Rep. Steineke: School Accountability Bill Gains Momentum

February 10, 2014

by Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna)
Assembly Assistant Majority Leader

Wisconsin’s education system has historically been good, and is getting better thanks to recent reforms, but there’s one more area that needs to be addressed – accountability standards. Our children’s education needs to be accountable to parents and taxpayers.

Accountability standards are important for all schools that take taxpayer dollars, including public, charter, and choice schools. Granted, most of our schools are good and would never be considered failing. But there are some out there. Currently, a school that is failing to educate kids to the standards we expect can continue to do so for years. If the district isn’t addressing the issue, the taxpayers continue to send their money and kids to a school that isn’t effective. This is not acceptable. Continuing to fund failing schools has already done harm to generations of children and we cannot continue to allow for it.

Since last fall, I’ve been working with others on a proposal that would create a workable accountability system for all schools receiving taxpayer dollars. The goal of this legislation is to hold all schools that receive taxpayer money accountable in the same way. Since the goal of all schools is the same (providing the best possible education) then accountability standards should be the same.

Accountability will be achieved through a report card system based on grades A – F. The report card will be issued by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). DPI will determine a school’s grade through four performance areas: achievement, value-added growth, attendance/graduation rates, and gap closure. All taxpayer-funded students will take the same test. That test will be the basis for the report card for all schools, and that report card will be graded the same way for all schools.

Our hope is that through the use of the report card (which is required for Wisconsin’s federal waiver under the No Child Left Behind law), district’s will be able to identify schools that are struggling and swiftly intervene to correct course. We firmly believe that in a vast majority of cases, this is exactly what will happen. However, if a district has a school that continues to fail and they are not able to be effective in reversing the trend, then we feel it is imperative to the future of the children attending that decisive action be taken.

If a public school receives an “F” three years in a row, the school will need to convert to a charter school or shut down. If a private school participating in the choice program receives an “F” three years in a row, it will not be able to accept any new kids and will be banned from the program. If a charter school receives three subsequent “F” grades, it will shut down. We will also refuse to accept consistently low performing schools. These schools that hover between an F grade and a D grade for 5 consecutive years would also be subject to sanctions.

There are exceptions available for all schools if they can demonstrate high-value added growth as determined by the University of Wisconsin’s Value-Added Research Center. So as long as the school is making progress, no penalties would apply. DPI would issue an annual report for each school/district placing them in one of the five performance categories. The proposal would take effect in the 2015-2016 school year.

Parents will be able to easily see a school’s grade since all schools must provide a link to the report card on their website’s homepage. Other information will be easily identified as well, including graduation rate, dropout rate, suspensions and expulsions, and number of AP courses offered.

I would like to thank Representative Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart) and Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). As the authors of the original bill, they deserve much of the credit. They also deserve credit for being open to changes that we proposed, which I believe will accomplish our goals of ensuring that all schools that receive taxpayer dollars are performing at a level that our kids deserve. The Assembly will likely be taking this bill up in the next two weeks, and my hope is that the Senate will follow shortly after. If you’re like me and you believe that accountability can’t wait because all of our children deserve a great school, please contact your legislator and ask them to support AB379.