February 24, 2022

Flurry of Attention on Education Bills as Legislative Session Nears End

Flurry of Attention on Education Bills as Legislative Session Nears End Featured Image

WEAC and other state education leaders continue to monitor a series of education-related bills circulating in the final days of the legislative session. While most of the bills that may make it to Governor Tony Evers will be vetoed, they are sure to become part of the heated campaign season leading into the November 2022 General Election. The legislative sessions will end on March 10.

Bills We’re Watching:

  • Opening Floodgates for Tax-Funded Private School Vouchers (SB 974 / AB 970). Would open the floodgates for statewide, tax-funded private voucher schools across Wisconsin, saddling taxpayers with paying for private school tuition without a locally elected school board. This bill could raise property taxes by more than a half billion dollars statewide. The bill would eliminate income limits, so taxpayers would foot the bill for even the wealthiest families. Plus, private schools would be allowed to charge tuition exceeding the state payment. “Wisconsin Public Schools educate the majority of our state’s students and they are the choice for most families,” WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said. “Public schools are also the ONLY schools the state Constitution requires Wisconsin to fund. Blowing the roof off limits to the taxpayer funding of private schools will jeopardize every single school district in our state, whether you live in Bayfield or Beloit.”
  • Dismantling Milwaukee Public Schools (SB 963 / AB 966) would break apart Milwaukee Public Schools and shift students into new districts created mostly by politicians. This proposal also shows how disconnected lawmakers are from Wisconsin Public Schools. Instead of supporting students, many of whom have tremendous barriers to learning, these lawmakers would create a disastrous disruption for families who depend on MPS for education, meals and so much more. This plan would take away families’ rights to choose the school their children attend and completely misses the point on what families need. If these lawmakers want to help families, they should be supporting family-sustaining jobs, affordable housing and adequate health care – not advancing baseless public policy and causing more trauma to students.
  • Private Charter School Expansion. A pair of related bills was approved that would bypass school boards’ ability to manage and oversee enable charter school expansion. One of those bills would house a new statewide charter school authorizing board within the DPI. The other would require contracts between school boards and district-authorized charter school governing boards to allow the opening of additional charter schools if all the charter schools that governing board operates are in the top two performance categories on the most recent DPI school report card.
  • Native American Privately Run School Charters. WEAC has registered against Senate Bill 695, which would increase the number of privately run charter schools authorized by the College of Menominee Nation or the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College. Privately run charter schools, also called non-instrumentality charter schools, are not authorized by an elected school board. A related bill (AB-420) relates to payments to a privately run charter school authorized by a tribal college. The bills are part of a broader campaign by private charter advocates to use Native American tribes’ authorizing authority to open up charter schools that do not even necessarily serve Native Americans. Just this year, the National Heritage Academies used the Lac Courte Oreilles’ authority to open up a school In Waukesha. It has 421 students in grades K-9.
  • Parental ‘Bill of Rights.’ This bill would create a so-called “Parental Bill of Rights.”
  • Teaching Grants(SB-833/AB-893). Grants to support the teaching of college courses in high schools and making an appropriation. WASB Supports
  • Tobacco(AB-348). Raising the legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of cigarettes and nicotine and tobacco products, providing a legal age for sale, purchase, and possession of vapor products, and providing a penalty.
  • School Board Authority(AB-854). The authority of school boards to approve or deny owner-initiated petitions to detach and attach small territories of school districts and modifying a waiting period that applies to filing multiple petitions.
  • Cardiac Arrest(AB-082). Information about sudden cardiac arrest during youth athletic activities.
  • Hotline Posting(SB-238 / AB-222). Posting the child abuse and neglect reporting hotline in school buildings.
  • Gender Identity(AB-562). Gender identity and sexual orientation programs in public schools.
  • School Board Authority(AB-854). The authority of school boards to approve or deny owner-initiated petitions to detach and attach small territories of school districts and modifying a waiting period that applies to filing multiple petitions.
  • Gifted and Talented Programs(AB-903). Programs for gifted and talented pupils.
  • Financial Literacy(AB-899). Requiring one credit of personal financial literacy for high school graduation.
  • School Report Cards (SB 966 / AB 965) Would require state school report cards to be designed in a way that student growth may not be considered more than overall performance indicators when issuing district and school ‘report cards’ required by the state. This is especially alarming to educators who are working around the clock to help struggling students forward – and succeeding at it. For state politicians to suggest that student growth over the course of a school year doesn’t count goes against everything educators believe. We believe student growth is the only measure that matters when it comes to our students.
  • Microschools (AB 122SB 201). Would require microschools to offer 875 hours of instruction and a curriculum that includes reading, language arts, math, social studies, science and health. Students enrolled in microschools would be allowed to participate in resident public school district interscholastic sports and extracurricular activities. While at this point the bill does not shift tax dollars to these schools, as happens in the voucher programs, local public schools would lose per-pupil state funding for students who leave to attend microschools. Microschools gained more attention as schools turned to virtual instruction because of the pandemic, where some families combined to hire a tutor or educator to privately teach their children. However, it is questionable how much of a demand exists and who would be held responsible if a microschool does not offer a good education. Current law does not include an instruction program provided to more than one family unit as an option. The Wisconsin Homeschooling Parents Association is opposed to the bill, expressing concerns it would hurt homeschooling and calling microschools “unregulated private schools.” Other homeschooling parents have expressed concern that microschools could put more scrutiny on homeschooling families.