Legislation Aimed at Improving School Accountability Draws Reaction

Feb 13, 2014

Lawmaker pushes for changes when it comes to school accountability
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The bill would require all students using state funding to take the same tests, whether attending public, charter or choice schools.

Wisconsin would grade all schools receiving state money, according to the bill’s author, Republican Rep. Jim Steineke of Kaukauna. Public schools that receive an ‘F’ three years in a row could either close or convert into charter schools. If a private school participating in the state choice program receives three straight ‘F’s, it could no longer accept new voucher students. Steineke says the status quo is no longer acceptable.

“Continuing to fund failing schools has already done harm to generations of children, and we can’t continue to allow for it,” Steineke says.

Steineke says it’s important to level the playing field when it comes to measuring the success or failure of schools. But he says the state tests would take into account the growth of students – whether they’ve progressed.

“To me that’s the most important to get at. Schools are dealing with a wide variety of kids and depending where they are geographically, they’re dealing with a wide variety of different issues,” Steineke says.

A few of the people who testified Wednesday did not take a position on the bill. Scott Jensen is with the American Federation for Children. It advocates for school choice and vouchers.

Jensen says he’s waiting to see the final draft before deciding whether to support it, but he did defend the legislation against criticism that it gives preferential treatment to charters. He says it could lead to a slow death.

“If you label a school an F for one year, and then you label that school and F for the next year, There’s going to be parents leaving that school,” Jenson says.

Democratic Rep. Mandy Wight questioned whether Wisconsin should treat all schools the same.

“Because I’ve had the privilege of being able to tour around the state, I mean some of our schools are funded at like 1 percent state funding. They have the same requirements for the small amount of money that they get … I have a really hard time reconciling that we should hold them all accountable to the same standards when they’re not really all getting the same resources,” Wright says.

Supporters of the bill admit the funding formula needs work, but stress that the plan is ultimately about school accountability.