More confusion over Wis. school accountability

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • February 20, 2014 - 1:10 PM

MADISON, Wis. — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature still can't agree on how far to go with a school accountability bill, canceling an Assembly committee vote at the last minute Thursday as wrangling behind the scenes continues.

The Senate passed a limited bill Tuesday that would require all schools — public, private and charter — that receive public money to report test scores and other data for inclusion on report cards. But Assembly Republicans were pushing a more comprehensive approach with sanctions for poor-performing schools, including forcing public schools to close and reopen as charters and disallowing taxpayer subsidized voucher students in failing private schools.

The Assembly Education Committee scheduled a vote on the GOP's measure Thursday morning, but committee chairman Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, abruptly canceled the vote at the start of the meeting. He said changes were still being discussed, so it wasn't ready to be voted on.

"I think we've got pretty good soup there," Kestell said. "There's been a lot of good work done in the course of the process, but there are some final amendments that aren't done yet. ... There's an opportunity I think, if we take our time, to get everyone on board."

Lawmakers have been flummoxed trying to work with public and private school advocates on a bill that has enough votes to pass. Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants something to sign this session.

The private school voucher program expanded statewide this year with enrollment outside of Milwaukee and Racine capped at 500 students. That grows to 1,000 next year, and having an accountability measurement will help those arguing to further grow the program.

Democratic opponents of vouchers also want accountability measures so the performance of students in private schools who take taxpayer money can be compared with public schools.

Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said talks were ongoing with the Senate to find a compromise that's more expansive than what passed earlier this week.

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he's not actively negotiating with anyone, though he'll look at any proposal the Assembly would offer.

"All we have the votes for is what we passed on Tuesday," Fitzgerald said.

Steineke remained optimistic that a deal can be struck to pass a bill that includes sanctions, creates a commission to review the report cards and the reporting process, and imposes testing on all schools.

"We're at a place where there's a good opportunity to bring both sides together to come up with a bill," Steineke said.

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