Bills We’re Watching

The Senate majority leader is predicting ‘chaos’ as Legislators finish up the session, so it’s a good time to sign up for WEAC Legislative Updates if you haven’t already.

A school funding commission created by the Legislature met Friday, February 2 in Milwaukee, with invited testimony from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Southeast Wisconsin Schools Alliance and a voucher lobbyist group. The hearing was one of a handful planned around the state to inform the next biennium budget.

Senate Leadership has told its members they will be in session on Tuesday, February 20.  That is the only day the Senate plans to have a floor session, at this time.  The State of the Tribes is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13 at 1 pm.

There are a number of bills moving outside of the budget debate in the State Legislature that impact students, educators and public schools.

To take action on any of these items, click here to find your legislators.

APPRENTICESHIP

Apprenticeship program. WI AB 745/ WI SB 628 allows a high school senior to begin an apprenticeship program during the student’s senior year of high school. Under current law, any individual 16 years of age or over may enter into an apprentice contract whereby the individual is to receive from his or her employer, in consideration for the individual’s services, instruction in any trade, craft, or business. That instruction must include a minimum number of hours of related classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Tech grants for apprenticeship training programs. The Senate Workforce Development Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 682, which creates a grant program under which the Technical College System Board may award grants of up to $1,000 to technical college students who have undertaken an apprenticeship training program in conjunction with their course of instruction at the technical college. These grants may be awarded only to assist students in paying materials expenses associated with the apprenticeship training program, including costs of purchasing tools, clothing, equipment, and supplies. The TCS Board must establish an application process and criteria for awarding these grants, which criteria must consider the financial need and anticipated or actual expenses of the applicant. The TCS Board may award grants totaling up to $50,000 per academic year. The companion bill, AB 808, is up for a vote in an Assembly committee Thursday.

COMPETITIVE BIDDING

Competitive Bidding for School Districts. Representative Ron Tusler was added as a coauthor of AB 307/SB-236, which would require a school board to advertise any project for construction, repair, remodeling or improvement of a public school building or public school facilities or for the furnishing of supplies or materials with an estimated cost greater than $50,000, and let the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The bill would prohibit a school board from giving preference for where the bidder is located or using criteria other than the lowest responsible bidder. The bill has had a public hearing in the Assembly and has passed the Senate.

CONSTRUCTION

Notification of school construction projects. SB427/AB510 requires school boards to provide public notice of any construction project with a cost of $10,000 or more that will occur in a school building in which pupils and educators will be present. With certain exceptions, the school board must provide notice at least two months prior to the start date.

CURRICULUM

Character Education. SB-329/AB-419 would require professional development training in character education for teachers, principals, and school district administrators. The Senate version was sent to the Joint Finance Committee , and the Assembly version is currently in its Education Committee.

Financial Literacy in Schools. AB-280 would require public schools to incorporate financial literacy into the curriculum.

Reducing minimum hours of instruction. The Assembly passed AB 221 / SB 105, which would allow 40 Wisconsin school districts to reduce the minimum hours of instruction for students. Backers frame this as “allowing teachers to teach less if they perform well” on the state report cards. The Senate version has had a public hearing, but no vote is scheduled yet.

Nutrition Education. SB159 /AB-215, which would require a school board to modify its instruction about nutrition to include knowledge of the nutritive value of foods and the role of a nutritious diet in promoting health. Current law requires school boards to provide instruction about the vitamin content of food and food and health values of dairy products. The bill also requires a nutrition education component be incorporated into the health education credit requirement to receive a high school diploma.

ELECTIONS

The Senate Elections and Utilities Committee held a public hearing on SB-260 (companion bill AB-332), which would change the signature requirement for nomination of candidates to school board in school districts that contain territory lying within a second class city. This bill permits the annual meeting of a common or union high school district or the school board of a school district to adopt a resolution to reduce the number of signatures required on nomination papers submitted by candidates for school district officer. Currently, a candidate for school district officer in a school district that contains any portion of a second class city must submit nomination papers signed by not less than 100 nor more than 200 electors. This bill permits the number of signatures that must be obtained to be reduced by resolution to not less than 20 and not more than 100 if the school district territory lying within the second class city or cities is less than or equal to 10 percent of the school district’s territory. Read all the changes.

FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Ending Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave coverage. A bill to end the right to use paid sick leave while on family leave to care for a child after birth or adoption got some ink this week on Wisconsin Public Radio, which laid out what this punitive measure would mean for working families. The bill, SB 490 / AB 772, has many other negative impacts, including cutting back family leave for part-time employees like Education Support Professionals. The Assembly and Senate versions of the bill were referred to committees on Labor and Regulatory Reform.

At the other end of the spectrum, a bill is circulating for co-sponsorship to allow local family and medical leave ordinances, LRB-4889 Read the memo.

FUNDING

Common School Funds. A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 713 / AB 857. The bill would eliminate the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running.

  • In a nutshell, the requirement that schools spend Common School Fund monies on instructional materials, library books or school library computers/software would be eliminated under this bill, and any items purchased would no longer have to be located in the school library.
  • Since the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would no longer make loans, the interest from those loans – which now goes into the Common School Fund – would be gone. Over the past 10 years, the loan program invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin, and the interest earnings are a key source of revenue for the Common School Fund.
  • The bill would for the first time allow SWIB to invest state trust fund dollars using their typical investment strategy, instead of only investing in fixed accounts. It’s estimated if this approach were active during the financial crash of 2008, a loss up to $290 million would have occurred and school libraries would have been left in the dark.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost. The Assembly Education Committee will hold a public hearing on AB 803. In this bill, expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum are excluded from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, under the bill, a negative tertiary school district will not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill protects some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approve capital projects. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Sparsity Aid. A sparsity aid package designed to help rural schools won’t clear the house in this session, the Assembly Majority Leader told a statehouse insider news publication. The $9.7 million package would provide rural districts with 745 students or less with $400 per pupil through sparsity aid rather than the current $300. There also would be a second tier in the program for districts with between 746 and 1,000 pupils of $100 per student. Read the Legislative Reference Bureau Memo. In saying that the proposal wouldn’t move, Representative Robin Vos said the budget has made ‘historic’ investments in schools and school funding won’t be revisited. Public school advocates counter the ‘historic’ notion – noting that the per-pupil increase in the budget, made outside of the funding formula, doesn’t restore the nearly billion dollars cut from public schools since 2011.

Special Education Funding. SB211 and companion bill AB319 call for state funding of special education at 33 percent. View Senate Bill History and Assembly Bill History, along with fiscal estimate and some additional notes.

Supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. AB 477 / SB-685 provides supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. The bill is in committee.

GRANTS

Dual Enrollment. A public hearing was held on AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development will hold a hearing on AB 872, which creates an incentive grant program for school districts that provide training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs.

Teach grants for libraries. The Assembly passed AB572 / SB491, which authorizes the Division for Libraries and Technology in the Department of Public Instruction to collect and maintain public library-related data, including purchasing licenses for data collection software; training staff on the effective use of data; creating tools for libraries to use internally in analyzing, and to report to the public about, library use; and developing and implementing technology systems that allow for interoperable data exchange and automation of work processes. This bill also makes certain public libraries located in rural areas eligible to receive TEACH grants (Technology for Educational Achievement program). Currently TEACH block grants are awarded to school districts to improve information technology infrastructure and educational technology teacher training grants to school districts to train teachers in the use of educational technology. Under the bill, DOA may award grants to eligible libraries to improve information technology infrastructure in rural libraries and train librarians in rural libraries in the use of educational technology.

Robotics league participation grants. SB483/AB564 expands eligibility for robotics grants to include sixth- through eighth-grade teams.

GUNS IN SCHOOLS

Penalties for making school gun threats. SB-82 and companion bill AB-111 would make it a crime to intentionally conveying any threat or false information concerning an attempt to use a firearm to injure or kill a person on school property, on transportation provided by a school, or at an event sanctioned by a school. A person who is convicted of the crime would be guilty of a Class I felony.

Guns in elementary, middle and high schools. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday for SB-169 (companion bill AB-247), which would allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, background check, or training (also lowering the minimum age and opening the door for guns in schools).

Firearm education curriculum. SB 340 and companion bill AB 427 would create a comprehensive firearm education curriculum to be offered as an elective to high school pupils. The bill would require the state superintendent to jointly develop the curriculum with the Department of Natural Resources, a law enforcement agency, or an organization that specializes in firearms safety or that certifies firearms instructors. Both bills were referred to their respective education committees.

Firearm Possession at School. A public hearing is set on SB-402, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school.

REFERENDA

Including Specific Financial Information on Resolutions, Referendum Questions. The first in a series of bills that restrict local control for conducting referendums, SB 187, received a public hearing May 30, with some surprise changes. As amended, the measure would now require a school board to include specific financial information in a resolution and in the referendum question for all bonding /construction referenda, resulting in an impact on more districts than the original proposal. Of note:

  • The new version spells out exactly how districts much formulate an estimate on the interest and related debt service costs – using the interest rate in effect immediately before the adoption of the resolution.
  • The referendum restrictions were altered from affecting only school districts to instead include all municipalities.

Referenda to Exceed Revenue Caps. AB-268 limits to five consecutive school years the number of years for which a school board may seek approval from voters in the school district to increase the revenue limit applicable to the district.

Referendum Scheduling. AB-269 limits when a school district can schedule a referendum to exceed revenue limits.

Bonding Resolution Consideration. AB-282 would require common and union high school districts to vote upon an initial resolution to raise money through a bond issue (such as for building and maintenance purposes) only at the school district’s annual meeting. It would also prohibit voting on a resolution to exceed the revenue limit (such as for operating purposes) at a special meeting.

Reducing State Aid to Schools that Pass Referendums. AB-285 and companion bill SB-193 would create a general school aid penalty if voters approve a referendum to increase their revenue limit. The move would also allow school boards to rescind revenue limit increases that have previously been approved by voters in a referendum.

REPORTS

Annual School Reports. The Assembly Education Committee will hold a public hearing on AB569, which requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. This bill also changes the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is placed in the school takeover program to November 30 instead of October 15. The Senate has already passed the companion bill, SB-494.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Extended absences and IEPs. SB556/AB700 requires a school attendance officer to direct a counselor, social worker, psychologist or nurse to determine whether to refer a child who has been excused absent for 10 or more days because of physical or mental conditions for a disability evaluation. Under current law, a child who has been evaluated and determined to be a child with a disability may be eligible for certain special education and related services. The bill also requires the school attendance officer to notify the parent or guardian of a pupil that has been absent without an excuse for part or all of five or more days that the parent or guardian may request an evaluation of whether the child is a child with a disability or, for a child who has been identified as a child with a disability and for whom an individualized education program has been prepared, a review and, if appropriate, revision of the child’s IEP.

STUDENT LOAN DEBT

Student loan reimbursements. The Senate Workforce Development Committee will hold a public hearing January 17 on SB614/AB730. The measure would reimburse student loan debt for individuals moving into Wisconsin rural counties from out-of-state. Student loan reimbursements would be made to those who, for at least six months, have been domiciled in a “rural county,” which the bill defines as a county that does not include a metropolitan statistical area as delineated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. To qualify, the person must have lived outside Wisconsin for at least five years, be employed on a full-time basis and not receive any public assistance benefits. The bill has already received a public hearing in the Assembly.

STUDENT PRIVACY

Bill that threatens student privacy gets hearing. Concerned Wisconsinites gathered at the State Capitol Thursday for a press event followed by a public hearing on AB693, known as the ‘Teacher Protection Act,’ to express their concerns about the proposal’s effects on vulnerable Wisconsin students. While everyone agrees that teachers and students deserve a safe environment for teaching and learning, the ‘Teacher Protection Act’ offers no new resources or ideas for bringing safety through improved relationships and behavior. Read more.

TEACHER RIGHTS

Theisfeldt Bill. After an outpouring of opposition to a bill that would be detrimental to our most vulnerable students, while doing nothing to protect teachers, we aren’t expecting much movement on this one. The bill, circulated by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, falls short of its stated goal to “protect teachers.” WEAC is not supporting the proposed legislation, and instead is offering – from the educators’ perspective – protections that would make a difference in our classroom and schools. There is no companion bill in the Senate.

TESTING

Availability of state practice tests. SB536/AB488 requires the Department of Public Instruction to make available, upon request, practice examinations or sample items related to knowledge and concept examinations required to be administered under state law. Under current law, DPI must allow a person to view a knowledge and concepts examination if the person submits a written request within 90 days after the examination is administered. The bill also repeals the chapter of the administrative code that DPI promulgated to implement current law.

Pupil Exam Information. AB-300/SB 222 requires school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians.

Opt-Out. SB234/AB304 excuses a pupil enrolled in any grade from 3 to 12 from taking any examination required under state or federal law, except the civics test that is a requirement for high school graduation.

UW SYSTEM/TECH COLLEGES

Campus Speech. An Assembly committee was scheduled to vote May 30 on AB 299 (companion bill Senate Bill 250). The bill would require the UW System adopt a policy on freedom of expression and suspend or expel those who violate the policy twice. Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure people can listen to constitutionally protected speech from speakers on campus, no matter how controversial they may be. But others say the bill creates a safe space for racists. See details.

College Credit Transfers. The Assembly Colleges & Universities Committee passed SB-407, concerning transfer policies for college credit earned by high school pupils.

Requiring UW, Tech System to remain neutral. AB 440 would create requirements and prohibitions regarding free speech at the University of Wisconsin and technical college systems. The bill declares that it is not the role of a UW institution or technical college to shield individuals from speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The bill imposes requirements throughout both systems, including the campuses are open to any speaker who is invited by students, faculty and that administrators must remain neutral on public policy controversies. It was referred to the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.

UW Merit Scholarships related to environmental programs at Stevens Point campus. The Assembly Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight will vote on AB 804, which would change the formula for distributing merit scholarships to students at UW-Stevens Point for environmental programs. Instead of using current criteria, the Board of Regents would be required to provide $300,000 annually for merit scholarships in this area. The Senate has already passed the measure, SB 700.

CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION INCENTIVE GRANTS

AB 192 (companion bill SB 127) removes the per pupil limitation on career and technical education incentive grants that the Department of Workforce Development awards to school districts. Under current law, DWD must award a grant to a school district in the amount of $1,000 per pupil who, in the prior school year, obtained a high school diploma and successfully completed an industry-recognized certification program approved by DWD. Under the bill, DWD must award $1,000 for each certification program completed by a pupil.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

The Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council has finalized the Agreed-Upon Bill for the 2017-18 Legislative Session. This Agreed-Upon Bill will be introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature in a short period of time, and political insiders expect some push-back by some health insurance corporations and business coalitions . WEAC and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO (which represents labor on the council) support this bill and will urge Legislators to fully support it. Wisconsin has one of the best worker’s compensation systems in the country, and this Agreed-Upon Bill will continue to strengthen it for injured workers, including educators harmed on the job.

Regarding benefits for injured workers, this bill calls for an increase for the weekly rates that is up to 150 percent larger than past increases. Specifically, the Agreed-Upon Bill includes Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefit increases for $20 per week for the maximum weekly benefit amount in 2018 and $25 per week for the maximum weekly benefit amount in 2019. The bill also adjusts maximum weekly benefits for Permanent Total Disability (PTD). Under the proposal, PTD injuries occurring prior to 1/1/2005 would have a maximum weekly rate of $711. The Agreed-Upon Bill also includes a multiplier of 15 percent of the number of weeks injured workers are eligible for if the employer does not return the injured worker to work at a wage more than 85 percent of their pre-injury wage.

VOUCHERS

Gifted and talented vouchers. A senate version of a voucher expansion bill was introduced and sent to the Senate Education Committee, while the Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on its version Thursday, January 25. SB725/AB830, claiming to help low-income parents get services for their gifted and talented children, is the latest attempt by Wisconsin voucher lobbyists to expand the amount of tax dollars spent on private schools. Senator Alberta Darling proposed the measure, which would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. View Bill History

Voucher transparency. The Wisconsin Voucher Taxpayer Transparency bill (SB 183 & AB 267) requires property tax bills include information on the amount of any net reduction in state aid to the home district as a result of pupils enrolled in any of the state’s school voucher programs.

Voucher spending referendum. SB-227 would give property taxpayers affected by the Racine and statewide voucher programs the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund vouchers. The bill would require a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to voucher schools at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive.

WORKER RIGHTS

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Senate Committee on Labor is set to vote SB 634 / AB 748. The bill preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has received a public hearing in the Assembly.

Worker’s Compensation CouncilAB 308 was passed. The bill would change the composition of the Worker’s Compensation Council to limit the number of members from organized labor.

WRS

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577 would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Military Service & WRS. AB-62 would add military service as credible service under the WRS. An amendment was offered requiring participating employers to contribute an additional percentage of earnings to reflect the shared cost of granting creditable military service.