Sen. Farrow Offers Substitute Amendment to Senate Accountability Bill (SB 1)

State Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee), chair of the Senate Committee on Education Reform and Government Operations has put forward a new version (Senate Sub. Amdt. 1 to Senate Bill 1)  of the school accountability bill he authored earlier this session and has set a committee vote on the new version for early afternoon tomorrow (Thursday, April 16).

A committee vote on the new version that had been set for Thursday, April 16 was postponed. Sen. Farrow indicated a drafting error was partially to blame and that an issue had been identified with respect to student privacy and pupil records in cases where voucher schools provide the DPI with test results from their private pay students. Both issues need to be addressed before the proposal can move forward.

The new version drops a provision in the earlier version that would have created two new state oversight boards, one for public schools and independent charters and another for voucher schools.  The dropped  provision would have been required a school board (or governing board in the case of independent charters or private voucher schools) that oversees a low-performing school to submit an improvement plan for the school to the respective oversight board.

The new version would also set aside the existing statutory measures used to determine school and district accountability report scores after the 2015-16 reports. Instead, it would require the DPI to promulgate new administrative rules setting forth multiple measures to be used to determine report scores beginning with the school and district accountability reports for the 2016-17 school year.

Before promulgating such rules the DPI would have to consider all of the following:

  • Pupil achievement in reading and mathematics.
  • Growth in pupil achievement in reading and mathematics, calculated using a value-added methodology.
  • Gap closure in pupil achievement in reading and mathematics and, when available, rates of graduation.
  • The amount of time a pupil is enrolled in a school or school district before data used for a measure is collected.
  • The impact of poverty on pupil achievement and growth, including the percentage of pupils enrolled in the school or school district who satisfy the income eligible criteria for a free or reduced-price lunch under 42 USC 1758 (b) or any other measure of poverty determined by the department of public instruction.
  • Career and technical education readiness for high school pupils and indications that elementary pupils are on track for career and technical education readiness.

Under the new version, accountability reports would include an index system to identify both a school’s level of performance and a school district’s level of improvement and annually place each school and school district into one of five performance categories.

The DPI must use the same criteria to measure the performance of all schools included in the reports, including independent charters schools and private schools that participate in a voucher program.

Private voucher schools would be required to submit data to the DPI for all pupils attending the school that receive a voucher.  Those schools would have the option to also submit data for all pupils attending the school.  If a private voucher school submits data for all pupils, the DPI would calculate the private school’s performance twice in the accountability report: once using the data only for voucher pupils attending the school and once using the data for all pupils attending the school.  The DPI would also place the private school into a performance category twice: once using the data only for voucher pupils attending the school and once using the data for all pupils attending the school. The DPI must clearly identify which determination is which.

Under the new version, beginning in January 2017 with the accountability reports published for the 2016-17 school year, school boards and the governing bodies of independent charters and private voucher schools annually, by January 15, would be required to mail a letter to the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in a school that was placed in the lowest performance category in the most recent school and school district accountability report to notify them of the school’s placement in that lowest category.

In addition, under the new version, each school board, annually, by January 31, would be required post on its Internet site the educational options available to children who reside in the school district and are at least 3 years old but not yet 18 years old, including public schools, private schools participating in a parental choice program, charter schools, full-time open enrollment, youth options, and course options.

The substitute amendment, like the original Senate Bill 1, does not alter current law under which all private voucher students must take the same state assessments as public school students, does not require sanctions against low-performing schools, and does not require that schools or districts be assigned “A-F” letter grades.

In light of the differences between the Senate and the Assembly that have thus far kept the house from reaching an agreement, the most controversial aspect of the new version may be the lack of sanctions or other required interventions for low-performing schools.  State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), Assembly Education Committee chair, in a news release, said the new Senate version would not pass in his committee.