Legislative Update – February 26

The Assembly and Senate, and committees, continued acting on a large number of bills last week, as they hustle toward recess.

Here are some updates to catch you up on last week’s happenings:

Thiesfeldt bill. AB-693 was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a party line 5-3 vote and was passed by the Assembly. A companion bill, SB 821, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee. The Assembly committee incorporated an amendment to allow teachers to terminate their employment without penalty in certain cases of “physical assault” or violent crime. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc. Take Action Now!

Guns in School. A Wisconsin legislator is circulating a proposal called the Private School Carry Act. The bill would allow anyone with a concealed-carry license to carry that gun on school grounds, and, if the school board passes a policy, those guns could be concealed-carried into buildings. Under the proposal, if a school district doesn’t allow it and someone forgets they have a gun strapped to their ankle or other part of their body, the penalty is decreased to a forfeiture (which isn’t really a crime), instead of the current felony. The deadline for legislators to sign onto the proposal was Friday.

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee passed AB 748 / SB 634 on a 6-3 vote. The bill pre-empts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has already been passed by the Senate Labor Committee. 

Dual Enrollment. AB 851 / SB 711  requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Sparsity Aid. Assembly Democrats introduced an amendment to a bill to increase sparsity aid / low revenue ceiling. The amendment calls for a  School Safety Plan Revenue Limit Exemption, a timely and useful amendments for our members. Under the exemption plan, school districts would receive a revenue limit exemption for certain school safety expenditures made under a school safety plan equal to the greater of $40,000 or $100 times the number of pupils in the school district. It is estimated that districts would utilize $60 million in revenue limit authority related to this item.

Nutrition Education. The Assembly passed SB159 /AB-215, which would require a school board to modify its instruction about nutrition to include knowledge of the nutritive value of foods and the role of a nutritious diet in promoting health. Current law requires school boards to provide instruction about the vitamin content of food and food and health values of dairy products. The bill also requires a nutrition education component be incorporated into the health education credit requirement to receive a high school diploma.

Introduced in Senate:

Academic excellence higher education scholarships. SB840 addresses the awarding of academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 500 pupils, and not more than ten scholarships to be awarded statewide to seniors from public or tribal high schools enrolling fewer than 20 pupils and to seniors from private high schools enrolling fewer than 80 pupils. Scholarship deadlines for these schools are also impacted. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

Rural teacher grants. SB 841 would create a grant program to encourage eligible teachers to teach in schools operated by eligible rural school districts. To be eligible, a teacher must be nominated by her school district and submit a claim for financial assistance. The teacher must include a commitment to use the financial assistance to repay student loans. The maximum grant amount is $1,000 for the first school year, $2,000 for the second school year, $2,000 for the third school year, $2,000 for the fourth school year, and $3,000 for the fifth school year. Districts would be limited to four eligible teachers in the grant program each year.

Phasing out vouchers. AB 968 would provide for new regulations under Wisconsin’s voucher programs, and eventually phase them out altogether. This bill prohibits a pupil who has attended a private school under any voucher program and who has completed the highest grade level at that private school from attending any other private school under vouchers. Also, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no new voucher school may added. Additionally, no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the 2019-20 school year. Finally, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no private school may accept pupils under the voucher program unless the school was participating in the program in the 2019-20 school year, and no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the prior year.

County jailers and the WRS. SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operation, Technology and Consumer Protection. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding has scheduled its next public hearing for Monday, March 5, 2018, in La Crosse. The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and conclude at 6:00 p.m. The hearing will take place at the: North Woods International School N2541 Sablewood Rd. La Crosse.