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School Accountability Bill Would Impact All Wisconsin Schools That Receive Public Money

On Wednesday, Republican representatives unveiled a bill to hold schools accountable for educating students.

The plan would affect all schools that receive public money – public and private. They could find themselves being graded and facing consequences for poor marks. The author of the GOP plan says Wisconsin could begin grading schools next year.

“Sometimes you have to make changes rather quickly,” Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt says. He’s chairman of the Assembly’s Education Committee.

Under Thiesfeldt’s plan, a board would develop grading standards for schools and penalties for those that fail. But first, they’d have four years to improve – if they take part in the improvement program the board will also create.

“If you do qualify for the improvement program then you would have an additional four years and there is a provision in there that the Superintendent of Public Instruction can say that yeah, they should get a couple more years. There’s significant time in this bill that allows them to do a full examination of what they’re doing, make the necessary changes,” Thiesfeldt says.

If public schools did not improve, the state would convert them into independent charter schools. If voucher schools did not improve, the state would cut off their public funding. The proposal sets lofty goals, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

“Hopefully in six or seven years when the report cards are fully put into place and we’ve had schools go through that improvement program that no school will be failing,” Vos says.

Initially, there was talk that the Assembly Republicans’ plan would call for the firing of principals and teachers at failing schools. It does not contain that provision.

Still, Milwaukee Democratic Rep. Mandela Barnes opposes the GOP school accountability plan. He says it would paint all failing schools with a broad brush, when their students might face unique challenges.

“All of our students learn differently. So many of our students have a unique set of circumstances that set them apart, whether negatively or positively, whether it’s the level of parental involvement or other issues such as poverty, food insecurity or crime density in a neighborhood that these students are going home to,” Barnes says.

Barnes supports a bill from fellow Democrats. It calls for more accountability from voucher schools – private schools that receive public money to educate certain students. State Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd of Milwaukee introduced the measure Wednesday, at the same time Republicans were touting their bill.

Dodd says her plan would require background checks for teachers and administrators in voucher schools and require their teachers to attain the same licensing standards as public school educators, especially those who instruct students with special needs.

“I’ve heard parents complain that their child has sat in a corner all day while the school day has gone on because the teacher didn’t know how to instruct their child or punish them for behavior that someone who is licensed to work with special needs children would be able to handle a lot better and know how to redirect that child,” Dodd says.

Dodd says she doesn’t think her bill will go anywhere because Republicans hold larger majorities in the Legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he hopes to hold a public hearing on the GOP bill, and get his chamber to pass it, by the end of the month.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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