agencies.
  • The charter school population should reflect the diversity of the population of its community.
  • The administration of the charter school should embody principles of democratic management.
  • The charter school success measures should encompass both academic and social outcomes for children, as well as consumer satisfaction.

Deadlines and Information

Schools Planning To Open Fall Of 2021

Phase I
Prospectus is due – February 28, 2020 by 4:00 pm
Response by review team – March 31, 2020

Phase II
Application is due – July 31, 2020 by 4:00 pm
Response by review team – August 31, 2020

For Further Information About Applying

Telephone: (414) 229-4682

Application Process Phases

Phase I
The application process begins with the submission of a prospectus, a short, (no longer than twenty pages) description of the proposed school. A prospectus must be received by the Office no later than the close of business (4:00 p.m.) on the last business day in February. Prospectuses received after the specified due date and time will not be considered and will be returned to the applicant. It is important within the prospectus to capture the philosophy around which the school will be developed, the mission of the school, and the reason the community needs the school. The prospectus provides a snapshot of the proposed school, its organizers, curricular focus, instructional methodology, governance, and financial capacity.

The information provided by the Prospectus allows the Office to determine if the school has the potential to make a positive educational difference with urban students, is financially sound, and fits with the University’s mission. Requirements for the submission of a prospectus are provided when viewing the Prospectus Requirements – Reviewers Guide (PDF). Upon receipt of the prospectus, the Office will review and evaluate the proposal in terms of:

  1. Organizational capacity to develop and sustain a school over time
  2. Potential for the program to contribute to educational reform
  3. Soundness of the proposal plan
  4. Strength of the business plan
  5. Overall potential of the educational program
  6. Alignment with OCS interests and mission as it relates to authorizing charter schools

Specific information can be found in the Prospectus Requirements – Reviewers Guide (PDF). Those organizations, groups, or individuals whose prospectuses are deemed to meet the established criteria will be notified by the last business day of March and are then permitted to submit a full application to the Office.

Phase II
The University has rigorous requirements for potential schools to meet before they are granted an initial charter. The application must address all Wisconsin Statute 118.40 State Laws and Regulations and those established by the University as listed in the Application Requirements – Reviewers Guide (PDF).

An Application can only be submitted after the applicant’s Prospectus has been approved by the Office. To receive consideration, applications must be received by the Office no later than the close of business (4:00 p.m.) on the last business day of July. Applications received after the specified due date and time will not be considered and will be returned to the applicant. The guidelines discussed below are designed to assist charter school developers with general requirements that will be used by the Office in considering charter applications. Applicants are encouraged to meet with the representatives of the Office prior to and during the development of the Application.


  1. The Application must address all elements of the Application Outline found in the Application Requirements – Reviewers Guide (PDF). These include Wisconsin Statute 118.40 State Laws and Regulations.
  2. Schools granted charters must be non-sectarian in their programs, admission policies, employment practices and all other operations, WI Stat. 118.40(4)(ar)2.
  3. Schools granted charters may not charge tuition, WI Stat. 118.40(4)(b)1.
  4. Schools granted charters may not discriminate in admission or deny participation in any program or activity on the basis of a person’s sex, race, religion, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disability, WI Stat. 118.40(4)(b)2.
  5. Schools that are over subscribed must establish a selection lottery to ensure equal access to all students.
  6. Applicants seeking charters for schools serving less than 50 students will be discouraged due to fiscal challenges of very small enrollment programs.
  7. The University will charge a cost recovery fee for the costs of operating the Office. An estimate of the fee will be provided to applicants prior to a charter contract being approved. Applicants should develop their budget based on 3% of the per student state aid provided to charter schools. This fee is payable on a quarterly basis.
  8. Application deadlines will be enforced. Late applications will not be accepted.
  9. Applicants are encouraged to have legal counsel as part of their planning process and have legal counsel review the application prior to submission. The application document will be important during the development of the charter contract.
  10.  An electronic version of the application is required for submission in PDF format. Applicants will receive additional instruction on the submission process.
  11. Applicants are required to participate in an interview with the Application Review Committee.
  12. The initial charter contract shall be issued for a period of five (5) years, WI Stat. 118.40(3)(b).
  13. The charter contract must be approved by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to achieve charter status.

It is essential that charter school operators understand their requirement for providing special education services for students with disabilities. The provision of special education will have a major impact on financial, personnel, and facility decisions. An independent public charter schools must accept all students who apply regardless of disability. The school must either provide required services on site or pay for those services to be provided by another entity. As part of this requirement, the school must provide an individualized education plan (IEP) and provide the necessary instruction by state licensed personnel. Questions regarding special education issues that charter applicants should consider when applying for a charter are included in the Application requirements.

The Office, through the Application Review Committee, composed of educators and community members, reviews charter school applications. Guidelines for reviewers are shown in the Application Requirements – Reviewers Guide (PDF). Based on the overall feasibility of the proposal, this review process will identify which applications:

  1. Will be accepted for further consideration
  2. May be resubmitted with modifications for further consideration
  3. Are denied

Approval of an application is not a guarantee that the applicant will be awarded a charter. Before an application is finally approved, a contract spelling out all aspects of the charter school operation must be agreed upon. While it must be realized that there is some element of subjective judgment in evaluating proposals, a proposal can be evaluated on its completeness, responsiveness to criteria, and the integration of innovative ideas into a realistic operation to educate students. Especially important in the chartering process is the effective use of research literature, the design and focus of the program, and how the proposal integrates organizational structure, budget, and program into an operational whole.

Applicants will be notified as to the status of their proposal by the last business day of August. Applicants whose proposals are approved will be notified and receive instructions for initiating the development of the charter contract. Applicants whose proposals require additional work will be notified of the deficiencies and given an opportunity to respond within a specified time period. Applicants whose proposals are not approved will also receive notification.

Phase III
Contracts negotiated with prospective charter school operators must meet all requirements of the University’s Model Charter Contract (PDF). Charter operators must be prepared to operate in accordance with all applicable state and federal requirements for charter schools. Contracts developed with prospective charter operators follow the approved model contract and contain additional information that provides specific information about the charter school, its mission, organization, curriculum, assessment methodology, and instructional philosophy. Attached to the base contract are several appendices that provide additional information regarding the obligation of the grantee.

The approval of the contract by the UWM Systems Board of Regents represents the final phase of the chartering process. Once the grantee meets the school opening requirements, the charter school can begin operating.