Senate Finishes Session by Passing Voucher Funding Adjustment Bill, Among Others

Last night the state Senate wrapped up its work for the two-year 2015-2016 session by passing over 85 items, including:

  • Senate Bill 615, a bill affecting the special needs voucher program. The bill had previously passed the Senate but had to come back for a vote on an amendment added to this bill by the state Assembly. That amendment reduces the amount of local property tax revenue public school districts can raise to offset the state aid they lose when students who reside in the district participate in the statewide voucher program. Under the amendment, school districts with resident pupils who participate in either the statewide or Racine voucher programs may raise an equal to the amount of state aid they lose to private school vouchers. Senators approved the amendment on a 19-13 party line vote.

  • Assembly Bill 722, which requires each school that maintains a website and for which the DPI has published a school report card to prominently display a link to the school’s most recent report card on the school’s Internet site within 30 days after DPI publishes the report card.
  • Assembly Bill 793, which modifies the state’s existing teacher loan program to provide for loan forgiveness to certain teachers employed in school districts in rural counties.
  • Assembly Bill 824, which adjusts sparsity aid eligibility to allow the Crivitz and Spring Valley school districts to continue to receive sparsity aid payments, without reducing sparsity aid payments to any other qualifying district. The bill also raises the school district membership cap for sparsity aid purposes to 745 pupils, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

The Senate also approved and sent to the governor a number of other measures that will impact schools less directly, including the following:

  • Assembly Bill 341, which makes it a Class I felony to make a “terrorist threat” by threatening to cause the death of or bodily injury to any person or to damage any person’s property by any means under any of the following circumstances: 1) the actor intends to prevent the occupation of or cause the evacuation of a building, dwelling, school premises, vehicle (which is defined to include any bus, train, boat, or airplane), facility of public transportation, or place of public assembly or any room within a building, dwelling, or school premises; 2) the actor intends to cause public inconvenience; 3) the actor intends to cause public panic or fear; 4) the actor intends to cause an interruption or impairment of governmental operations or public communication, of transportation, or of a supply of water, gas, or other public service; or 5) the actor creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of causing one of those occurrences and is aware of that risk. If those actions contribute to the death of a person, it is Class G felony.

(A Class I felony is punishable by a fine not to exceed $10,000, imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both. A Class G felony is punishable by a fine not to exceed $25,000, imprisonment not to exceed 10 years, or both.)

  • Assembly Bill 566, which increases the penalties for certain criminal invasions of privacy from misdemeanors to felonies, particularly if the victim is under the age of 18 when the violation occurs. Described as “locker room privacy” legislation by proponents, this bill primarily addresses offenses in which the perpetrator intentionally captures representations of nude or partially nude persons in private places, locker rooms or under circumstances in which the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy. It also increases penalties for offenses in which the perpetrator not only captures the representations but possesses, exhibits, displays or transmits the representations.
  • Assembly Bill 584, which creates two financial standards for the state-run Local Government Property Insurance Fund (LGPIF) consistent with how the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) regulates other insurers. (The LGPIF is managed by the OCI and provides protection for the property insured in the fund against fire and extended coverage perils.) The bill requires the LGPIF to meet a minimum surplus standard of 2:1, which means it must hold at least $1 in reserves for every $2 in premiums collected and to target a maximum surplus of 1:2.2, which means it should not hold more than $2.22 in reserves for each $1 of premiums collected. These two standards are intended to ensure LGPIF coverage is priced appropriately, based on risk. The bill also requires the LGPIF to assess participants when the surplus is below the targeted amount or provide a refund the surplus is exceeded.
  • Assembly Bill 602, which adds Christian Schools International and Association of Christian Schools International to the list of accrediting agencies that can qualify a school to participate in Wisconsin’s three voucher programs or the new special needs voucher program. Current law requires private schools to obtain accreditation to qualify to participate  in these programs.
  • Assembly Bill 665, which creates a one-year program for the DPI to award grants of up to $5,000 to eligible high-school teams to facilitate participation in robotics competitions. The bill, as amended, appropriates $250,000 for one year for the grants. To be eligible to receive a grant, an applicant must demonstrate that the applicant will provide matching funds.
  • Assembly Bill 808, referred to as the “sexual assault amnesty” bill by proponents, specifically prohibits issuance of an underage alcohol beverage citation to, or related student disciplinary action by the UW System against, an underage person who is a victim of, or bystander to, specified crimes and who cooperates with emergency responders when they arrive. Disciplinary sanctions that a UW System institution would be prohibited from imposing under the bill include: removing a student from a course or program; restricting enrollment in a course or program; suspending or expelling a student; and excluding a student from student housing.Although AB 808 is silent with respect to disciplinary action by a public school district against an underage person who uses alcohol beverages and is a victim of, or bystander to, a sexual assault or other specified crimes and who cooperates with emergency responders when they arrive, the authors of the bill have expressed an interest in expanding the bill’s coverage to high schools. We expect this to be a topic that likely will be taken up next session.
  • Assembly Bill 843, which requires counties, school districts, and other taxing jurisdictions to contribute a share of any property tax refunds a municipality is required to pay taxpayers who are overassessed, as determined by the state Department of Revenue. Under the bill as amended, a school district’s revenue limit is increased by the amount of any refunded or rescinded property taxes paid by the school board. Additionally, rescinded or refunded taxes within a tax incremental finance district (TID) may not be charged back against school districts and other taxing jurisdictions unless the TID value is lower than the tax incremental base.