Proposed Bill would Use State Report Cards to Hold All Schools Accountable

After Stalling, Accountability Bill would Grade Charter, Voucher, and Traditional Schools

December 2, 2013

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] Wisconsin instituted a School Report Card to grade schools throughout the Badger State in 2011. By 2015, the state will be able to use those grades to punish chronically bad institutions, according to proposed legislation that will be heard this winter.

Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) had authored a bill alongside Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) that would create a system by which the state could hold all public schools accountable according, in part, to their School Report Card scores. However, the proposed legislation stalled out this fall, leading to internal discussions and revisions to make the policy more palatable for educational stakeholders, teachers, and administrators throughout Wisconsin.

Some new changes will speed up the implementation of an accountability system and include all publicly-funded schools under its wing by 2015. Traditional public schools and charter schools are currently subjected to report card grades. This legislation would compel voucher schools to provide report card information for the students that attend the school through public funding as well. These schools would then be subject to state intervention based on their scores – and eventually, the threat of shutdown or other significant changes if they cannot prove they are educating children effectively.

Current provisions suggest that sanctions for chronically low-performing schools that show no improvement after state interventions could be shut down or significantly restructured by the 2018-2019 school year.

Underperforming public schools would be faced with state intervention if they cannot meet Wisconsin standards. If these interventions are unsuccessful, significant changes – such as shutting down a school or rebuilding an institution as an independent charter school – would be levied as consequences for failing to educate students.

Chronically bad voucher schools would be barred from the state’s private school choice programs and forbidden from accepting new students through state-funded vouchers. Charter schools that fall in this same category would risk having their charter revoked and potential closing or restructuring of their schools.

The changes to the accountability policies have come after the state legislature failed to progress Olsen and Kestell’s first version of the bill from earlier in 2013. While the two Education Committee chairs presented a comprehensive system of K-12 educational oversight, concerns about issues like how low-achieving schools with strong student growth are treated and how the Department of Public Instruction could interpret some of the bill’s statutes eventually led to a greater discussion over the implementation of an accountability program that can have a meaningful impact. Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) played a key role in the discussions that led to the revisions in the Olsen/Kestell bill.

How the legislation will look in its final form is still up in the air. The bill will have to pass through Olsen and Kestell’s Education Committees in the Senate and Assembly before being brought to a larger vote. That will provide plenty of opportunities for opposing viewpoints to be heard and amendments to be drafted before anything is signed into law. Given the way the bill has matured and changed since its introduction, it seems as though any policy designed to implement a system of accountability for all of Wisconsin’s public schools – whether they’re traditional, choice, or charter – is destined to earn several revisions on its way to becoming a final form.