Assembly passes school safety package and sends it to the governor for his signature

The State Assembly on Thursday passed a package of school safety measures and sent it to Governor Walker for his signature. The measures would establish a new Office of School Safety at the state Department of Justice and give it $100 million to provide one-time grants to school districts for security measures.

The bill also requires public and private schools to conduct annual school violence drills and requires reporting of school violence threats by teachers, school administrators, counselors, other school employees, physicians, and other medical and mental health professionals.

In a separate vote, the Assembly passed a measure to strengthen background checks for sales of long guns such as rifles and shotguns. That measure goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

The Legislative actions capped a week in which school safety issues took center stage, and educators pushed for broader approaches to addressing school violence.

In testimony submitted Tuesday to the Assembly Education Committee, WEAC President Ron Martin said the solution to school violence is not more guns but proper resources to address issues that include student mental health, school safety improvements, staff training and common sense gun laws. “While the package of bills under consideration appropriates funding for more armed guards, more equipment, more reporting requirements, it is imperative the committee recognizes what is missing,” Martin said. “The package of bills under consideration by the committee contains not one of the recommendations for safe schools forwarded by those of us who work in and with them.”

Also, leaders of Madison Teachers Inc., the Madison school district and Dane County asked Governor Walker and the Legislature to listen to students and our communities and address school safety by focusing on how we can support students and schools.

Legislative Update – March 12 – Governor signs bill increasing sparsity aid

Assembly Bill 835 – which increases the sparsity aid per student – was signed into law Monday by Governor Walker. Beginning in 2019, the bill increases the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid increases were vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has since changed his position.

The bill will also increase the revenue limit ceiling for school districts to $9,400 in the 2018-19 school year, with the ceiling increasing by $100 each year until it reaches $9,800 in the 2022-23 school year. The current revenue limit ceiling is $9,100.

Read more:

Schools with low budgets, rural locations to get extra funding, under bill signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

MADISON – Wisconsin schools with small budgets or rural locations could get additional funding, under legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker. The Republican governor also said Monday that he wants the state to provide additional money to improve safety in schools in the same way the federal government helped improve safety in airports.

 

 

Legislative Update – February 26

The Assembly and Senate, and committees, continued acting on a large number of bills last week, as they hustle toward recess.

Here are some updates to catch you up on last week’s happenings:

Thiesfeldt bill. AB-693 was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a party line 5-3 vote and was passed by the Assembly. A companion bill, SB 821, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Education Committee. The Assembly committee incorporated an amendment to allow teachers to terminate their employment without penalty in certain cases of “physical assault” or violent crime. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc. Take Action Now!

Guns in School. A Wisconsin legislator is circulating a proposal called the Private School Carry Act. The bill would allow anyone with a concealed-carry license to carry that gun on school grounds, and, if the school board passes a policy, those guns could be concealed-carried into buildings. Under the proposal, if a school district doesn’t allow it and someone forgets they have a gun strapped to their ankle or other part of their body, the penalty is decreased to a forfeiture (which isn’t really a crime), instead of the current felony. The deadline for legislators to sign onto the proposal was Friday.

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee passed AB 748 / SB 634 on a 6-3 vote. The bill pre-empts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has already been passed by the Senate Labor Committee. 

Dual Enrollment. AB 851 / SB 711  requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Sparsity Aid. Assembly Democrats introduced an amendment to a bill to increase sparsity aid / low revenue ceiling. The amendment calls for a  School Safety Plan Revenue Limit Exemption, a timely and useful amendments for our members. Under the exemption plan, school districts would receive a revenue limit exemption for certain school safety expenditures made under a school safety plan equal to the greater of $40,000 or $100 times the number of pupils in the school district. It is estimated that districts would utilize $60 million in revenue limit authority related to this item.

Nutrition Education. The Assembly passed SB159 /AB-215, which would require a school board to modify its instruction about nutrition to include knowledge of the nutritive value of foods and the role of a nutritious diet in promoting health. Current law requires school boards to provide instruction about the vitamin content of food and food and health values of dairy products. The bill also requires a nutrition education component be incorporated into the health education credit requirement to receive a high school diploma.

Introduced in Senate:

Academic excellence higher education scholarships. SB840 addresses the awarding of academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 500 pupils, and not more than ten scholarships to be awarded statewide to seniors from public or tribal high schools enrolling fewer than 20 pupils and to seniors from private high schools enrolling fewer than 80 pupils. Scholarship deadlines for these schools are also impacted. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Education.

Rural teacher grants. SB 841 would create a grant program to encourage eligible teachers to teach in schools operated by eligible rural school districts. To be eligible, a teacher must be nominated by her school district and submit a claim for financial assistance. The teacher must include a commitment to use the financial assistance to repay student loans. The maximum grant amount is $1,000 for the first school year, $2,000 for the second school year, $2,000 for the third school year, $2,000 for the fourth school year, and $3,000 for the fifth school year. Districts would be limited to four eligible teachers in the grant program each year.

Phasing out vouchers. AB 968 would provide for new regulations under Wisconsin’s voucher programs, and eventually phase them out altogether. This bill prohibits a pupil who has attended a private school under any voucher program and who has completed the highest grade level at that private school from attending any other private school under vouchers. Also, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no new voucher school may added. Additionally, no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the 2019-20 school year. Finally, beginning in the 2020-21 school year, no private school may accept pupils under the voucher program unless the school was participating in the program in the 2019-20 school year, and no pupil may attend a private voucher school unless the pupil was attending that private school under the program in the prior year.

County jailers and the WRS. SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operation, Technology and Consumer Protection. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding has scheduled its next public hearing for Monday, March 5, 2018, in La Crosse. The hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and conclude at 6:00 p.m. The hearing will take place at the: North Woods International School N2541 Sablewood Rd. La Crosse.

 

Legislative Update – February 15 – Bill that severely threatens student privacy up for a vote on Tuesday

AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote next Tuesday. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc.

Welfare Overhaul. The Assembly took up the special session welfare overhaul package on the floor this afternoon. All 10 of the bills have cleared a Senate committee as of this week. Juvenile corrections were also up for a joint public hearing. A rundown of other bills in the mix is below. Find details on all here: All the Bills We’re Watching.

The Assembly is also set to vote today on the following bills:

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577 would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

AB-872 Career and Tech Ed Grants (Loudenbeck, Amy) Career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils and making an appropriation.

AB-804 Merit Scholarships (August, Tyler) Merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students and making an appropriation.

The Assembly is set to vote Tuesday, February 20, on the following bills:

AB-215 Nutrition Education (Petryk, Warren) Education about nutrition.

AB-564 Robotics League Grants (Neylon, Adam) Robotics league participation grants.

AB-569 School Reports (Kitchens, Joel) Publication of school and school district accountability reports.

AB-745 Apprenticeship Participation (Quinn, Romaine) Participation in an apprenticeship program by a high school senior and granting rule-making authority.

AB-808 Apprenticeship Grants (Jacque, Andre) Grants to technical college students for apprenticeships expenses and making an appropriation.

Committee votes next week:

Thiesfeldt Teacher Bill. AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote. The bill severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Take Action Now!

4K Pilot Program. The Assembly Children and Families Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday, February 21, on AB-797, a Department of Children and Families pilot project to expand 4-year-old kindergarten programs. The Senate Education Committee has passed the companion bill, SB-663.

Passed by Assembly

AB-805 College Credit in High School (Kooyenga, Dale) Excluding certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. Am. 1 to Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Passed, (Voice Vote).  Messaged.  

AB-835 Sparsity Aid (Nygren, John) Sparsity aid, the revenue limit ceiling for school districts, and making an appropriation. Am. 3 adopted, (Voice Vote). Passed, 90-3.  Messaged

Passed by Senate Education Committee

AB-221 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Kremer, Jesse) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

SB-105 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Olsen, Luther) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

Passed by the Assembly Education Committee:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Earlier this week:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

Updates on important issues:

WI FMLA. We shared last week that the Senate Labor Chair is indicating in emails that he has no intention of moving ahead with a bill to eviscerate WI FMLA. WEAC has been on-the-job since October activating members, and you can keep the pressure up by using our Action Alert. We’ve had about 500 action-takers to date, and almost 50 of them have also sent a note to Senator Steve Nass to let him know we’re watching now that he’s committed NOT to advance the bill this session.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

 

Legislative Update – February 14 – Assembly OKs rural schools bill

After lengthy debate, the Assembly passed a bill 91-2 to help rural schools. The two members voting against the bill were Reps. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. An amendment allows districts with a failed referendum to present another one to voters. If successful, they would then qualify. This provision in the bill, even with the added amendment, received sharp criticism from Democrats. Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, the ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, voted for the bill, but said she was still troubled over its retroactive provision. “Now that the majority party has finally decided to take meaningful action in funding education, they want to punish districts who did what they had to do just to survive,” Pope said. Here’s more about the bill, from a recent WEAC Legislative Update:

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists continue to do their thing at the Capitol, looking for more ways to siphon funding meant for the majority of Wisconsin kids who attend public schools. In fact, SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS ARE SET TO TRIPLE NEXT YEAR.

This week:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

Legislative Update – February 9 – FMLA bill ‘won’t move forward’

Senator Steve Nass, chairman of the Senate committee weighing a bill to end the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act, said he has “no intention of moving this bill forward in the remaining days of this session.” Nass made the statement in response to WEAC’s Save Wisconsin FMLA emails, showing that our collective action makes a difference. Don’t stop now! SHARE OUR ACTION ALERT WITH OTHERS WHO HAVEN’T EMAILED YET.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it Thursday. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate and Assembly. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A bill to begin gifted and talented education savings accounts (AKA vouchers) was pulled before a committee vote this week, as an amendment was introduced to require repayments to the state in cases of fraud, but it’s back on the legislative track now. The bill would allow any type of school to define “gifted and talented” without oversight, and as is the nature of privatization, collect public money.  The bill is SB 725 / AB 830, the nation’s first attempt at vouchers for gifted and talented children. The measure would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four. Read national praise for this idea from privatizers at The 74.

Tax proposal. A one-time $100 per child tax credit, regardless of income, refunded by check in July and a sales tax holiday the first weekend of August for purchases under $100 are moving ahead. The governor is publicizing his agreement with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The bill will likely be introduced and sent to committee next week.  Senator Scott Fitzgerald said his caucus will talk about the proposal, but noted that the sales tax holiday was removed from the budget last year. Assembly GOP leaders, who worked with Walker on the plan, said it would cost $172 million. That includes $122 million for the per-child credit and an estimated $50 million for the sales tax holiday.

Circulating for co-sponsorship:

Supplemental Sparsity Aid. LRB-5382 would provide supplemental sparsity aid for school districts with high property valuation and making an appropriation. Read the memo.

Teacher Grant Program. LRB-5386  would create a grant program for teachers employed by sparsely populated school districts and requiring the exercise of rule-making authority. Read the memo.

Higher Ed Scholarships. LRB-5387 would award academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 80 pupils. Read the memo.

BILLS WE ARE WATCHING

Public hearings Wednesday:

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday on AB 748 / SB 634. The bill preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has passed the Senate Committee on Labor.

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee will hold its public hearing on AB 851. The bill requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022. The Senate version, SB 711, received a public hearing Tuesday.

Ready for votes:

Firearm Possession at School. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, is ready to be scheduled for an Assembly vote. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development will vote Tuesday on AB 872, which would create an incentive grant program for school districts that provide training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Drug abuse awareness, prevention in school. SB 767 lists requirements for counselors and specialists to be certified, and also goes beyond current law to require school boards to incorporate drug abuse awareness and prevention in health instructional programs.

Passed through committee:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. An Assembly committee unanimously passed AB-872, which would provide career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils. The Senate version, SB-746, is up for a public hearing Thursday.  Read the fiscal estimate.

Votes scheduled:

Merit scholarships. The Senate Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection Committee will vote Thursday on SB-700, which would provide merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students.

Bill circulating for co-sponsorship:

Local Minimum Wage. LRB-4544 would allow for the enactment of local minimum wage ordinances. Currently, in Wisconsin, local units of government are preempted by state statute from establishing a local minimum wage. Wisconsin’s minimum has stayed stagnant since 2009 at $7.25 an hour. Twenty five percent of Wisconsinites are working low wage jobs that pay less than $11.56 per hour which, even working full time, cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. Read the memo.

LRB-2581 Memo DOA Duties (Vinehout, Kathleen) The duties and function of the Department of Administration, the Department of Revenue, and the Office of the State Treasurer and making appropriations. Deadline: Friday, February 16, 3 pm

Public hearings held Tuesday:

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4KSB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. The Senate Universities & Tech College Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday on SB 444 / AB 540, which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, along with two Wisconsin Technical College System Board appointments.

Other updates:

LEGISLATIVE AUDIT BUREAU RELEASES UW SYSTEM AUDIT. The Legislative Audit Bureau has released an audit of the UW System. According to the audit, LAB “have reported concerns related to information technology (IT) security policies, procedures, and controls at UW System since the early 1990s. Such weaknesses increase the risk that unauthorized or erroneous transactions could be processed or changes could be made to accounting, payroll, and student data. We continued to identify weaknesses and reported these weaknesses as a significant deficiency in internal control in our Independent Auditor’s Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting and on Compliance and Other Matters.”

Legislative Update – February 2

BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON SCHOOL FUNDING HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING IN MILWAUKEE

A school funding commission created by the Legislature met Friday, February 2, in Milwaukee, with invited testimony from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Southeast Wisconsin Schools Alliance and a voucher lobbyist group. The hearing was one of a handful planned around the state to inform the next biennium budget.

Senator Luther Olsen opened the meeting, repeating his stance that making changes to school funding requires money in order to make sure there aren’t schools that win and other schools that lose. Olsen said school districts need to be held harmless in any proposal or there will never be enough support in the Legislature to pass it.

Highlights of the Milwaukee Public Schools testimony included support for mental health needs, transportation needs and literacy issues. The Alliance highlighted issues affecting schools, including declining enrollment and the need for local control of school start dates. The voucher lobby said funding should have a “mobility function.”

Public education advocates prepared to speak out around the hearings said one concern stands out across our communities: inequity. “All children have a right to a quality public education, but parents do not feel that their public schools are receiving adequate resources from the state,” said Ingrid Walker-Henry, co-chair of Schools and Communities United in Milwaukee, pointing out that this concern is tied directly to the strain of private school funding schemes on public school funds. “For over 25 years, Milwaukee has been home to a private voucher school experiment. Parents have grave concerns about the millions of public dollars being siphoned to private, unaccountable school operators who are not performing better than our public schools. We hope that legislators on the committee will hear Milwaukee parents’ calls for adequate and equitable funding and for all publicly funded schools to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our public schools.”

This week in the Legislature:

Common School Funds. A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 713 / AB 857. The bill would eliminate the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running.

  • In a nutshell, the requirement that schools spend Common School Fund monies on instructional materials, library books or school library computers/software would be eliminated under this bill, and any items purchased would no longer have to be located in the school library.
  • Since the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would no longer make loans, the interest from those loans – which now goes into the Common School Fund – would be gone. Over the past 10 years, the loan program invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin, and the interest earnings are a key source of revenue for the Common School Fund.
  • The bill would for the first time allow SWIB to invest state trust fund dollars using their typical investment strategy, instead of only investing in fixed accounts. It’s estimated if this approach were active during the financial crash of 2008, a loss up to $290 million would have occurred and school libraries would have been left in the dark.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Assembly Education Committee passed AB 835, a bill to help rural schools. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now. The bill addresses two areas:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. Districts with failed operating referendums in the prior three years would not be eligible. Of the 107 school districts that would be eligible under this bill, nine had failed referenda. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019.

Annual School Reports. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB569, which requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. This bill also changes the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is placed in the school takeover program to November 30 instead of October 15. The Senate has already passed the companion bill, SB-494.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost in some districts. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB 803. In this bill, expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum are excluded from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, under the bill, a negative tertiary school district will not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill protects some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approve capital projects. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development held a hearing on AB 872, which creates an incentive grant program for school districts that provide
training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The Assembly committee is set to vote on the measure Tuesday and the companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Pupil Exam InformationAB-300 / SB 222 was passed out of the Assembly and Senate education committees. The bill requires school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians.

Tech grants for apprenticeship training programs. AB 808 was passed by an Assembly committee. The Senate Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on companion bill SB 682, which creates a grant program under which the Technical College System Board may award grants of up to $1,000 to technical college students who have undertaken an apprenticeship training program in conjunction with their course of instruction at the technical college. These grants may be awarded only to assist students in paying materials expenses associated with the apprenticeship training program, including costs of purchasing tools, clothing, equipment, and supplies. The TCS Board must establish an application process and criteria for awarding these grants, which criteria must consider the financial need and anticipated or actual expenses of the applicant. The TCS Board may award grants totaling up to $50,000 per academic year.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A fiscal estimate was received for the latest voucher scam, AB830 / SB725. The bill claims to help low-income parents get services for their gifted and talented children, but instead it expands the amount of tax dollars spent on private schools – at the expense of the 90 percent of children who attend public schools. Senator Alberta Darling is proposing the measure, which would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four.

Robotics league participation grants. Representative Kooyenga was added as a co-author of AB564/SB483, which expands eligibility for robotics grants to include sixth- through eighth-grade teams.

Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday

The following bills will receive public hearings:

Dual Enrollment. SB 711 requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4K. SB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

County jailers and the WRS. The Assembly is set to vote on AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Senate Judiciary And Public Safety meets Tuesday

Firearm Possession at School. The committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.

The so-called ‘Teacher Protect Act’ would ‘supersize the school-to-prison pipeline’ while failing to provide resources to create safety, legislators told

Concerned Wisconsinites gathered at the State Capitol Thursday for a press event followed by a public hearing on AB693, known as the “Teacher Protection Act,” to express their concerns about the proposal’s effects on vulnerable Wisconsin students.

While everyone agrees that teachers and students deserve a safe environment for teaching and learning, the “Teacher Protection Act” offers no new resources or ideas for bringing safety through improved relationships and behavior, according to two organizations leading the charge against the bill – Wisconsin Family Ties and Disability Rights Wisconsin. Instead, they said, the bill would increase the likelihood of students being punished for behaviors that are often a direct result of disability or trauma, and would result in a detrimental increase in contact between schools and law enforcement.

WEAC also believes the bill misses mark on teacher protection. WEAC is not supporting the proposed legislation, and instead is offering – from the educators’ perspective – protections that would make a difference in our classrooms and schools. Read more about this bill.

At their press conference, the two advocacy groups said that, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity, Wisconsin is already seventh in the nation for referral-rate of students to law enforcement, and third in the nation when it comes to referring students with disabilities. AB693 would mandate that if a victim or adult witness of a “physical assault” at school asked their principal to refer the student to law enforcement, the principal would be required to do so.

Here is more from Wisconsin Family Ties and Disability Rights Wisconsin:

Nikki Weigel from Wisconsin Dells knows about inappropriate law enforcement referrals first-hand. When her son Caleb, who has brain damage and anxiety as well as being on the autism spectrum, had a meltdown incident at school at age 9, he was handcuffed and put into a squad car. After an ensuing meltdown at home, she says, “He had learned so well that adults define him as a ‘bad boy,’ that he pulled out a pair of play handcuffs and tried to handcuff himself behind his own back. Then he grabbed a toy gun and tried to shoot himself, thinking he deserved to die, all for disability-related behavior he could not yet control. We need to find a better way, because this is not the answer.”

When Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond Du Lac) introduced the measure, he cited a 2016 story called “Blood on the Blackboard” that highlighted various incidents in which injuries to teachers were poorly handled by their districts. Among the interviewees was Shana Schloemer, a counselor from West Bend, who spoke about the issues that can be created by poverty and other trauma experienced by students.

When Shana heard about the story being used in context of the “Teacher Protection Act,” she says, “I was truly horrified to think I had contributed to this legislation in any way! I had no idea that my words would be used to justify the further criminalization of students. All I wanted to do was bring a perspective of how wounded these children can be.”

In addition to increasing contact between schools and law enforcement, AB693 would also allow teachers to seek to suspend a student through a school board hearing process, if their administrator chose not to issue a suspension. Suspensions are widely-recognized as ineffective for changing behavior or teaching social/emotional skills. In addition, Wisconsin suspends students with disabilities at three times the rate of students without disabilities, while students with emotional/behavioral disability are suspended at eleven times the rate of their non-disabled peers.

According to Nicki Vander Meulen of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, “As a school board member, I can’t imagine that any school board would want to be forced to hold hearings and be increasing suspension rates by overturning their principals’ decisions. We are already suspending students with disabilities at disproportionate rates. These are the students who are most likely to be harmed by any increased emphasis on suspensions.”

Ken Taylor, Executive Director of Kids Forward, believes the actions promoted by this bill would do little to protect teachers, and would instead make it harder for students to achieve their full academic potential, particularly youth of color.

“Current data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows that compared to white students, American Indian students are three times as likely to be suspended, Latino students are over twice as likely to be suspended, and African-American students are nearly nine times as likely to be suspended. While reasons for those disparities are complex, one powerful driver is the subjectivity of adults. Students of color are punished more severely than their white peers for similar behavior. This bill would only increase disparities, keeping more kids of color out of classroom and making it harder for them to succeed,” he said.

The participants in the press conference called upon the Legislature to reject AB693 and to instead prioritize creating well-resourced, supportive conditions for teaching, learning, and true overall safety. One increasingly-evident path to greater support for vulnerable students would be to increase special education categorical aid, which has not received a funding increase in a full decade.

Wisconsin Family Ties, Wisconsin’s family voice for children’s mental health, is a parent-run nonprofit organization serving families that include children with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges. 

Disability Rights Wisconsin is the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy system for the State of Wisconsin.

Watch Thursday morning’s news conference:

Join WEAC to bring teacher voice to proposed license changes

 

The Department of Public Instruction is proposing major changes to teacher licensing in Wisconsin, and those changes include teacher discipline and teacher rights. You can learn more about these changes – and how you can take action to influence them – during a WEAC Tele-Town Hall phone call on Monday, January 15. We will be calling all active-teacher members for whom we have a personal phone number, so you don’t need to do anything, just listen for a call from WEAC President Ron Martin at 6:30 p.m. Monday, January 15.

If you are a WEAC member and are not sure whether we have your current home or cell phone number, please fill out this form to provide your number and express your interest in getting more information about the proposed changes to teacher licensing. You can also use this form to express your opinion about the proposed changes.

Here is some background on the Teacher Rights Proposals:

The DPI has proposed a series of sweeping changes that directly impact teacher rights associated with potential disciplinary action which do nothing to attract or keep teachers in the profession and undermine the concept of a team of educators working for student success. Along with creating a very broad category called boundary violations as aggravating factors that could cause a license to be revoked, the overhaul rewards teachers for becoming informants against other teachers, allows the DPI to suspend teachers with limited proof and creates categories of offenses in which the DPI may revoke a license, and when it must. Instead of felonies being the reason a license is revoked, there are new vague offenses, such as revocation for a teacher who engages in more than one boundary violation – which covers a wide scope of arbitrary judgments, like showing favoritism.

Tell DPI what you think about major proposed changes to teacher licensing rules

With the 100th day of school approaching quickly for Wisconsin Public Schools, educators are still experiencing the impact the state’s growing teacher shortage has on our students and workload. The problem is escalating, yet meaningful solutions are few and far between. We’ve seen policymakers opting for quick fixes – including a law that allows a teaching certificate for someone who takes an online course with no student teaching.

WEAC has brought forward your solutions for the teacher shortage: Professional pay, planning and preparation time, and holding school leadership accountable for a positive school climate. Yet, the media has reported that since 2011 a whopping 60 percent of school districts have slowed or offered no growth in teacher pay/benefits and 75 percent of districts reported losing teaching staff when outbid by other districts in the “free-agent” approach to the teaching corps. “I’ve grown tired of it, so I’m moving on,” one veteran teacher simply explained.

Solving the teacher shortage

Whether looking at the national research or asking a Wisconsin educator, the reason for the teacher shortage is clear: teaching and learning conditions. Recruiting and retaining the right number of teachers who possess the right qualifications is not enough to ensure Wisconsin’s public-school students are well served. Teachers must also have the right working conditions in place to teach effectively and for students to learn at the highest levels rooted in critical thinking, inquiry, and problem solving.

In recent years Wisconsin Educators have experienced decreased professional autonomy as seen in scripted curricula, state mandated SLOs, and highly prescriptive employee handbooks. Teacher workload is excessive with tasks that do not promote student learning such as data entry and excessively assigned duties.

Perhaps the most under acknowledged reason for the teacher shortage is the downward trend in teacher salary and benefits in Wisconsin. The erosion of relative teacher pay has fallen heavily on the most experienced teachers, and many early career educators do not have the ability to accurately project future earnings making it difficult to make decisions enabling one to maintain a middle-class standard of living.

DPI proposal overhauls PI-34

The Department of Public Instruction is offering the latest idea to solve the teacher shortage – an overhaul to the state’s teacher licensure law, PI-34. WEAC has prepared an overview of the proposal, and will be posting Frequently Asked Questions.

Teacher licensure and teacher rights

The proposed overhaul represents two areas – licensing and teacher rights. While the licensure provisions represent a mixed bag of ideas crafted with input from a council of education stakeholders including WEAC, provisions in the overhaul aimed at limiting teacher rights create sweeping changes to disciplinary action based on arbitrary and questionable judgments.

Licensing proposals:

WEAC is seeking assurances from the DPI that all current license holders are grandfathered or given the option of expanding licensure in any or all forms as outlined in the changes. We are also calling on the DPI to develop and promulgate rigorous protocols and procedures for assuring that any district-sponsored license be implemented in an objective manner with fidelity. Without criteria that assures that stringent quality control measures are in place WEAC stands opposed to the district sponsored licensure proposal. This includes, but is not limited to, direct involvement by a master educator holding such a license or an Institute of Higher Education that has a teacher preparation program approved by the DPI.  Without the requirement candidates for licensure demonstrate comprehensive training in subject matter content and pedagogy, Wisconsin’s students are at risk of being provided educators who are inadequately prepared.

Teacher Rights Proposals:

The DPI has proposed a series of sweeping changes that directly impact teacher rights associated with potential disciplinary action which do nothing to attract or keep teachers in the profession and undermine the concept of a team of educators working for student success. WEAC believes DPI has overstepped its authority with this extensive overhaul that reaches beyond license revocation. Along with creating a very broad category called boundary violations as aggravating factors that could cause a license to be revoked, the overhaul rewards teachers for becoming informants against other teachers, allows the DPI to suspend teachers with limited proof and creates categories of offenses in which the DPI may revoke a license, and when it must. Instead of felonies being the reason a license is revoked, there are new vague offenses, such as revocation for a teacher who engages in more than one boundary violation – which covers a wide scope of arbitrary judgments, like showing favoritism.

Educators are encouraged to provide written comment or attend one of five public hearings this month. Read all proposed changes here.