One City Early Learning Center, a private, nonprofit child care center and early education school on Madison’s South Side, will become Madison’s first school to be chartered through a new University of Wisconsin System program to allow independent schools to receive state funding to educate children.

The funding will allow the school to increase from one to two 4K classrooms and add two kindergarten classes, founder Kaleem Caire said.

“We believe that pre-school should be free to every child in America regardless of their race or income of their families,” Caire said. “Whether you’re rich or poor we have public education free from kindergarten, but you gotta pay for everything below that. We know that birth to five, birth to seven is the absolute most critical time for child development.”

Caire said the state will provide about $8,500 per student up to 82 students for the school, which will in turn have to adhere to standards set forth by the state, abide by open records and open meetings laws, and be accountable to the UW Board of Regents.

As a public charter, “you get a high degree of autonomy but for a high degree of accountability,” Caire said. “The school board has never shut down a school in Madison for bad performance of its kids, but a charter school you live on a five year contract if the school isn’t effective, (the Board of Regents) can close it.”

Caire said One City currently serves students with special needs, and will be required to accommodate all students, regardless of special needs, with a charter from UW.

“We have to go through an identification process for special ed, we have to follow those same rules,” Caire said. Caire noted that the public schools don’t serve every child.

“They kick a lot of kids out of school, man,” he said.

UW-Milwaukee has been granting school charters since 1998, but it’s just this year that UW System has been authorized to grant charters in other communities, allowing independent schools to bypass local school boards. That’s especially relevant in Madison, where the school board has been reluctant to grant charters to independent schools. In 2011, the Madison school board denied a charter for Madison Prep, a school proposed by Caire to focus on a new model of education for Black boys.