Governor Tony Evers is proposing a joint resolution to extend Wisconsin’s public health emergency indefinitely and has asked for more than $800 million through potential legislation that would prevent school districts from laying off staff during a public health emergency. The legislation is one of many solutions WEAC advocated for from the very beginning of the health crisis.
In addition to advocating to prevent school employee layoffs, the governor’s proposal would:
- Grant DPI authority to waive state requirements (including school and district report cards for the 2019-20 school year);
- Allow a WRS annuitant who is hired during a public health emergency by a school district (or other public employer) to elect to not suspend his or her annuity for the duration of the declared public health emergency if the position for which the annuitant is hired is a critical position.
- Change several components of election law during a public health emergency, including suspending the Voter ID requirement, pushing back the deadline for receipt of an absentee ballot – requiring it to be postmarked by Election Day instead of received on Election Day. The bill also would allow the Department of Administration to print absentee ballots for local governments.
Here are the education changes outlined by the Wisconsin Legislative Council, explaining current law and what would change under the governor’s proposal:
The bill draft makes changes to education laws applicable for periods or school years in which DHS orders school closures to control an outbreak or epidemic. The changes exempt the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from publishing school report cards for the 2019-20 school year, create job and compensation protections for school employees, and expand DPI’s authority to waive requirements imposed on schools.
School Report Card Exemption
Current law requires DPI to publish a school and school district accountability report each year, commonly referred to as “school report cards.” DPI must assign each school district and individual school to one of five performance categories ranging from “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” (five stars) to “Fails to Meet Expectations” (one star).
The bill draft creates a one-year exemption from the requirement for DPI to publish school report cards for the 2019-20 school year.
School Employee Protections
Current law does not prohibit layoffs of school employees during ordered school closures, nor does it guarantee school employees continued compensation during such events.
The bill draft creates job and compensation protection for employees of public schools, charter schools, and private schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, or the Special Needs Scholarship Program (“choice programs”).
The bill draft prohibits the school districts and governing bodies of these schools from laying off a current employee during a period of DHS-ordered school closure. The bill draft also requires school districts and governing boards to continue to pay current employees for regularly scheduled hours at the employee’s regular rate during such periods of closure, but allows a school to pay an employee more than the regular rate. The bill draft specifies that the school district or governing board must continue to pay current employees, regardless of whether an employee is required to report to work during the closure.
Waiver of Education Requirements
Current law imposes numerous requirements on public schools, more limited requirements on charter schools and private schools participating in choice programs, and a small number of requirements on other private schools. Current law also creates a process for individual school
districts to request a DPI waiver from requirements in the education statutes (chs. 115 to 121, Stats.) and related administrative rules. However, DPI cannot waive statutes and rules relating to specific topics, such as required state assessments and the health or safety of students.
Further, the current waiver process applies only to school districts and school district charter schools, and not to independent charter schools or private schools.
The bill draft expands DPI authority to waive requirements during a school year in which DHS orders school closures. Under the bill draft, DPI may waive any requirement on a public school district for that school year, including those requirements prohibited from waiver under current law.
The bill draft also authorizes DPI to waive, for that school year, requirements imposed on private schools and independent charter schools. Finally, if DPI is not required to publish school report cards for a particular school year, the bill draft permits DPI to waive any requirement related to the publication of those school report cards.