Sen. Farrow, Rep. Steineke Discuss Merits of School Accountability Bills

March 20, 2014

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly continued their debate over school accountability in advance of the bill’s scheduled vote in the Assembly. Representative Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) and Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) exchanged letters pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the dueling bills that will be taken up on Thursday. Rep. Steineke, who was the primary author behind Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to SB 286, is pushing for sanctions to be tied to the School Report Cards in order to remove and rebuild failing schools.

Sen. Farrow, who is part of a bipartisan group that passed SB 286 on a 29-3 vote two weeks ago, agrees that sanctions are necessary – but that the model proposed in ASA 1 is troubling and does not focus on rewarding high performing schools on the other end of the spectrum.

Their letters, in their entirety, are below:

´┐╝From: Steineke, Jim
Sent: Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:01 PM
To: *Legislative Senate Republicans
Subject: School Accountability

Senator – Obviously there have been a lot of conversations surrounding the school accountability issue as of late. While I appreciate the fact that the Senate has already passed a scaled back version of the bill, my hope is that you will keep the door open for the possibility of passing a more comprehensive bill.

We have been working with stakeholders to get a comprehensive bill that will accomplish the goal of instituting a system that is as fair to all schools receiving taxpayer funding as is practical. Many of the concepts in the Substitute Amendment we have introduced either came directly from the original bill, from ideas generated by Senators themselves, or from concerns that were raised by Senators.

One of the main concerns we heard surrounded sanctions. While I have heard that there may be some discomfort with sanctions, I believe it is critical to include them in the bill. My reasoning is simple. First, I do not believe that we can simply stamp grades on schools and then walk away. Many of the schools that are failing today were failing 10, 20, or 30 years ago. While putting a failing grade on the school may heighten awareness, if we are to be honest most parents are already aware that the school isn’t up to par. I do believe that we must give the district an opportunity to get the school moving in the right direction. This sub allows for that. However, that opportunity cannot be open ended. If the school cannot move out of the failing category, or at a minimum show growth, then it is imperative that further steps be taken. Second, if we are ever going to have sanctions it will be much easier to put them in now then it will be as we get closer to schools being eligible for sanctions. While the sub puts sanctions into statute, it also provides two off ramps for the legislature to review sanctions before they would ever go into effect. The first one mandates that the council created in the sub review sanctions and recommend changes to the legislature. The second one acts as a gate holding the sanctions back. Once the legislature has seen the report cards and the methodology used to create them, and is comfortable that they are being applied fairly, the legislature simply passes a bill to remove language from the bill holding the sanctions at bay. This only needs to be done once. These two off ramps were put in place specifically to address concerns I heard from the Senate.

So I don’t get too deep in the weeds in this email, I’ve attached an outline of the sub along with the sub itself. I hope you will take some time to review it before making any decisions. As I have all along, I remain willing to take input from you or any of your colleagues to make this bill even better. I will make myself available by phone this weekend and on Monday, or for meetings at the Capitol on Tuesday or Wednesday if you would be interested in talking. Please feel free to call my cell phone at [REDACTED] or my office at 6-2418. Obviously our intent in the Assembly is to move this forward on Thursday, so time is of the essence.

Finally, I’m not sure about you but I wouldn’t be too excited about having to come back and address this again next year. The issues and the players will all be the same, we would only be starting at square one with the increased pressure of the budget looming a few short months ahead. We did our best to address all of the stakeholders concerns but as you know, if we wait until each of them is entirely satisfied it is highly unlikely we will ever get anything passed.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Senator Farrow’s response, which is in .pdf form, can be found in the following link. 201403181520.pdf