Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

June 14, 2017

Lena Taylor and Jason Fields Unite With Republicans to Weaken Voucher Accountability

Filed under: Legislation,Vouchers — millerlf @ 7:48 am

Wisconsin lawmakers fast track catch-all school-choice bill

Annysa Johnson and Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 13, 2017

A school choice bill on a fast track in the Legislature would eliminate some accountability requirements for private schools in the state-funded voucher programs, including those that dictate standards for meeting average attendance and promoting students from one grade to the next.

But it would also mandate that the schools conduct background checks on employees similar to those required of public schools and penalize schools that knowingly falsify information. And it allows public schools that lose special-needs students to private voucher schools to recoup those funds from the state and local taxpayers.

The catch-all bill is the result of an unusual collaboration between primarily GOP lawmakers, school choice advocates and the state Department of Public Instruction to, they say, eliminate duplicative and unnecessary provisions and streamline the administration of four separate voucher programs.

A problem with the current law is that DPI does not have the authority to actually compel voucher schools to turn over data about average attendance and student promotion rates and parent involvement. The law simply says the school has to annually satisfy one of four standards.

The most recent grade-level promotion reports for Milwaukee’s voucher schools, obtained by the Journal Sentinel under an open records request, shows many voucher schools did not even submit data. Among the ones that did, some voucher schools promoted nearly all their students from year to year while others, particularly high schools, showed a big drop between the number of students in 12th grade and the number who actually graduated.

The report cards do not show those same data points, but they capture others such as rates of absenteeism and dropouts and scores for academic achievement and improvement over time.

“A strong argument could be made that having the private schools in the report card system gives us a much greater deal of information than we previously had,” DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said.

The bill drew overwhelming support from school choice advocates at a public hearing before the Assembly’s Education Committee on Tuesday. But the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Sondy Pope of Mt. Horeb, raised concerns about the speed at which the bill is moving and what she sees as a double standard in her GOP colleagues’ willingness to address issues confronting voucher vs. public schools.

“Our public schools have huge needs as well,” said Pope, who complained that lawmakers “jump whenever the voucher school movement wants us to.”

Committee Chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) said the bill is being expedited so the provisions are in place for the next school year.

Assembly Bill 383 was introduced last week by Reps. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) and is expected to go to the Assembly floor next week. The Senate version, introduced by Sens. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), goes to the floor on Wednesday.

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Some other provisions in the Assembly bill would:

  • Allow private schools with fewer than 20 voucher students to opt out of certain assessments.
  • Require a voucher school to refund its reserve balance to DPI if the school fails to meet a minimum cash and investment balance.
  • Ease the auditing requirement for schools that receive voucher payments of under $100,000.
  • Allows voucher schools that offer work-based learning to count up to 140 hours toward its state-mandated minimum hours of instruction.
  • Require brand-new voucher schools to provide DPI with either an anticipated budget or surety bond before they begin operating. DPI could bar a school that is not financially viable.
  • Allow DPI to bar schools that intentionally or negligently misrepresent information required for the program from the current and following school years.
  • Give students greater flexibility to move between voucher schools and programs, and ease financial reporting requirements for children on a waiting list.
  • Speed the delivery of services for special needs students on the state’s special needs scholarship voucher program.

 

 

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