Politics & Government
1:00 am
Thu September 12, 2013

Bill Would Require More Accountability For Voucher Schools

Wisconsin has never required voucher schools to account for their operations as public schools must. Things would change under a bill up for a hearing Thursday at the State Capitol.

Now that leaders have expanded the voucher or choice program statewide, more lawmakers seem to want details from the private schools getting taxpayer money.

Lawmakers will hear testimony Thursday on a bill that would require extensive accountability for voucher schools
Credit bcdixit.jpg

For the first time, private schools in the voucher program would have to report the same numbers as public schools do. Republican Rep. Luther Olsen drafted the plan.

“It looks at the tests which are basic reading, writing and mathematics, it looks at closing the achievement gap and it looks at dropout rates, attendance rates and if you’re moving kids toward college and career readiness,” Olsen says.

The bill would go further than demand those numbers. It would also give poor performing schools three years to improve, or the state would kick them out of the choice program. Olsen says it’s important to hold voucher schools accountable.

“Because they get taxpayers’ money. We are charged with being good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and we also need to have a system so that parents know if they send their children to any of those schools, how well they’re doing,” Olsen says.

“I’m glad they’ve finally heeded the call that members from my side of the aisle have been making for years now.”

That’s state Rep. Mandela Barnes of Milwaukee. He supports Olsen’s bill in concept but doesn’t think it goes far enough.

“Background checks for teachers, that’s still missing and that’s huge. People want qualified teachers and teachers with clean backgrounds educating their students. Board meetings that are subject to open media requests, regular board meetings,” Barnes says.

Barnes says a bill by Democratic Sen. John Lehman hits the mark.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos agrees the Olsen bill needs work, but only tweaking. Vos insists fellow Republicans are on the right track.

“There’s a broad consensus that we want to have accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer dollars, but I certainly don’t think we want to have a version that treats choice schools more harshly than we treat failing public schools,” Vos says.

Vos predicts it could take legislative leaders until spring to settle on a bill to bring to the floor. He says they have until the start of the 2014 school year, because this year’s classes are already underway.