MADISON (AP) – The latest version of a school accountability bill before a Wisconsin state Senate committee would force poor-performing public schools to close or reopen as charter schools.
The measure, which has been rewritten since it was first introduced in September and which is up for a vote Thursday, would also assign letter grades for the first time to public schools based on their performance and require testing for taxpayer-subsidized students at private voucher schools.
The changes would take effect in the 2015 school year.
The Republican-authored bill would also prohibit the lowest-performing schools from enrolling new voucher students, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday. Participating private schools also could test all students for accountability purposes.
“We’re going to start holding anybody who gets public money accountable for getting results. That is the bottom line,” said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which plans to vote on the bill Thursday. Olsen said he hoped the full Senate would vote on it Feb. 11.
Olsen has been working on the bill for months, but it’s unclear whether the changes will satisfy Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Assembly. Walker’s spokesman, Tom Evenson, had no comment on the details of the latest version. He reiterated that the governor hopes to sign an accountability bill into law this year.
Likewise, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, wants to take up an accountability bill this session, but spokeswoman Kit Beyer didn’t offer an opinion on the latest proposal.
A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he would wait to see what happens in committee before saying when it would come up for a vote.
The latest bill raised concerns from Betsy Kippers, a Racine teacher who is also president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the statewide teachers union. She said the bill had “fingerprints of the voucher and privately run charter lobbyists are all over this.”
The president of School Choice Wisconsin, a group that advocates for voucher schools, did not immediately return a message Tuesday seeking comment. A spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction also did not immediately return a message.
Among the changes, schools would receive letter grades on an A-F grading scale, rather than the current five phrases ranging from “significantly exceeds expectations” to “fails to meet expectations.”
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.