Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Common School Fund Check Presentation

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) presented a check for $30,200,000 for library aid to the Department of Public Instruction at the WEMTA Annual Conference.  The distribution per student is $24.95.  This website includes a list of library aid amounts by school district.
WEMTA President Joel VerDuin, BCPL Executive Secretary Tia Nelson and DPI Assistant State Superintendent for Libraries and Technology Kurt Kiefer.
WEMTA award recipients.
All conference participants had the opportunity to stop by the advocacy table to get their picture taken with the Common School Fund check.  The advocacy table also included resources for writing a letter to Congress to show your support for digital learning and school library programs.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Republicans Reach School Accountability Compromise

Early Thursday night, Representative Steineke (R-Kaukauna) announced that he and Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) had reached an agreement on the proposed school accountability legislation. Representative Steineke agreed to forgo his amendment that would have created sanctions for poor performing schools and instead pass a clean version of Senate Bill 286, a  minor school accountability bill authored by Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), which made it through the Senate in February and requires choice and charter schools to report student data beginning in the 2015-16 school year.  Steineke officially withdrew his amendment during floor debate late last night and the Assembly unanimously passed SB 286; it now goes to the Governor for his signature.

Steineke and Farrow wrote a letter to Governor Walker telling him they will convene a working group upon adjournment of the 2013-14 legislative session to craft a comprehensive school accountability bill that they hope to pass during the 2015-16 session. According to the letter, the working group will:

·         Build a more comprehensive school report card
·         Develop a formula to determine proper weighting of the Report Card System
·         Develop a series of sanctions for schools that fail to meet expectations
·         Develop a series of incentives for schools that exceed expectations
·         Develop a process for schools to interact and share best practices

Chippewa Herald: Republicans reach deal on school accountability bill

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

WEMTA Update: Assembly Passes Bill Repealing School Day Requirement

The Assembly unanimously approved Senate Bill 589 this afternoon, which repeals the requirement that school be held for 180 days each school term but does not change the minimum number of hours of direct instruction required.  This change would allow schools to increase the length of their school days and shorter their school years. It also allows districts to receive state aid for online courses taken by high school or seventh and eighth grade pupils.

SB 589 was passed by the full Senate on March 11 and will now be sent to the Governor for his signature.  

Controversial Education Bills Unlikely to Become Law

Two controversial education reform bills appear unlikely to become law this legislative session.  To become law, the Model Academic Standards Board bill (SB 619) and the School Accountability bill (SB 286AB 379) need to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly—neither house has acted on either proposal yet. Since the Assembly will meet for the final time this session on Thursday, it appears unlikely that these bills will become law. 

Model Academic Standards

While the Senate Committee on Education held a public hearing on the controversial proposal to create a Model Academic Standards Board and abandon the Common Core State Standards in early March, Committee Chairman Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) says he will not schedule SB 619 for a Committee vote unless its authors can show him they have the 17 votes needed to pass the bill in the full Senate, making it unlikely to receive Senate and Assembly approval this session. The Assembly Committee on Education had planned to vote on the measure in February but ultimately canceled that vote, and the proposed Assembly calendar for Thursday does not include the proposal. 

School Accountability

Senate Bill 286, a  minor school accountability bill authored by Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), made it through the Senate in February. SB 286 would require choice and charter schools to begin reporting student data in the 2015-16 school year, but Assembly Republicans say they do not want to pass the current Senate version and instead crafted their own proposal, to be introduced as an amendment to SB 286, which includes sanctions for poor performing schools. However, Assembly Education Committee Chairman Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) sent an email to Assembly Republicans on Monday warning his colleagues that if the Assembly proposal is approved their party will get "clobbered" in the upcoming elections. Representative Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), the amendment's author, says he still expects the Assembly to act on his proposal Thursday. If the Assembly does pass their accountability proposal before adjourning on Thursday, it must still be approved by the Senate and it is unclear if there is enough support to pass the bill at this time since Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) is on vacation and Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) often votes with the Senate Democrats. 

The Assembly proposal would require all schools, including choice and charter schools, to participate in the Statewide Student Information System beginning in the 2015-16 School year and receive school report cards starting in the 2016-17 school year; the bill includes sanctions for low-performing schools. The Department of Public Instruction would rank schools’ performances on the following:

1.  Pupil achievement in reading and mathematics.
2.  Growth in pupil achievement in reading and mathematics, calculated using
a value−added methodology.
3.  Gap closure in growth in pupil achievement in reading and mathematics
and, when available, in graduation rates.
4.  Rates of attendance or of high school graduation.

If a public school receives a failing score in three consecutive years, it will be closed or turned into a charter school. If a charter school receives a failing score in three consecutive years, its contract will be revoked; and if a choice school receives a failing score in three consecutive years, it will be permanently barred from participating in the school choice program. An Academic Accountability Council is created by the bill to determine the methodology for ranking and sanctioning school districts as well as making recommendations regarding the educator effectiveness system that ranks teachers and principals.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rural Schools Task Force Wrapping Up

The Speaker’s Rural Schools Task Force had their last set of hearings on February 26th when they visited the Benton and Cuba City School Districts.  A report from the task force is expected later this month or in April.  The report will likely highlight the financial constraints that many rural school districts face due to limits on the amount of money they can levy each year and repeated failed referendums.  The chair of the task force, Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) has said that recommendations will likely look at high transportation costs, poor broadband service, declining enrollment and low teacher retention rates.

There is not expected to be any action taken as a result of the report during the remainder of this legislative session as it is wrapping up.  A couple of bills have recently been introduced by members of the task force including Assembly Bill 817 which creates a rural schools grant program to assist teachers in repaying student loans and Assembly Bill 834 which loosens the requirements for school districts to be eligible for sparsity aid.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Senate Committee Approves Resolution to Delete State Treasurer

The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works and Telecommunications voted, 4-3, along party lines to approve AJR 48 on Wednesday. AJR 48, which deletes the state treasurer position and replaces the office with the lieutenant governor on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, could be scheduled for a floor vote as early as March 11—the next time the Senate is in session.

The Assembly previously passed AJR 48 on a bi-partisan vote of 67-32 in February. If the Senate passes AJR 48 before adjourning for the 2013-14 session, the proposal must still be introduced again and passed by both houses of the legislature during the 2015-16 session; voters will then be able to vote on the proposal in a statewide referendum. If the Senate does not pass AJR 48 before adjourning, the process of amending the state constitution starts over and any proposal to delete the state treasurer position must be approved in two consecutive sessions of the legislature and receive the approval of voters in a statewide referendum. 

Representative Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), AJR 48’s author, said he plans on introducing a proposal next session that would delete the secretary of state from the state constitution and replace the office with the state superintendent of public instruction on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.