September 30, 2021

Education Advocacy Update: Assembly, Senate Take Up School Bills

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The Assembly and Senate have met for the first time during the fall floor period, taking up education bills we’re watching. Both bodies passed the following bills, which will now go to the governor:

Posting Learning Materials Online (SB 463/AB 488). Would require school boards to post information on learning materials online. The learning materials would be required to be organized by subject area, grade level and teacher. Districts wouldn’t have to post teachers’ lesson plans under an amendment to the bill, though the materials covered would include syllabi, outlines and handouts.

DPI School Expenditure Portal (AB 378/SB 373). Would require the DPI to maintain an expenditure portal on its website starting in the 2023-24 school year, with the items to be included recommended by a committee. Watch one-minute video.

The Assembly also voted on several other education bills, including:

Preventing Honesty in Teaching (AB 411 / SB 411). Would prohibit public schools from teaching students and training employees about concepts such as systemic racism and implicit bias. The measure is part of a nationwide push among conservatives to strip local control from school districts and attempts to stop educators from presenting age-appropriate lessons that include social and racial inequality in U.S. law and institutions. Read more.

Preventing Employers from Providing Honest Training about Racial, Gender Equity (SB 410 / AB 414). Would prohibit state and local entities from providing employees with honest training relating to racial or gender issues. Among the concepts that would be prohibited are that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex. The bill also prohibits school districts and independent charter schools from requiring employees to attend any training that includes any of the concepts outlined in the bill. School boards or private school operators that oversee teachers who violate the proposed restrictions would lose 10 percent of their state funding. Parents or guardians of students could file claims against school districts that don’t follow the provisions set out in the bill.

Cursive Writing (SB 431 / AB 435). Would require each school board to include cursive writing into elementary grades by including the measure in the state model English language arts standards. Read more.

Civics Education (AB 563)Would require model curriculum for grades K-12 that includes teaching a sense of civic pride and a “desire to participate regularly with government” at all levels. The bill specifies that the social studies credits required to graduate must include one-half credit of civics instruction. In part, the curriculum would need to assist students in developing civic-minded expectations of “an upright and desirable citizenry that recognizes and accepts responsibility for preserving and defending the benefits of liberty inherited from previous generations and secured by the U.S. Constitution.” Read more.

Mandating Federal Funding for Mental Health Grants (AB 564). Would require all state agencies to post online and submit a copy of their reports on how federal pandemic relief funding to the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. The bill would also require the governor to allocate at least $100,000,000 of federal American Rescue Plan 2021 funds to the DPI for mental health grants to public schools, privately run charters and private schools. The governor’s office has said he’s already allocated all of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, but some programs have not yet been announced. The bill currently lacks a Senate co-sponsor. Read more.

Bills the full Senate also passed include:

September 11 Observance (SB 398 / AB 405). Adds September 11 to the list of observance days in schools.

Educational Options (SB-231 / AB-220). Specifies that the youth apprenticeship program administered by the Department of Workforce Development must be included in the list of educational options that a school provides.

Other Bills We’re Watching

Reading Test License (SB-589). Would change the Foundations of Reading test licensure requirement to allow an applicant to pass an examination identical to the most recent edition of the FORT. Memo Referred to Senate Education Committee.

Raising Tobacco Age (SB 348). This bill changes the age for purchasing cigarettes, tobacco products, or
nicotine products from 18 to 21, and imposes the same minimum age for purchasing vapor products. A public hearing has been held by a Senate committee.

Circulating for Co-Sponsorship

Constitutional Amendment for Appointing, Not Electing, State Superintendent and Other Offices (LRB-2972/2). This Republican-proposed constitutional amendment, proposed for first consideration, would allow the governor to appoint the offices of state superintendent, state treasurer and secretary of state instead of electing these positions. All duties would remain the same. If this amendment were to be ratified before April 1, 2025, the final election for state superintendent would have occurred in April 2021. In either event, the incumbents would continue to serve until either their 4-year term expires, a governor assumes office who did not appoint the sitting secretary, or any other event provided by law – whichever occurs earliest.