Fed grant for state charter schools may impact Eau Claire

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Inside McKinley Charter School, there's a wall with inspirational phrases – perfect for a school that embraces challenges.

Chippewa Valley Montessori is one of two public charter schools in the Eau Claire Area School District.

"It has been an amazing place for kids and families and has upped our 6-year graduation rate to a high degree - and a lot of it has to be attributed in to McKinley," Chris Hambuch-Boyle, president of the Eau Claire Area School Board, said to WEAU 13 News on Thursday.

Now, schools like McKinley and Chippewa Valley Montessori could be in line for a big pay day - a five-year grant at more than 95-million dollars, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

"We're trying to find ways to reach student groups that otherwise would not have the opportunity to access charter schools by encouraging their development in local school districts and then replicating when they're successful," Tom McCarthy, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), said to WEAU 13 News on Thursday.

The state DPI said these grants will be handed out in competitive fashion, with schools applying and then receiving the grants based on their success rate. This has Hambuch-Boyle excited for Eau Claire’s two public charter schools.

"I think Eau Claire is set well to be ready to step into what is needed to do this. So, for me, it is to enhance what we're already doing and possibly maybe do something new," she said.

The fact Eau Claire’s charter schools are deemed public – as opposed to a private school – eases some taxpayers in the district.

"I think the money – federal money, state money – ought to support public education. If the money goes to private schools, I'm not very happy about being a taxpayer," Doug Pearson, from Altoona, said to WEAU 13 News on Thursday.

Hambuch-Boyle said she still has many questions tied to the grant, but said her excitement for it could be placed in enhancing McKinley and Chippewa Valley Montessori – and maybe, consider adding a new public charter school to the district.

Now, with this grant – and some forethought from district officials – students at Eau Claire’s charter schools will be able to believe in their future.

"We're lucky because we operationalized the mechanism by which we could step in and do something right away," Hambuch-Boyle said.