Friday, December 20, 2013

Capitol Update December 20

Governor’s Race

Governor Walker has not officially announced yet that he will run for re-election, but he did say on Monday that “I don’t see any way I don’t run for governor again.”  This statement came as result of rumors that Governor Walker will not be running for re-election, and will instead focus on a 2016 presidential run.

Assembly Special Election

A special election for the vacant 82nd Assembly District seat was held on Tuesday.  Republican Ken Skowronski beat out Democrat John Hermes in the election.  The special election was needed as a result of former Republican Representative Jeff Stone accepting a position as head of the state Public Service Commission’s water division.

School District Health Insurance Study

Representative John Jagler (R-Watertown) and Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) have introduced Assembly Bill 579 and Senate Bill 438, which would require the State Superintendent to annually collect detailed information about the cost of health insurance benefits from each school district in the state.

Under the bill, the state superintendent shall include in his or her report, for each school district, the total health care benefit cost incurred by the school district and the average of the health care benefit cost incurred, by the school district, per school district employee for all school district employees that receive health care benefits from the school district.

AB 579 has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor and SB 438 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

Biometric Data Collection

Representative Tom Larson (R-Colfax) has introduced a bill which prohibits a school from collecting biometric data, such as fingerprint identification or retinal scanning, from a student unless a parent or guardian has provided written consent.  The bill is in response to the recommendations approved by the Assembly Select Committee on Common Core Standards. There is no known school district that is currently collecting such data and the Common Core standards do not include the collection of biometric data.  The bill is currently circulating for co-sponsorship.

Representative Tom Larson: Larson Introduces Biometric Data Bill

Collection of Student Information

Representative Don Pridemore (R-Erin) introduced a bill that puts limits on the collection of a student’s personal information.  The bill includes provisions which limit who is able to access a pupil’s records, which information is provided to a parent or guardian when requested, requires consent to provide personally identifiable student data to a research organization and to maintain records of such disclosures.  It also prohibits the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from collecting more student data than it is permitted to, from providing such data to a federal agency and it requires that DPI post on its website the data that it collects and why.

The bill addresses one of the recommendations made by the Assembly Select Committee on Common Core Standards.  It is currently circulating for co-sponsorship.

Union Re-certifications

On Thursday, voting closed for the annual re-certification elections of the 400 unions representing teachers, school support staff and school office workers in the state.  The purpose of the voting is to see whether members want the union to continue to represent them in negotiations on base wage increases based on inflation, the only collective bargaining that Act 10 permits.  Act 10 also requires that 51% of the union’s eligible voters approve of the re-certification.

Somewhere between 80-90% of the school worker’s unions received enough votes to continue to wage negotiations.

Race-Based Mascots

On Thursday Governor Walker signed AB 297 into law as 2013 Wisconsin Act 115,which makes it more difficult to challenge the use of race-based mascots and school nicknames.

Act 115 essentially reverses a 2010 law that required the Department of Public Instruction to review a school’s use of a race-based mascot or nickname if a complaint was filed against the district. Under Act 115, complaints on offensive mascots or nicknames will now be referred to the Department of Administration instead of DPI and must be accompanied by a petition signed by members of the community equivalent to 10% of the district’s student population.  The Act also shifts the burden of proof from the school district to those filing the complaint.

AB297 passed through the Assembly in October and the Senate in November.  Walker delayed signing the bill until today, the last day he could act on the bill before it automatically becomes law. Walker says he empathized with opponents of the bill but argues that it is a matter of freedom of speech for schools and that changing a school’s mascot or nickname should be a local decision.  Opponents argued that it’s a matter of discrimination and civil rights, not freedom of speech.

Governor Walker sent a letter to tribal leaders before signing the bill, telling them of his intentions.  He suggests that the best solution is educating others on why certain phrases and symbols are offensive.

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker will sign bill making it harder to force schools to drop Indian nicknames

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rural Schools Taskforce Hears School Technology Concerns

The Speaker’s Taskforce on Rural Schools held a public hearing in Madison on Tuesday to hear from several educational organizations, including WEMTA.

WEMTA Past President Sandra Heiden testified along with Kristy Bovre, Kris McCoy and  Michelle Byholm about the challenges facing library media specialists in rural communities. The group addressed concerns about limited resources, the “extinction” or scaling back of the position, inadequate access to broadband, and challenges with the certification process.  Michelle Byholm highlighted the fact that in rural communities there is often no public library, so the school library is the only library that rural students have access to,  making the Common School Fund incredibly important in these districts.

In response to the concerns raised about the certification process, Representative Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) asked how the process could be streamlined and argued that school librarians do not need to be licensed as teachers. He and Representative Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) said they would like the Taskforce to look at streamlining the certification process and reducing some of the credit requirements in order to get more specialists in the field.

Jerry Fiene of the Rural Schools Alliance recommended the creation of a new Technology for Educational Achievement program (TEACH 2) with some components directed to rural school districts. Fiene argued that TEACH 2 should be based on four pillars: statewide broadband access, block grants for rural schools to support technology, a state-led digital learning effort that receives state funding, and statewide professional development to all districts in the state.

John Forester of the School Administrators Alliance agreed with Fiene that Wisconsin should create a TEACH 2 program, saying that Wisconsin has fallen behind other states in terms of school technology since the original TEACH program went away. He also called on the state to show leadership on the issue of statewide broadband access.

State Superintendent Tony Evers told the Taskforce that rural schools are unable to take advantage of technology in the same way that urban and suburban school districts do because of a lack of affordable, high speed internet. Evers told the Taskforce that rural schools need affordable and adequate bandwidth to ensure that digital learning is happening.

WEMTA at the State Capitol 

Betsy Kippers and Ron Martin of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) also addressed the challenges facing rural schools in the area of technology. Kippers said that scores of schools are going without specialists and there is not enough time or training to implement new technologies in rural schools. She advocated for better integrated technology in rural schools and described library media specialists as the “backbone of connecting students, teachers and the community.”

Other challenges facing rural schools that were addressed include: teacher retention and recruitment, transportation costs, challenges with the funding formula and referenda.

Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), the Taskforce’s chair, said he plans to hold three more hearings throughout the state. Swearingen hopes to release a final report by February and he said that recommendations for improving broadband access will likely be included in the report. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

WEMTA Invited to Testify at Rural Schools Task Force Meeting

The Rural Schools Task Force, chaired by Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander),  has invited WEMTA to provide testimony at a Task Force meeting on Tuesday, December 17 in Madison.

One of the Task Force’s charges is to look at challenges surrounding access to technology in rural schools. 

“During our previous public hearings we have had very little public testimony due to time constraints. The Task Force is holding a meeting in Madison so we can hear from the educational groups now, instead of on the road.  This will free up time so we can allow more time for the public to provide testimony,” said Rep. Swearingen in a press release issued by his office. 

 The Task Force has held two previous meetings, but broadband access has only been mentioned in the context of students not having access to high-speed internet in their homes. Testifying at the hearing will be a great opportunity for WEMTA to address library and technology issues in our public schools. 

To see more information about the previous two hearings, you can visit the Task Force's website.