Republican urges rejection of latest school bill

School books with apple for teacher
File photo. (MGN Online/University of Kentucky)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Passing the latest proposed school accountability bill, which doesn’t appear to have enough support to clear the Senate, will lead to Republicans getting “clobbered” on the issue “and we will deserve it,” the Republican chairman of the Assembly Education Committee told his colleagues on Monday.

Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, made clear in an email sent to fellow Republican lawmakers that he opposes the bill that will be up for a vote on Thursday, the final day of the Assembly session. That proposal, by Rep. Jim Steineke, would put sanctions in state law for poorly performing public and private schools that accept taxpayer-subsidized students, but it would require a future Legislature to enact them.

The Senate passed a limited bill in February that would require all schools – public, private and charter – that receive public money to report test scores and other data for inclusion on report cards. But Assembly Republicans were pushing a more comprehensive approach with sanctions for poorly performing schools, including forcing public schools to close and reopen as charters and disallowing taxpayer-subsidized voucher students in failing private schools.

The same bill must pass both chambers before it goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration. Lawmakers, public and private school advocates, voucher school proponents and others have been working for years to find something they can all agree on, but a deal has proven elusive.

Now with this year’s legislative session nearing an end, Kestell’s email shows once again that even among Republicans who control the Assembly, there isn’t agreement on the approach. Unless a last-minute deal can be reached, it’s likely the Legislature will adjourn for the year without passing anything.

Kestell, in the email obtained by The Associated Press, urged his fellow Republicans to use “extreme caution before embracing what Rep. Steineke is proposing.”

“If we go along with this, I think we will get clobbered across the state on this issue, and we will deserve it,” Kestell wrote.

In an interview, Kestell said he didn’t expect his email to be made public but said he was being “very candid” with lawmakers because he wanted them to know he didn’t support the bill.

Despite his opposition, the Assembly still plans to move ahead with a vote on Steineke’s proposal. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hasn’t changed his position, despite Kestell’s concerns, said Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer.

“He would like the Assembly to pass a meaningful school accountability bill,” Beyer said.

Kestell said he also wants to pass a meaningful accountability bill. But he said that Steineke’s version has “significant flaws” and he hasn’t seen “any indication” that the Senate would go along with it.

Passing the Assembly version, knowing that the Senate won’t go along, “will be accurately viewed as intentionally killing the bills in both houses,” Kestell wrote in the email.

Steineke, R-Kaukauna, disagreed, saying he still hopes to convince the Senate to pass his version.

The private school voucher program expanded statewide this year with enrollment outside of Milwaukee and Racine capped at 500 students. That grows to 1,000 next year, and having an accountability measurement will help those arguing to further grow the program.

Walker has also said he wants to see an accountability bill pass this year.

Democratic opponents of vouchers also want accountability measures so the performance of students in private schools who take taxpayer money can be compared with public schools.

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