WEAC Education Advocacy Update – January 10

The Legislature is back in full swing this week, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are introducing new legislation for 2020. Of note is a series of bills that seek to roll back vouchers, including requiring voters to approve reducing public school aid to pay for private tuition and special needs voucher teachers to be licensed. Other bills rein in the amount of tax dollars vouchers can take from local schools and a plan to phase out special needs vouchers.

Bills we’re watching:

  • Teacher licensure in voucher schools and the special needs voucher schools (SB 660). With certain exceptions, this bill requires that, beginning on July 1, 2022, teachers at private schools participating in a parental choice program or in the Special Needs Scholarship Program must hold a license or permit issued by the Department of Public Instruction. Under current law, teachers at choice schools must have at least a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education, but they are not required to be licensed by DPI. There are no current law requirements regarding who may teach at SNSP schools. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

  • State aid to the resident school district of a pupil attending a private school under the Racine or statewide parental choice program (SB 661). This bill prohibits the Department of Public Instruction from making certain reductions in state aid paid to a school district until the electors of the school district have approved the reduction in state aid by a referendum vote. This bill places control in the hands of individuals closest to the students and most knowledgeable about the schools in their communities, through a process grounded in democracy. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

  • Phasing out the Special Needs Scholarship Program and limiting enrollment in parental choice programs (SB 658). This bill phases out the Special Needs Scholarship Program and caps the total number of pupils who may participate in a parental choice program. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

  • Per pupil payments to private schools participating in parental choice programs (SB 659). This bill changes the calculation of the per pupil amount the Department of Public Instruction pays to participating private schools in the Racine Parental Choice Program and the statewide parental choice program. Under the bill, for each pupil attending a private school under a parental choice program, DPI must pay the private school participating in the parental choice program the lesser of a) the per pupil amount under current law; b) the amount the private school charges a pupil who is not attending the private school under a parental choice program for tuition and educational fees; or c) the per pupil amount of state aid for the pupil’s resident school district, as calculated on October 15 of that school year. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

  • Revenue Limit Ceiling (SB-437 / AB-473). This bill would create an exception to the freeze on using the low revenue ceiling adjustment after an operating referendum that failed in the 2018-19 school year if the referendum was for the cost of maintaining a new school and, at the same election, voters rejected a referendum for constructing a new building. The Freedom Area School District is the only one in Wisconsin that meets this criteria. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on December 17. The Senate Education Committee will vote on the bill January 13.
  • School-based mental health consultation (SB-608 / AB-644). Would require the Department of Health Services to create and administer a school-based mental health consultation pilot program in Outagamie County to assist participating school-based providers in providing enhanced care to students with mental health care needs, to provide referral support for those students, and to provide additional services. The Assembly has passed its version of the bill. The Senate version remains in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
  • School Revenue Limits (SB 494 / AB-553). This would eliminate a restriction that school board must have passed a resolution before January 1, 2018, and makes the energy efficiency revenue limit adjustment available to any board that adopts a resolution on or after the date on which the bill becomes a law. The bill also changes some requirements that qualify for the limit adjustment. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on December 17. The Senate Education Committee this week approved the bill, which is now available to the full Senate to take up.
  • Grants for school weatherization projects (SB 653). Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, this bill requires the Department of Public Instruction to award grants to school districts for weatherization projects. Under the bill, DPI must establish an advisory council to make recommendations on the criteria for awarding weatherization grants and, after reviewing applications, recommendations on which school districts should receive grants. Finally, the bill specifies that the annual maximum award amount is $100,000 and that a school district may use up to ten percent of a grant award for educational materials related to the weatherization project. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee.
  • Lead Testing in Schools (SB 423 / AB 476). This bill would require school boards, independent charter schools, and voucher/special needs voucher recipient schools to test water for lead every three years. If lead is found in the water, the school must submit a remediation plan to the DPI. The bill allows a revenue limit exception for remediation of tainted water, and also authorizes loans from the School Trust Fund. SB 424 requires the same testing in recreational and educational camps and child care facilities. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy this week passed the bill, and it is now available to the full Senate to take up. The Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities has not yet taken up the companion bill.

  • School Revenue Limits (SB 494 / AB-553). This would eliminate a restriction that school board must have passed a resolution before January 1, 2018, and makes the energy efficiency revenue limit adjustment available to any board that adopts a resolution on or after the date on which the bill becomes a law. The bill also changes some requirements that qualify for the limit adjustment. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy this week passed the bill, and it is now available to the full Senate to take up. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on December 17.
  • Free state park admission for fourth graders (SB 212 / AB 252). This would waive the fee for fourth grade students and their families on an annual vehicle admission state parks. A family would receive only one annual waiver, should they have more than one child. The Assembly Committee on Forestry, Parks and Outdoor Recreation held a public hearing on this bill this week.

Circulating for Co-Sponsorship

  • Virtual charter students in brick-and-mortar sports, activities (LRB-5300). This would allow virtual charter school student participation in resident school district interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities. Currently, there are 48 virtual charter schools in Wisconsin serving nearly 7,000 students. Because of open enrollment, students participate in whichever virtual school they choose and are technically not students in their resident, local school district. Interscholastic athletic association rules generally prohibit students from other districts from participating. In 2015, the legislature amended the law to allow homeschooled pupils the ability to participate in the resident’s local school district athletics and extracurricular activities to the same extent as any other pupil. This bill would extend those rights to pupils who attend a virtual charter school.
  • Waiver of fees for admission to state parks on Earth Day (LRB-3937 and LRB-5245). This bill would waive the daily fee for admission to a state park on April 22 of each year in commemoration of Earth Day and its founder, Gaylord Nelson. The bill would allow all residents, including school classes, to visit state parks without cost on this day.