MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A sweeping school accountability bill that would force Wisconsin’s poor-performing public schools to close drew no support at a public hearing Wednesday, and it may not have enough votes to clear the Republican-controlled Assembly Education Committee.
Support does seem to be coalescing around a much narrower proposal, up for a Senate committee vote on Thursday, that has no sanctions for schools. It would also not assign letter grades to schools and instead would focus on ensuring that data from private schools in the voucher program is included on the current report cards for public schools.
Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Scott Walker have been working for more than two years with public and private schools, and others, on a school accountability plan. The goal is to create a report card with comparable information for all schools – public, choice and charter – that accept public money so their performance can be measured.
Voucher proponents are hoping to create the accountability system as they push to further increase the voucher program next year beyond the current 1,000-student limit. Lobbyists for the groups have been meeting privately with lawmakers trying to get something passed before the Legislature adjourns in April.
Walker said he would prefer to have a more comprehensive accountability bill, but he would accept the Senate version that has no sanctions for poor performance if there is no alternative.
“Rather some accountability improvements versus none,” Walker said when asked for his position on the Senate bill.
The Assembly bill that drew no support Wednesday would give all schools that accept public money a letter grade on the report cards. Schools are currently categorized based on performance but not graded. Under the bill, public schools that consistently fail would be closed and reopened as charter schools, and voucher schools would be barred from accepting new students.
Groups that advocate for choice and charter schools, as well as those representing public schools, reiterated at Wednesday’s hearing that they want to find a way to hold all schools accountable. But they still haven’t agreed on the best way to do it.
Still, the measure’s sponsor said he wasn’t giving up hope and he expected the bill to have enough support to pass the committee next week.
“I don’t think any of us are saying this has to be the final product and we’re not open to any changes,” said Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, during the hearing.
Republicans hold a 7-4 majority on the committee, but at least one of them opposes the bill. Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, will not vote for it, his spokesman Mike Mikalsen said before the hearing.
“Steve has not seen a version yet that he would honestly say he would vote in favor of,” Mikalsen said.
The other six Republicans on the committee either had no comment or did not immediately return calls. All four Democrats are opposed to the bill.
Mikalsen said the options for passing an accountability bill this year are to either do the limited Senate proposal, that has no sanctions for poor performing schools, or nothing.
“There’s not a lot of consensus in either house,” he said.