Senator not giving up on Wis. accountability bill
Closing failing schools could still be part of Wis. accountability bill
The Republican sponsor of a limited school accountability bill slated to pass the state Senate on Tuesday said he isn't giving up yet on reaching a deal for a more comprehensive approach that includes closing failing schools.
Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly haven't been able to agree on how far to go with a school accountability bill. One of the main areas of disagreement has been whether to assign letter grades to schools and impose sanctions on those that fail to measure up.
The Senate was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a narrow bill that would only require any school that takes taxpayer money — public, charter and voucher — to report a variety of data to the state Department of Public Instruction starting in the 2015 school year. No letter grades would be assigned and no schools could be closed or kicked out of the voucher program, where taxpayer subsidies pay for a private school education.
An Assembly bill, which elicited no support at a public hearing last week, would force failing public schools to close and not allow failing private schools to accept any more students receiving a taxpayer subsidized voucher. It would also assign every school a grade between A and F.
Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said Tuesday that talks are now focused on a compromise where schools would not be assigned letter grades, but poor performers could be shut down or kicked out of the voucher program. A special advisory committee that evaluates the report card and gives advice to the state superintendent would also be created, Olsen said.
That is similar to the approach taken on the original proposal Olsen introduced in August with Rep. Steve Kestell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
"The fat lady hasn't sung yet," Olsen said.
Gov. Scott Walker has said passing a school accountability bill is one of his priorities, but he's been unable to bring lawmakers together on a deal that can get enough votes to pass. Walker has said that passing the more limited Senate bill was better than nothing, but he hoped something more substantive could be done.
If a deal can't be reached on something more expansive, Olsen said he could live with the Senate bill that doesn't have sanctions but would allow the public to see how well private schools that accept voucher students are measuring up compared with others.
"It's better than nothing, that's for sure," Olsen said of the Senate bill. "The sooner we get people into the system, the better it is. But you always like to go for the gold, and not get the bronze."
Last year the Legislature agreed to expand vouchers statewide, beyond Milwaukee and Racine, with a 500-student enrollment cap. Next year the cap increases to 1,000 students, but supporters want that to be bigger or to be dropped entirely.
Under the current report cards, which include information from public schools only, schools are given a descriptor such as "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations," rather than a letter grade.
That would not change under the Senate bill or the compromise being discussed, Olsen said.
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