State Assembly Republicans unveiled their goals for the next legislative session, labelled the Forward Agenda and focusing on the economy, education and public safety, on Wednesday at a Capitol press conference.
The education proposal garnering the most media attention is a plan to provide a tablet or laptop computer to every high school freshman in the state, regardless of their income or whether they attend a public, private or charter school. Included in the plan is an initiative allowing students without internet access at home to check out portable wi-fi hot spots from their school. Another idea raised in the plan is to begin providing wi-fi capabilities on school buses.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the laptop proposal one of the Assembly GOP’s “highest priorities.”
“Almost every single assignment given to students today is to be done either using the internet or using technology,” Vos said. “For kids to not have access to devices, or to not have access to the internet, really puts them behind the curve.”
Speaker Vos did not provide any details on how the program would be funded or whether schools or districts that already provide devices to students would receive some allowance or reimbursement under the plan. According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), there are roughly 70,000 freshmen in Wisconsin high schools this year.
Other K-12 education agenda items include:
- Evaluating the K-12 funding formula, and perhaps changing it, to provide more state financial assistance to high-property value districts, such as northern lake areas that receive currently little or no general (equalization) aid;
- Exploring providing additional funding or flexibility to support more robust summer school programs statewide;
- exploring offering financial support so all schools have vocational training classes;
- considering creating a school district matching grant program to encourage collaboration with local manufacturing businesses and other private sector businesses;
- increasing the number of students involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) coursework as well as encouraging greater access to computer science curricula for students, including activities like robotics competitions;
- Continuing support for “Fab Labs” as a way to provide additional STEM education skills;
- Continuing to support school choice (voucher) programs in Wisconsin as well as open-enrollment, charter and virtual schools, and homeschooling programs;
- Exploring implementing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to provide families with access to savings that can be used only for education-related expenses, including tuition, textbooks and tutoring to enable parents and students to customize educational programs to best meet their individual needs, rather than expecting everyone to fit into the same traditional school mode.
- Supporting “zones of innovation” that could permit a school district or combination of school districts to ask for an exemption from statutes, except those relating to the health and safety of our students, in order to try out a new, innovative policy for a limited period of time (it is unclear how this proposal might differ from the existing ability school districts have to request waivers from certain state requirements);
- Continuing to push for financial literacy and life skills courses in high schools;
- Ensuring that key texts that shaped our nation – including the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence – are taught in every Wisconsin classroom;
- Incorporating special training for anyone looking to teach in an urban environment, including training every instructor in how to teach reading, regardless of their license category, and specifically tailoring college preparation programs for teachers looking to enter a more diverse environment;
- Encouraging more experienced teachers to serve as mentors to new staff; and
- Passing a Teacher Protection Act (containing as yet unspecified proposals) intended to make sure teachers feel safe in the classroom and students can learn in a safe environment.