MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican speaker of the state Assembly are at odds over whether a school accountability bill needs to include sanctions for poor-performing schools, creating another roadblock to proposal's passage.
Walker said Thursday that he didn't think sanctions for public and private voucher schools were necessary, making clear a position he hinted at in his State of the State address two days earlier. That's in direct conflict with the opinion of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the bill he backs that would force failing public schools to close and private schools to stop accepting voucher students.
"The most important sanction is giving parents objective, comparable information so they can make decisions about what's the best choice for their sons and daughters," Walker told reporters after an event at the Capitol. "I trust parents."
Vos said in reaction that without sanctions, the bill would be toothless.
"It wouldn't be accountability then," Vos told The Associated Press. "It would just be political theater. The Legislature owes it to the taxpayers that if schools are failing for years and years, there should be ramifications to protect their interests."
Walker's comments against the necessity of sanctions come after he initially said he thought the Assembly bill that included the penalties was headed in the right direction. Senate Republicans took a different tact with a proposal that doesn't punish public schools, but would disallow future taxpayer-funded voucher students in failing private schools.
That's just one of many significant differences between the two bills on the issue of school accountability, which has been an impossible puzzle for the Legislature to solve in recent years. Advocates for public, charter and private voucher schools have been unable to reach agreement on a myriad of issues, including whether they all should take the same test to measure student performance, how that material should be presented, and whether any should face sanctions.
Instead of mandating penalties for schools — something public school advocates spoke strongly against at a public hearing Wednesday on the Assembly bill that went on for nearly 12 hours — Walker said pressure from those living in the district would be enough to force change.
Failing private schools would be forced to change, he said, by parents choosing to no longer send students with vouchers there.
The Senate bill also requires students at all schools receiving public money to take the same standardized test. The Assembly bill would require private schools to choose from up to four different tests.
The Senate bill also sets up two new boards to oversee the accountability process — one for public schools and one for private schools. The Assembly bill originally had one board, but its sponsor Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt on Wednesday said he was removing that provision because he didn't believe it was constitutional.