State Republicans battle over school accountability bills

Assembly and Senate Republicans outline differing views in bills

State Republicans are clashing over a topic Wisconsin’s governor said is a major priority in the state.

One week after Wisconsin Assembly Republicans proposed a bill that would change how schools are held accountable, Senate Republicans have a bill of their own with some big differences.

For the past two years, school districts have been rated on statewide report cards showing areas they are doing well in, as well as areas where there is room for improvement.             

Schools are tested on four different categories, including student achievement in math and reading, student growth, closing the achievement gaps and rate of attendance and high school graduation.

Then they are rated on a five-point scale from fails to meet expectations to significantly exceeds expectations.

“We get taxpayers dollars, we do the best that we can with our staff and students and our programs and then people decide whether or not that is good enough,” said Fran Finco, superintendent of Onalaska School District.

Under current law, if a school does not meet expectations they are penalized.

“It depends how many years you have been failing, but you have to come up with a plan for improvement. There are certain stipulations of spending,” said Finco.

But now, State Assembly and Senate Republicans want to change the new report card system and have recently introduced two separate bills with two different ideas of improvement.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the three major differences in the two bills.

When it comes to the rating system, the Assembly wants to turn the state-wide schools report card into an A, B, C, D, F letter format. The Senate would place the school in one of five different performance categories

Here’s a look at the difference between standardized tests. The Assembly would allow the school to choose from a variation of tests to be graded on while the Senate would maintain one test.

And finally, the Assembly and Senate both have different ideas when it comes to how a school should be punished if it does not meet standards.

The Assembly would put schools on a four-year improvement plan. If that doesn’t work, the school could then be turned into a charter school.

The Senate would maintain the current sanctions of making the school create a plan to get better and limiting future enrollment.

Some question why these bills are even being considered at all.

“The legislatures, the senators and the representatives I think their hearts are in the right place but sometimes they let philosophy and ideology get in the way of research and what is best practice and what works and what doesn’t work,” said Finco. “If it’s about failing schools, then let’s put our money towards fixing failing schools.”

One of the main differences between current law and the proposed Senate Bill is the creation of two boards. One board would oversee public and charter schools while the other would keep an eye on voucher schools taking away oversight from the state department of public instruction.

With two versions of the bill now before the Legislature, in essence, both the Assembly and Senate could basically pass their own bill. Then they would have to hold a meeting between the two groups and eventually come to a compromise.

The Assembly Education Committee discussed the Assembly’s bill this morning at the Capitol. Gov. Scott Walker said passing a school accountability measure early this year is a priority.