Republicans Advance Plan to Break up MPS, Massively Expand Vouchers
Republican lawmakers are circulating a series of education-related bills, some of which are on the fast-track for public hearings.
The package announced by Senate Education Committee chairwoman Alberta Darling and Republican colleagues would overhaul K-12 education in Wisconsin by breaking up the state’s largest school district within two years and expanding taxpayer-funded private-school vouchers to every student, regardless of family income. The Republican plan would also increase public funding for privately run charter schools and allow parents to sue districts if items in a “parents’ bill of rights” were violated.
“At a time when educators and parents are doing all we can to keep children safe and learning, Republican legislators are going all-in on disrupting their lives and removing their safety nets,” said WEAC President and Teacher Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. “Educators won’t stand by and let politicians cause harm to our students when they need us most. We will work for solutions to help children and against misguided proposals that will cause more chaos in their lives.”
MPS would be dissolved by July 1, 2024, replaced by four to eight school districts under the direction of a commission comprised of the governor and the mayor of Milwaukee, both of whom would make two appointments each to the commission, along with the state superintendent of public instruction.
Milwaukee School Board President Bob Peterson said the proposal would be a disastrous disruption for families who depend on MPS for education, meals and other support.
“It’s reminiscent of the previous failed attempts to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools and it’s destined to be a losing proposition,” Peterson said. “Implementing this plan would restrict heavily the choices that current families and students have as they choose schools they wish to go to.”
“Our students and families face the lack of family sustaining jobs, affordable housing, and adequate health care,” Peterson said. “If the senator really wants to help out Milwaukee, perhaps she should also look at those issues.”
The proposed laws would open the floodgates to private school vouchers across Wisconsin, saddling local taxpayers with private school tuition payments without representation on an elected school board. The bill calls for eliminating income limits to qualify for the program so local property taxes would pay for even the wealthiest families’ private voucher school tuition. The bill would increase the family income threshold amount that determines whether a private school may charge additional tuition to a pupil attending the private voucher. The bill would also create a temporary education expense reimbursement program for public school pupils.
Expanding Privately Run Charter Schools
The package would allow charter school governing boards to open additional schools if all current charters are in top performance categories (LRB-5662, Memo). In addition, a new statewide commission to authorize new privately run charter schools would be created (LRB-5665, Memo). The commission would include the state superintendent, two appointees of the state superintendent who have served on the governing board of a charter school, two appointees each of the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, and one appointee each of the minority leaders of both legislative houses. None of the appointees would be lawmakers.
Residents who live in school that did not hold in-person instruction for more than 10 days during the second half of the 2021-22 districts school year, which includes Milwaukee Public Schools, would receive a larger school property tax credit under another proposal.
The claimants adjusted gross income would have to be below $80,000 for a single resident and below $150,000 for a married couple to qualify.
The package would require state school report cards be designed in a way that student growth may not be valued more than overall achievement when determining a school’s overall score.
The lawmakers are also proposing to create a “Parental Bill of Rights” that would allow parents to sue school officials if one of the “rights” were violated.
Under the legislation, those rights would be:
- “The right to determine the religion of the child.”
- “The right to determine the type of school or educational setting the child attends.”
- “The right to determine medical care for the child, unless specified otherwise in law or court order.”
- “The right to review instructional materials and outlines used by the child’s school.”
- “The right to request notice of when certain subjects will be taught or discussed in the child’s classroom.”
- “The right to opt out of a class or instructional materials for reasons based on either religion or personal conviction.”
- “The right to visit the child at school during school hours, consistent with school policy, unless otherwise specified in law or court order.”
- “The right to engage with locally elected school board members of the school district in which the child is a student, including participating at regularly scheduled school board meetings.”