WEAC Legislative Update – January 22

An Assembly voucher expansion bill, this time for “gifted and talented” students, is up for a public hearing Thursday, while the Senate version was introduced late last week and referred to its Education Committee. The Assembly and Senate will be in session this week, and the governor’s State of the State address is Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a run-down of education bills moving in the Legislature:

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 will hold 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

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. A fiscal estimate is now available for AB 835, a bill to help rural schools. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now. Related reading here: Assembly bill would give school districts more money. The bill addresses two areas:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. Districts with failed operating referendums in the prior three years would not be eligible. Of the107 school districts that would be eligible under this bill, nine had failed referenda. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increases the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019.

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.

Common School Funds. AB 857 would eliminate the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broadens the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and removes certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys.

Nutrition Education. SB159/AB-215 is ready for a vote in the Senate. The bill 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.

UW Merit Scholarships related to environmental programs at Stevens Point campus. SB 700 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.

Grants for public and voucher schools for dual enrollment programs. AB851 would require the UW to award grants to public school districts, privately run charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools, giving high school students the opportunity to gain credits in high school and a UW System school or technical college. Under the bill, grants would be awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The program would end in 2022.

Changing dates for school report cards, takeover notification. AB 830 is set for a vote by the full Assembly, after being approved by the panel’s Education Committee. This bill requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. It would also change the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is faced with a takeover. Currently, a school may face takeover based in part on how the school performed on the two most recent accountability reports and DPI must make this determination by October 15. This bill changes the date to November 30.

Employee rights on work schedules. AB 866 would provide that an employee who works for an employer, including the state and political subdivisions, that employs at least 15 employees has the right to request and receive changes to the employee’s work schedule under certain circumstances like serious illness or to care for family. The bill also provides rights regarding predictable work scheduling for employees in certain retail, food service, or cleaning occupations. There is currently no companion bill.

Usurp local control on workplace standards. A public hearing was held and now the fiscal impact is available on 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. It is unsure how this would affect municipalities fiscally, for instance if a local ordinance regulating a jailer’s overtime hours were voided by this state law. Additionally, it would be costly to prosecute any violations of such a state law by a municipality, the fiscal estimate showed.

Exceeding revenue limits for energy projects. SB 699 would undo a 2017-19 budget provision that put a one-year hold on school boards’ ability to increase revenue limits for an energy efficiency projects. There is no companion bill at this time.

School conference and activities leave. AB 858 would allow employees who meet employment criteria to take up to 16 hours of school conference and activities each year for school conferences, visits or classroom activities that cannot be scheduled during nonworking hours or for school. Chaperoning field trips is not included under this bill. There is no companion bill at this time in the Senate.

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.

Apprenticeship program. A review shows there would be no fiscal impact to the state for WI SB 628/WI AB 745, which would allow 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.

Worker’s Compensation Council. AB 308 is up for a vote Tuesday. The bill would change the composition of the Worker’s Compensation Council to limit the number of members from organized labor.

Assembly Education Committee to hold public hearings Thursday, January 25. On the docket are:

  • Assembly Bill 835 Relating to: sparsity aid, the revenue limit ceiling for school districts;
  • Assembly Bill 810 Relating to: courses that generate a profit for a school district; and
  • Assembly Bill 830 Relating to: Vouchers for “gifted and talented” students.