Hearing on Senate schools bill takes center stage

ElliottAtHearing

Schroeder_Elliott_240pxA bill setting requirements for public and taxpayer-funded private voucher schools got a hearing Tuesday (January 27, 2015), drawing education advocates in droves to the Capitol for the second time in two weeks. WEAC members Lyman Elliott of Beloit and Kim Schroeder of Milwaukee urged legislators to require the same standards for all schools that receive taxpayer funding.

“It is nothing short of perverse to suggest that schools outside of the traditional public system be granted some ‘exceptional’ status – having a separate set of standards of accountability applied, unequally, to them,” said Elliott, a member of WEAC, Region 6 and the Beloit Education Association.

This bill, called Senate Bill 1, sets different standards for public schools and vouchers, rather than requiring the same rules for all schools that receive tax dollars. It differs from Assembly Bill 1, which set off an avalanche of Cyberlobby messages, in several ways and does not explicitly call for punishing struggling schools. WEAC is closely watching the bill and will keep you posted on developments.

Democratic legislators also have introduced a school improvement bill recently which has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

WEAC President Betsy Kippers has said the bottom line for school improvement isn’t administering punishments or creating different rules for different schools. She says real school improvement starts with adequate funding for public schools. WEAC will be watching closely when the governor presents his 2015-17 state budget February 3 to see if he invests in Wisconsin’s public schools, she said.

“If we want to help children in under-performing schools, we need to improve our neighborhood public schools so that every child has a good public school to attend no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are. That’s true opportunity.” Kippers said. “In light of the severe state deficit, taxpayers can’t afford to continue throwing more money down the bottomless pit of voucher subsidies while their local schools suffer.”

Here’s an overview of Senate Bill 1:

PUBLIC SCHOOLS

  1. Creates a state board to oversee improvement plans for traditional and public charter schools that receive the lowest rating on school report cards for three consecutive years.
  2. Grants school boards and charter school operators the right to appeal the rating to the newly created board.
  3. Allows the newly created board, with the approval of the state superintendent, to direct the school board to implement other interventions, such as a new instructional design, personnel changes or staff professional development.
  4. Authorizes DPI to withhold state aid from a school district that fails to comply with an improvement plan for a chronically failing school or school district. Prohibits the renewal of contract for the operation of a chronically failing privately-run charter school.
  5. Directs each school board to annually post on its website educational options available to children residing in the school district who are between the ages of 3 and 18.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS

  1. Creates a parental choice school accountability board, which is attached to the Department of Administration, to identify chronically failing voucher schools, defined as those schools that have been placed in the lowest performance category on school report cards for three consecutive years.
  2. Allows the governing body of the private voucher school to appeal the rating to the parental choice school accountability board.
  3. Prohibits a chronically failing voucher school from accepting new students under the voucher program.
  4. Allows a private school to reapply to the Department of Public Instruction to accept new voucher students three years after being identified as chronically failing.

Notably, SB I maintains the current law’s requirement that students attending schools receiving public funding take the same test and SB 1 does not include A-F letter grades.

Related Reading:

Senate Bill 1
Unpacking Wisconsin’s “Accountability” Bill: The Senate Version (SB1)
Scot Ross: Senate Republicans make a bad school idea even worse 

Key points:

the red rectangle buttonTo help children in under-performing schools, we need to improve our neighborhood public schools so that every child has a good public school to attend no matter where they live or what their family

  • The best way to improve public education is to provide resources to reduce class sizes to enable more one-on-one interaction and ensure that children have access to a well-rounded curriculum.
  • Instead of uninformed politicians meddling in education, they should invite those most invested in our students to the table, including teachers, school boards, administrators and parents.

This bill sets different standards for public and voucher schools, even though both are funded by taxpayers.

  • All schools receiving taxpayer dollars should be held to the same standards.
  • There still won’t be apples-to-apples comparison between public schools and tax-funded private schools.
  • This is a political solution to pay back voucher and private charter school lobbyists and pave the way for voucher expansion in the state budget – not an education solution.

We’ll be watching closely to see whether all this talk about school improvement is reflected as a priority in the upcoming state budget.

  • Given the state deficit, Wisconsin can’t afford to taxpayers can’t afford to continue throwing more money down the bottomless pit of voucher subsidies while their local schools suffer.

For alerts about this and other voucher-related legislative news, sign up at weac.org/subscribe.

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