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School accountability bill may be dead for year

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • January 29, 2014 - 2:35 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A wide-ranging school accountability bill that among other things would force poorly performing public schools in Wisconsin to close or reopen as charter schools may be dead after the chairman of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday canceled a planned vote.

"Right now we don't have the votes and that's all right," said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, who has been working to reach consensus on the issue with public, private and voucher school advocates, teachers, Democrats, Gov. Scott Walker and others.

"Our goal is to continue to work on something," Olsen said. "If we get something done, we get something done."

Walker said Wednesday he planned to get involved in trying to broker a compromise. He said his goal was to pass a bill pass this year that requires performance data of all schools that take public money, including those with voucher students, to be reported so the public can see how they compare with one another.

"I'd like to see something before the end of this session to sign," Walker said.

The bill has been more than two years in the making. The latest version, unveiled earlier this week, was updated from an earlier bill first introduced in September. The Senate Education Committee had been scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

Earlier this week Olsen said he hoped the full Senate would vote on the bill in February. Now he is saying he's not sure if it will come up this year at all.

"There's no rush," Olsen said, noting that current law requires voucher schools to be included in the state report card in 2017 even if the Legislature does nothing. The debate has been over details about how that will work, including increasing accountability measures for poorly performing schools.

The Legislature is expected to wrap up its work for the year in March, leaving little time for a deal to be reached. The changes proposed in the bill were to take effect in the 2015 school year.

Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Village of Pewaukee, was one of those who wanted to see changes, Olsen said. Farrow has been working closely with school choice advocates on alternatives. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Betsy Kippers, a teacher from Racine and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the statewide teachers union, said she was glad the bill was held up.

Kippers said Olsen's bill created a punitive system for public schools in favor of private schools.

"This bill left the goal of continual improvement for all schools behind," she said.

Olsen called the bill "probably the biggest thing Wisconsin has seen for holding schools accountable the history of the state."

The bill proposed to rework school report cards, which began two years ago and currently are issued only for public schools. It would assign letter grades to schools, replacing a system that categorized them in categories ranging from "significantly exceeds expectations" to "fails to meet expectations."

It also would require testing for students using vouchers to attend private schools, and the lowest-performing schools would be barred from enrolling new voucher students.

Under the proposal, public schools that receive an F for three consecutive years, or a combination of Ds and Fs with weak growth scores for five consecutive years, would be closed or turned over to a private charter management organization. Eligible organizations would have to operate existing charter schools with better test results than district schools.

Public charter schools with similar poor performance would have their charters revoked and wouldn't be allowed to participate in the voucher program if they reopen as private schools.

Private voucher schools that don't perform would not be allowed to accept new students or reopen as charter schools. But those schools would have the option of having students take the state test or a different one.

The Department of Public Instruction would have to issue a grade of F to at least 5 percent of the state's schools, or about 100 a year.

© 2014 Star Tribune