Common Core, voucher school bills in jeopardy

The dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo).
The dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo).

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Proposals to rewrite Common Core academic standards, increase reporting of private schools in the voucher program and limit regulations on sand mining in Wisconsin appear unlikely to pass as the Legislature nears the end of its session.

Those are just three of numerous bills in limbo as the Assembly plans to wrap up its work for the year next week. The Senate also expects to meet only two more days, finishing on April 1.

Anything that hasn’t passed when lawmakers adjourn would have to be re-introduced next year, when the political landscape could be drastically altered following the November elections. Half of the Senate, all 99 members of the Assembly and Gov. Scott Walker face election this year.

Republicans in control of both chambers are at the point now of either trying to find versions of proposals that can pass or waiting until January.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said this week that the chances are slim for anything that hasn’t already been approved by the Senate. That would include the bill giving the Legislature the power to rewrite academic standards, which has yet to be voted on by the Senate Education Committee.

“It’s still in limbo,” said Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the committee, on Wednesday. Olsen has said he won’t vote on the measure until its backers tell him they have enough support in the Senate to pass it. The measure’s chief sponsor, Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir, said she wasn’t giving up on the bill despite the coming end of the session.

The Senate has passed another education-related bill, which would require private schools that accept taxpayer-funded voucher students to have performance information included on the same report cards that public schools use.

That approach has both Democratic and Republican critics, who want there to be consequences for schools that don’t perform well. A more far-reaching proposal is in the Assembly, but it doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass the Senate.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said his intention was to pass the Assembly version, which could result in closing failing public schools and kicking subpar private schools out of the voucher program. Then it would be up to the Senate to either go along with that version or do nothing this year.

“I want to have something that’s meaningful,” Vos said.

Rep. Jim Steineke, sponsor of the Assembly version, said Thursday he planned to talk with senators to try to convince them to pass the bill with sanctions. Steineke said he was optimistic the measure could clear the Senate before the session ends.

A third bill facing an uncertain future is a measure to prohibit local governments from creating new sand mine regulations. Backers worked to scale back the proposal, but those efforts appear to have stalled after the Wisconsin Towns Association came out against the latest version.

Sand mines have boomed in western Wisconsin over the past few years with advances in hydraulic fracturing, which uses sand mixed with water and chemicals to extract natural gas and crude oil from rock formations. The sand mined in Wisconsin is shipped around the country.

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