Wisconsin Bill Would Identify, Offer Options for Failing Schools

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The Republican-led state Assembly in Wisconsin could vote next week on a bill that would create sanctions for schools labeled as failing throughout the state.

The bill would impact schools who had received a rating of failing for 6 consecutive years, starting in the 2016-17 school year.

Local school boards would then be required to either make the school a charter school, fire the principal and reorganize the school, or create a contract with an outside entity to run the school.

Private schools with less than 20 students that receive taxpayer vouchers would be exempt from the bill.

While representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt feels the bill is necessary in order to keep schools accountable, some Republicans, including Governor Scott Walker, do not agree. In order to determine which schools repeatedly do not perform well, standardized testing would be used.

“Myself and the Assembly feel that if we don’t have any kind of strong sanctions on the back end of this, we’re just going to continue going down the same path as we have for a number of years for some of our struggling schools,” said Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac).

Walker has repeatedly said he does not support sanctions for public schools.  Instead, he would like to see parents given the choice of where to send their children, in addition to having the proper information to make that choice.

Democrats in the state have expressed the opinion that the bill is moving too fast and that the Assembly’s Education Committee have not allowed enough time to receive public feedback, writes Jason Zimmerman for WBAY.

“The public hasn’t seen this bill,” said state Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, to Thiesfeldt at a hearing on a different issue. “Nobody knows what’s in here except you. Without a public hearing I can’t imagine we’d (vote).”

In addition, the fact that many poorly-rated schools are in low-income areas is a major concern.

Rep. Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton) said, “If they don’t have the resources then it’s hard for us to go ahead and talk about sanctioning them right away. So we need to make sure they have the funding and resources they need and then we need to look at how we can help them be accountable, not just focus on punishing them.”

The state’s legislature has been at odds as to how to best proceed concerning the measurement of public, charter and private voucher schools.  In particular, both sides cannot seem to agree on whether schools that receive public money should all take the same assessment in order to measure student performance, how that data should then be presented, and whether the schools should be subject to any sanctions, reports Scott Bauer for The Green Bay Press Gazette.

The full Assembly is expected to vote on the bill on March 17.