Northland Pines Montessori Learning Center in the Northland Pines School District recently received a $307,036 charter school grant for the 2018-’19 school year. 

It was part of 10 Implementation Grants that were awarded by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) totaling $6,026,477.

Northland Pines Montessori Learning Center, located in the St. Germain Elementary School, has been open and operating for the past three years, according to Tony Duffek, principal at the center.

“Four years ago we received a grant for start-up costs. These new grant funds are implementation funds,” said Duffek. “We will receive half the funds for the 2018-’19 school year and the other half during the 2019-’20 school year.”

Duffek said the funds are used for staff professional development, technology, school supplies, furniture, and other capital and non-capital objects. 

“The funds are designed to help equip our school with the knowledge and equipment to help the school prosper and be sustainable,” said Duffek. “It will provide us great resources and opportunities to help better educate our students.”

In the Montessori Learning Center, for 4-year-old kindergarten through third grade, the lead teacher presents lessons according to a sequential plan and observes the interest and ability of each child. Children learn at their own pace, self-selecting the lessons that best match their current abilities and desires. The role of the teacher is to guide each child along his or her own natural path of learning and achievement.

In addition to the Montessori Learning Center, Northland Pines has a SOAR Charter High School and a SOAR Charter Middle School. 

Grant program

In a highly competitive round of grant applications, the Wisconsin DPI approved 26 awards totaling more than $17 million to plan, open, or expand charter schools in the state.

The department received 45 grant applications, re­questing $29.6 million, about $12 million more than was available for the first year of charter subgrant funding.

In October 2017, the state won a $95 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support charter activities over the next five years. 

In this first round of grants for the 2018-’19 school year, 10 charter schools received planning and implementation grants totaling $7.6 million to support planning activities for public charter schools that will open in the fall of 2019; another 10 schools, including Northland Pines, received implementation grants totaling $6 million for schools that have recently opened or will open this fall; and six schools received grants totaling nearly $3.8 million to expand existing, high-quality public charter schools. Grant activities will span two to five years depending on the grant award.

Grant priorities focused on the growth of high-quality charter schools, especially those that increase access to alternative public school models and improve academic outcomes for educationally disadvantaged secondary (grades six through 12) students. High-quality charter schools show evidence of strong academic results, which may include student academic growth; operate in a safe and fiscally appropriate manner that meets statutory and regulatory requirements; and demonstrate success in significantly increasing student academic achieve­ment, including graduation rates for all students and for each subgroup of students served by the school.

Additionally, grant evaluators considered applications that would work to promote best practices and collaboration between charter schools and other schools in the state. The structure of the state’s subgrant awards differs from past years in its focus on providing expanded charter opportunities to educationally disadvantaged stu­­dents in an effort to close gaps.

Part of Wisconsin’s federal grant will support the Wisconsin Resource Center for Charter Schools, developed to offer statewide technical assistance and support to charter and traditional public schools, charter governing boards and authorizers. Housed within Cooperative Educational Service Agency 9, the center serves as the point of contact for individuals or organizations around charter school development.

Charter school growth

During the 2017-’18 school year, Wisconsin had 234 charter schools, serving more than 42,000 students, placing the state near the top of the nation in terms of charter school opportunities per capita. 

Wisconsin’s 2017-’18 charter schools received their charters from 98 of the state’s 422 school districts and three independent authorizers. Grant awards for 2018-’19 are going to 26 charter schools authorized by 21 authorizers, seven of which are new authorizers that do not currently have any operating charter schools.

All public school districts in the state can authorize charter schools. In addition, the most recent biennial budget expanded the number of independent authorizers to include any technical college district board and any chancellor in the UW System, bringing the total number of entities in the state that can authorize charter schools to more than 450. 

Applications for the second round of competitive charter school grants for the 2019-’20 school year, totaling approximately $17 million, will open in late fall or early winter.

More information about charter schools are at