Standards for vouchers proposed

GOP chairs back plan but Walker, legislative leaders noncommittal

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Poor-performing voucher schools could be kicked out of the taxpayer-subsidized program under a Republican-sponsored bill unveiled on Wednesday.

The measure, introduced by the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly education committees, would also require for the first time that private schools in the voucher program report a wide range of performance information to the state. Public schools, including charters, already provide the data.

Even though the measure was introduced by two Republicans, it’s unlikely to sail through the GOP-controlled Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesman had no comment on the bill, saying only that Walker would review the final

version.

And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in a prepared statement, called the bill a “good place to start.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the measure will be considered in the fall, but Republicans have not discussed it yet.

Vos also used his statement to say that the sponsors, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, negotiated with the Department of Public Instruction on the bill. Many Republicans distrust DPI, given state Superintendent Tony Evers’ opposition to expanding voucher schools.

“I look forward to our caucuses working together to refine it into a final product that we all support,” Vos said of the bill.

School Choice Wisconsin president Jim Bender, a leading proponent for voucher schools that pushed for statewide expansion approved this year, was more

critical.

“We support providing quality, accurate data about schools that is handled in an objective, independent and transparent manner,” Bender said. But he went on to say the bill has “bad data components” and “relies on interpretations by DPI, an agency that lobbies and publicly advocates against the voucher program.”

John Johnson, a spokesman for DPI, praised the bill saying a fair and equitable reporting and accountability system is needed for all schools, including those in the voucher program.

“The success of this work is really important but it’s only going to be possible if all the folks involved are behind it,” Johnson said.

In the works for two years, the proposal would give a score to every public, charter and voucher school based on data collected during the 2014 academic year. The scores would be in five categories — reading and math, achievement and growth in those areas, college and career readiness, closing student achievement and graduation rate gaps and student engagement.

The bill would also create a series of consequences for schools that under-perform three years in a row, including restructuring, closing, revocation of charter or removal from the voucher program.

The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau would also be required to annually evaluate the fairness and integrity of the school accountability system.

“We want parents to have the best information possible while at the same time making sure all of their choices are quality options,” Kestell said in a statement. He called the bill “reliable and fair to all different types of schools.”

But in recognition of the likely tough fight ahead in the Legislature, Olsen said agreement couldn’t be reached with all involved, “but that probably means we are on the right track.”

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