MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Members of Gov. Scott Walker’s staff planned to discuss a compromise Thursday with a Republican senator who has been critical of a school accountability bill that would make private voucher students take a statewide test and put penalties in place for poor performance.
Sen. Paul Farrow said he hoped the meeting would result in a pathway to reaching a deal that can pass the Legislature yet this year. The meeting comes the day after the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Luther Olsen, canceled a planned vote on the measure because of opposition from Farrow and others.
The latest version of the accountability bill, in the works for more than two years, is drawing opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as public teachers, public school administrators and advocates for private voucher schools.
Walker on Wednesday said he planned to get more involved to help broker a deal that can pass the Legislature before the session ends sometime in March.
Farrow, in an interview Thursday, said if a deal can’t be reached within the next week, it’s unlikely to get done this session.
“I’m hopeful,” Farrow said. “I think we still have time, the window is closing very quickly.”
Under the latest version of the bill, poor performing public schools would have to close or reopen as charter schools. The lowest-performing voucher schools would be barred from enrolling new students. Voucher students would also be required to take tests to see how they measure up to public schools, and private schools could choose to test all of their students.
The bill also reworks the school report card to assign letter grades to schools and districts and require that at least 5 percent of all schools, or about 100 a year, be assigned a failing grade. The bill also changes the criteria used to judge schools.
Farrow is pushing for changes in two areas. He wants to create an advisory board with representatives from schools, members of the public and others under the state Department of Public Instruction. The board would oversee implementation of the new accountability system and help set the standards as well as the penalties.
Farrow also wants to make changes with the testing requirement to ensure that private schools are given the flexibility to administer a test different from the one given to public school students. Farrow said even if different tests are given, the results from both public and private schools with voucher students could be compared.
Creating such a system is one of the main goals of Walker and others who have been working on the accountability bill. Voucher proponents are hoping to create the accountability system as they push to further grow the voucher program next year beyond the current 1,000-student limit.
State Superintendent Tony Evers delineated scores of problems with the latest version of the bill in a four-page letter sent Thursday to members of the team that worked on developing recommendations for an accountability system.
Evers warned in the letter that the bill varies in significant ways from recommendations of the team, which was led by Walker and Evers and included representatives from public and private schools, the business community, teachers and others.
“The bottom line is that all report cards must be based off the same data, and calculated in the same way, for all schools to ensure fairness and maintain confidence in the system,” Evers wrote.
He encouraged team members to contact lawmakers directly with their concerns.