Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow has agreed to be the authorizer for Lake County Classical Academy, a beloved charter school in Oconomowoc.
The school lost its previous tribal authorizer after a series of slanted liberal media attacks.
Parents say the school has helped their children immensely and had organized to urge Farrow to step in.
Farrow is one of the few people or entities authorized to approve an independent charter school under Wisconsin statutes.
The UW System could also have authorized the school but had not done so by the time Farrow acted.
Farrow’s action comes the day after Wisconsin Right Now exclusively reported that the UW has fired Vanessa Moran, the highly-regarded director of its office that approves charter schools. The UW won’t explain why and has gagged Moran, who had said positive things about the LCCA and was first hired by former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow has agreed to be the new authorizer of Lake County Classical Academy, a move which came after strong urging from parents who were concerned the innovative charter school would close after a tribal sponsor pulled away following a series of slanted liberal media attacks against the school.
Wisconsin Right Now obtained an email that was sent out by LCCA on Jan. 18, 2023. It is headlined, “Paul Farrow, Waukesha County Executive, has agreed to be LCCA’s new authorizer!”
The letter, to LCCA families, says, “What a difference a few hours can make! It is with great joy that we announce to you that Waukesha County Executive, Paul Farrow, has agreed to sign a Letter of Intent (LOI) to authorize LCCA with a new 5-year charter agreement, which will begin July 1, 2023. He will be providing us with the formal LOI by Thursday, January 24.”
Parents were ecstatic.
“I am so happy to see that Paul heard the voices of the hundreds of parents, grandparents, and lawmakers who urged him to authorize LCCA for another five years,” parent Nicole Balistreri, of New Berlin, said to Wisconsin Right Now.
“My daughter is absolutely thriving at LCCA – she is 8 years old and reading at a 6th grade level, and is easily doing multiplication and division. The curriculum is excellent, and she loves being at school each day.”
“After parents came together as a school community and called senators and reps today Paul Farrow signed to be the authorizer of LCCA,” Mary Chapman, another parent, told Wisconsin Right Now. “My daughter was adopted from foster care. She struggled in a public school and then Covid hit. We home schooled her until we found LCCA.”
According to Chapman, “As a result less than a semester into the school year in 2021, she had reached her IEP (individualized education program) goals. The thought of the possibility of losing this school was devastating to me as a mom. My daughter is thriving at LCCA and owning her education in seventh grade. My mom heart is beaming as a result of the other school families pulling together to get this done!!”
According to its website, LCCA, is a “public (tuition-free) charter school” that “will serve Kindergarten through 11th grade for the 2023/2024 school year and expand to a full K-12 school the following year.”
LCCA is “a licensed user of the Hillsdale K-12 curriculum, providing a classical education that is content-rich across four disciplines: Math, Science, English Language Arts (including phonics, grammar and writing), and History, with significant attention to music, art, and foreign language,” it says. “Each of these disciplines will be taught with an emphasis on the history and traditions of American citizens as the inheritors of Western civilization.”
According to LCCA: “Our mission is to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a content-rich, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”
We have reached out to Farrow, a Republican, seeking comment.
He is one of the only authorizers of charter schools under state law. The Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (LCOOU) had previously authorized the school.
Farrow’s action comes the day after Wisconsin Right Now reported that the UW System had suddenly and without public explanation fired Vanessa Moran, the highly regarded director of the UW office that also has statutory authority to authorize charter schools in the state.
Moran was involved in reviewing the LCCA matter; the UW System could have approved it but had not yet made a decision when Farrow acted. The UW System has gagged Moran and refused to explain her firing, which has increased concern among education reform advocates in Wisconsin that some UW System officials want to put a halt to charter school authorizations now that former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who hired Moran, is no longer leading the System.
The school’s success has threatened some public school advocates who oppose all parents having the freedom to choose their children’s educational opportunities.
The controversy into LCCA was ginned up by a negative article on the liberal partisan website, the Wisconsin Examiner. The article, by Ruth Conniff, was slanted negatively against the school because of its ties to curriculum pushed by Hillsdale College, whose leader made a series of controversial comments (he gave his side in this opinion piece). The Wisconsin Examiner’s funding “comes from the Hopewell Fund, which bankrolls a host of liberal efforts and keeps its donors confidential,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported when that site launched.
Conniff also wrote an article demanding to know, “Why is the UW System working with the controversial Hillsdale charter school network?” The article mentioned that Moran had said positive things about the school.
The biased article said: “If the OEO (the UW office Moran led) decides to become a Hillsdale authorizer, it will also mean the UW System is making Wisconsin taxpayers pay to support the right-wing, anti-public-school movement.” The article ignored the school’s successes and parents’ opinions.
Conniff has a history of working for/appearing on extremely liberal outlets, such as The Progressive Magazine, MSNBC, The Nation and Democracy Now! The tribe initially responded in a press release, saying, “The inaccuracies in that article were designed to incite division among our people and to damage the Tribe’s support for the pending legislation in the Wisconsin Legislature” dealing with the tribal college’s “ability to authorize, and fund, independent charter schools.”
Gov. Tony Evers then vetoed a legislative bill to get rid of the cap on how many charter schools tribal governments can authorize. And the tribe subsequently pulled its support for LCCA, after demanding that the school meet a series of new conditions, leaving the school scrambling to get a new authorizer with very few possibilities under state law. Meanwhile, parents who are fervent supporters of the school and the work it is doing with their children, began pushing Farrow to step in.
The LCCA email thanks “everyone for your outpouring of support, whether you sent emails to Paul Farrow or made phone calls to legislators. Together we have overcome this hurdle and guaranteed a secure future for LCCA and your children.” The email adds, “we no longer need signatures for the petition!”
Deanna Alexander, a Milwaukee County supervisor with children at LCCA, is a parent of children in the school.
“I drive my three children, including one with special needs, from our home in Milwaukee 40 minutes away to Oconomowoc for school every day,” she told Wisconsin Right Now.
“Our family recognized the meaningful value provided by LCCA as a public school offering a classical and virtue-focused education and we are so pleased with the quality of education our children are receiving!”
She added: “I was very disappointed these last few weeks when the need for an authorizer became urgent and it appeared that both the OEO and Waukesha County Executive were declining to perform the task of administrative oversight. I’m so grateful to hear that the County Executive has finally agreed to step up as the school’s authorizer!”
Continued Alexander: “This will help preserve this excellent educational opportunity for the 500+ children enrolled and many more on the waiting list. I challenge anyone to learn more about LCCA to visit one of the school’s upcoming open house informational events, to review the curriculum and to honestly evaluate the good work being done by school staff to instill knowledge, logic, critical thinking and civic virtue in the next generation – they will not be disappointed.”
State Rep. Barb Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) told Wisconsin Right Now: “I am very glad that the families at this much-beloved Charter School can now rest in the confidence that their child’s education will be able to continue at LCCA. Senator Kapenga, Senator Jagler, Rep. Duchow, Deej Lundgren at the UW’s OEO, and I have all been working hard in concert with County Executive Paul Farrow to get this situation resolved.”
According to the state Department of Public Instruction, these are the only authorizers of independent charter schools in Wisconsin:
The common council of the city of Milwaukee
The chancellor of any institution in the University of Wisconsin System
Each technical college district board
Waukesha County Executive
College of Menominee Nation
Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University
UW-System Office of Educational Opportunity
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