The 8-1 bipartisan vote came the day after a more expansive measure that called for closing poor-performing public schools failed to get any support at an Assembly hearing.
Senators who backed the more limited approach said it was the only accountability bill that could get enough support to pass this year. The measure simply requires any school that takes public money to report a variety of data to the state Department of Public Instruction starting in the 2015 school year. Current law requires them to report the data starting in the 2020 school year.
It does not impose sanctions or assign letter grades to schools, two of the most controversial elements of the Assembly bill. Neither public school advocates nor school choice supporters supported that proposal, and it did not appear to have enough votes to get out of the Assembly Education Committee.
However, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday he wasn't giving up on the idea, calling it a "much better way to go" than the Senate version.
"The Senate's effort is a very small step," Vos said. "If we have data, I want to make sure we can get bad schools closed."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Legislature needs to be "careful and tempered" in moving forward with establishing an accountability system. He said the Senate approach, without sanctions, was significant and more could be done next session.
Sen. Luther Olsen, the Republican chairman of the committee, defended the more limited approach after he tried unsuccessfully to get support for a tougher one that looked more like the Assembly bill.
"It was charting new territory to have consequences and things like this for all schools," Olsen said. "The Legislature is not there today. We cannot get enough votes."
Democrats said they were concerned supporters of expanding the voucher program will say enough has been done now to grow the program.
"We just have a fear that it's going to be used to proclaim something it's not," said Democratic Sen. John Lehman, of Racine. "It's not an excuse for further voucher expansion."
Last year the Legislature agreed to expand vouchers statewide, beyond Milwaukee and Racine, with a 500-student enrollment cap. Next year the cap increases to 1,000 students, but supporters want that to be bigger or to be dropped entirely.
Voucher school backers say even though efforts to pass a more comprehensive accountability bill appear to be coming up short this year, they will be back next session with ideas on how to hold all schools accountable.
"We felt we need to know more about how this is all going to break out," said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. "We need to have consequences, definitely, but we weren't ready to define what those consequences are, who should implement the consequences."
Under the current report cards, which include information from public schools only, schools are given a descriptor such as "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations," rather than a letter grade.
The report cards assign each school and district a score between 0-100 based on how well they do in four areas: student achievement in reading and math as measured by statewide test scores; student growth in those areas; postsecondary readiness, which includes graduation and attendance rates; and closing of achievement gaps between different groups of students.