Lawmakers seek to establish charter school for teens recovering - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Lawmakers seek to establish charter school for teens recovering from drug addiction

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin teens recovering from drug addiction could soon be going to a school designed specifically for them.

State lawmakers want to start a recovery charter school as part of the HOPE Agenda, a multiple-year legislative effort aimed at curbing the state's opioid epidemic.

Legislation introduced by Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) last week authorizes the UW System's Office of Educational Opportunity to establish a charter school for up to 15 high school students in recovery for drug abuse.

It would be established as a four-year pilot project that could be expanded if it is deemed successful. That success would be evaluated by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at the end of that four-year term.

Skye Tikkanen of Counseling Connections told 27 News going back to school is one of the toughest parts of recovery for teens.

"We'd all like to believe that there isn't drug use in schools, but there is," said Tikkanen. "The same people, the same places - those things are very triggering when you're trying to be in recovery."

Tikkanen actually worked with Rep. Nygren to craft the legislation for the recovery charter school pilot project.

"The most important message that they can get is that they can have fun in recovery. So having activities that are fun for teenagers, that don't involve substances are so vitally important," said Tikkanen.

But the school's students would also have routine drug testing and counseling.

"There'll be 15 kids there and they're gonna need to do some group counseling, but to be able to connect to that counselor one-on-one is really what's gonna make this successful," said Tikkanen.

"What's exciting to me about us being involved is it allows us to leverage our faculty's expertise at campuses across the system," said Gary Bennett, who runs the Office of Educational Opportunity for the UW System.

Bennett said the location of the pilot school will largely depend on which community shows the willingness to make it a reality.

"In some states you see different school districts collaborating together - you could see that," said Bennett. "You could see a health operator that already has an education site - like Meriter does a lot of work with students and kids who are struggling from addiction."

The recovery charter school would be started with $50,000 in grants from the private sector and $50,000 in grants from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

State general purpose revenue would cover operating costs for the school, through the same budget mechanism used to fund other charters.

Rep. Nygren hopes to have the school open for the 2017-18 school year, but acknowledged to 27 News that may be an optimistic timeline.

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