Bills We’re Watching

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.

CURRICULUM

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

Nutrition Education. AB-215  requires 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

Ending Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave coverage. Senate bill 490 would end the right to use paid sick leave while on family leave to care for a child after birth or adoption, and has many other negative impacts. The bill, which does not have a companion in the Assembly at this time, was referred to Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. Email the bill’s sponsors.

FUNDING

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

WRS

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.