A sweeping school accountability bill that would force Wisconsin's poor-performing public schools to close may not have enough support to clear the Republican-controlled Assembly Education Committee that held a hearing on it Wednesday.
The measure already appears to be dead on arrival in the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said there's no appetite to impose the sanctions. If the bill can't even get through the Assembly committee, it has no chances of passing this session.
Republicans hold a 7-4 majority on the committee, but at least one of them opposes the bill. Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, will not vote for it, his spokesman Mike Mikalsen said before the hearing.
"Steve has not seen a version yet that he would honestly say he would vote in favor of," Mikalsen said.
The other six Republicans on the committee either had no comment or did not immediately return calls. All four Democrats are opposed to the bill.
Still, the measure's sponsor said he wasn't giving up hope and he expected the bill to have enough support to pass the committee next week.
"I don't think any of us are saying this has to be the final product and we're not open to any changes," said Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, during the hearing. However, Steineke said he would not support removing sanctions, which was one of the issues that Democrats and Nass oppose.
Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Scott Walker have been working for more than two years with public and private schools, and others, on a plan to make private schools that accept students receiving taxpayer-subsidized vouchers appear on report cards that show how well public schools are performing.
Voucher proponents are hoping to create the accountability system as they push to further increase the voucher program next year beyond the current 1,000-student limit. Lobbyists for the groups have been meeting privately with lawmakers trying to get something passed before the Legislature adjourns in April.
The versions that have been released publicly so far have failed to garner support from the varied interested groups.
The latest version, which the Assembly committee heard Wednesday, would give all schools that accept public money a letter grade on the report cards. Public schools that consistently fail would be closed and reopened as charter schools, and voucher schools would be barred from accepting new students.
It was that approach that Fitzgerald said last week did not have the votes to pass the Senate. Instead, a more narrow bill is being pursued that would ensure data from private schools in the voucher program gets included on the report cards. Schools would not receive letter grades and poor performers would not risk being closed or losing new voucher students.
The Senate Education Committee planned to vote Thursday on that bill.
Mikalsen said the options for passing an accountability bill this year are to either do that Senate proposal or nothing.
"There's not a lot of consensus in either house," he said.