By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Jan. 13, 2015
Senate Republicans introduced a school accountability bill Tuesday that would put a new state panel in charge of working with school boards on improvement plans for chronically underperforming public schools.
The new bill outlines what appear to be more collaborative steps to improve chronically low-performing schools compared to a pending bill backed by Assembly Republicans that offers more prescriptive sanctions, such as converting failing public schools to charter schools after a period of years.
Both bills aim to make sure Wisconsin’s publicly funded K-12 schools are high quality and producing good outcomes for students. But the details of how to do that have become mired in politics — even within the Republican Party — as well as competing ideas about how to define and improve a “failing” institution.
Senate GOP leaders Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) jointly released their version of the accountability bill Tuesday afternoon after meeting in caucus with party members.
The bill, SB1, would create a state board to oversee improvement plans for traditional public and public charter schools that earn the lowest-rating on school report cards for three consecutive years. It would allow that board, with approval of the state superintendent, to direct the school board to implement other interventions, such as a new instructional design, personnel changes or professional development programs for staff.
Voucher school oversight
A second new state board — housed at the Department of Administration but headed by the state superintendent — would review annual accountability reports for private voucher schools.
Voucher schools that earn the lowest rating on school report cards for three years in a row would be cut off from state funding for new students for three years.
Public schools and private schools that believe they are unjustly targeted as “failing” could appeal the designation to their respective state oversight boards.
The Senate bill would continue having all publicly funded schools take the same state standardized achievement test. Those results heavily influence the school report-card ratings used now for public schools.
Last session, lawmakers agreed to start including voucher schools in that report card system as well. That was a compromise move because lawmakers couldn’t agree on what the sanctions should be for schools that consistently rank low in the report cards.
Those same hang-ups exist at the start of the 2015 session.
Assembly Republicans released their version of the bill last week, which is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday.
The Assembly’s bill would convert all failing public schools to independent charter schools after a set number of years, and would also offer private voucher schools to take a different state test for accountability purposes than public schools.
The Assembly bill also called for having a new state board headed by the state superintendent redesign the state report cards to use A-F rankings, instead of the five-tiered ranking system used now.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Tuesday it was possible that differences between the GOP school bills in his house and the Senate would need to be worked out through the rarely used tool of a conference committee.
Vos said that he expected Gov. Scott Walker to stick to basic principles when discussing the competing proposals in his state of the state speech tonight and not endorse one or the other.”I don’t think he’s going to come out in favor of our plan or the Senate’s plan,” he said.
Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein contributed to this report from Madison.