Wis. Senate passes school accountability bill

State lawmakers are working a new school accountability bill.
State lawmakers are working a new school accountability bill.

MADISON - Test scores and other data about public schools in Wisconsin are currently accessible to the public online. Some state lawmakers want more schools to report that information.

"Everyone wants to know what schools are doing with the taxpayer money they get," said State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon.

The Senate passed its school accountability bill Tuesday by a 29-3 vote. The bill would require any school getting taxpayer money - public, charter and voucher - to submit information starting in the fall of 2015.

Republicans in the Assembly want to do more than measure schools. Their bill imposes sanctions for poor-performing schools.

Those include forcing failing public schools to close after three years, while failing private schools wouldn't be allowed to accept any more students receiving a taxpayer subsidized voucher.

Assembly Democrats have another view. State Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, wants all schools to be handled the same.

"If we're going to do anything on accountability, then it needs to be applied equally, and it needs to be set-up in such a way that we remedy the situation instead of just being punitive," said Pope.

Pope is proposing a new fund that would support a school before it is penalized.

Pope and State Superintendent Tony Evers oppose closing struggling schools.

"I'd like to see some resources put in place so that we can make sure these under-performing schools can do better," said Evers.

Evers says he continues to talk with legislators about the bill.

"No bill would be better than a bad bill, but I'm hopeful," he said.

Passing the legislation has been a priority for Gov. Scott Walker, but he's left it up to legislators to negotiate what is in the bill.

"My hope is, by the time the session is done, we'll have an accountability measure that I can sign into law," said Walker.

Walker says passing the more limited Senate bill is better than nothing, but he hopes something more substantial can be worked out.

It's not clear whether the Senate is interested in the broader Assembly bill, which was being rewritten and scheduled for its second public hearing in eight days on Wednesday.

The latest proposal will not assign letter grades to schools. Previous versions included a letter grade system in the bill.