Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

February 18, 2014

Wisconsin Senate adopts narrow voucher school accountability bill

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:38 pm

No sanctions included in measure

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel 2/18/14

Madison — The state would better track the performance of taxpayer-funded private voucher schools and expand the fight against heroin abuse, under bills passed by the Senate Tuesday.

After rejecting a much broader schools measure in recent days, Senate Republicans moved forward Tuesday with a narrow bill that would apply existing state report cards for public schools to voucher institutions but not impose sanctions on schools receiving poor marks. Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, still hope to proceed with a broader bill that would sanction failing schools.

The narrow measure passed the Senate 29-3 and now goes to the Assembly. Three Democrats voted against it: Sens. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, Jon Erpenbach of Middleton and Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse.

The Senate bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), said that he had to postpone an “ambitious agenda” to sanction schools of all kinds that receive public money but don’t measure up. But Olsen said the bill made a “big step forward” forward by moving up the date for voucher schools to receive report cards from 2020 to the 2015-’16 school year.

“That’s my definition of accountability and that’s what this piece of legislation does,” Olsen said.

Sen. John Lehman of Racine, a former teacher and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, dismissed that, saying that most senators of his party didn’t feel the bill went far enough. Republicans, he said, had caved to pressure from voucher supporters and broken a promise to hold voucher schools to the same standards as public schools.

“This bill started out as one thing and ended up as what I call a ‘no consequences bill,’ ” Lehman said. “I have a fear that this is going to be sold as some kind of an accountability bill, which it is not… This bill continues to allow two unequal and publicly funded school systems in the state of Wisconsin.”

Olsen said that the broader bill didn’t just fail because of the objections of some voucher school representatives. The more ambitious bill also failed because public school advocates opposed high-stakes consequences in that version such as having independent charter schools taking over failing public schools, he said.

The current report cards for public schools have been sharply criticized for penalizing schools facing challenges, such as students who live in poverty or who cannot speak English. The more limited proposal before the Senate doesn’t include any provisions — present in a previous version — to overhaul the report cards.

In June, the governor and GOP lawmakers expanded taxpayer-funded private voucher schools beyond Milwaukee and Racine and across the state, with a cap next year of 1,000 students for the statewide program.

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