UPDATE: Independent charter schools could be OK'd in 146 districts

UPDATED Tuesday, June 2, 2015---11:44 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Independent charter schools could be approved in 146 public school districts across Wisconsin under a provision that's been added to the state budget.

State Superintendent Tony Evers says the expansion of independent charter school authorizers would weaken local control of public education.

The measure added to the budget calls for the University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross to appoint someone to approve independent charter schools in Milwaukee and Madison. Four other authorizers could create charter schools in 144 other districts across the state.

Those authorizers are the College of the Menominee Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, Gateway Technical College District Board and the Waukesha County executive.

Supporters say it gives students more choices, while opponents like Evers say it will hurt public schools.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, May 20, 2015---8:40 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Legislature's budget-writing budget committee has rejected Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to create a new approval board to allow for more independent charter schools that operate outside the control of local public school boards.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee voted down Walker's proposal early Wednesday morning. Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling says the state is not ready for an expansion of independent charter schools statewide.

Most charter schools in Wisconsin are run by school boards. Independent charter schools, which answer to state-approved agencies, only currently operate in Milwaukee and Racine.

Walker's budget would create a new state board to oversee approval of new entities that can authorize new independent charter schools statewide.

Similar proposals have failed in recent years.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, May 19, 2015---2:56 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Legislature's budget-writing budget committee plans to reject Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to create a new approval board to allow for more independent charter schools that operate outside the control of local public school boards.

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling said Tuesday that the Republican-controlled panel plans to vote down Walker's proposal. She says the state is not ready for an expansion of independent charter schools statewide.

Most charter schools in Wisconsin are run by school boards. Independent charter schools, which answer to state-approved agencies, only currently operate in Milwaukee and Racine.

Walker's budget would create a new state board to oversee approval of new entities that can authorize new independent charter schools statewide.

Similar proposals have failed in recent years.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, May 19, 2015---1:20 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Legislature's budget-writing budget committee is expected to vote on whether to expand independent charter schools that operate outside the control of local public school boards.

The Joint Finance Committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a variety of education issues in Gov. Scott Walker's budget, including overall funding for public schools, removal an enrollment cap on the voucher program and expanding charters.

Most charter schools in Wisconsin are run by school boards. Independent charter schools, which answer to state-approved agencies, only currently operate in Milwaukee and Racine.

Walker's budget would create a new state board to oversee approval of new entities that can authorize new independent charter schools statewide.

Similar proposals have failed in recent years.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATE: Wednesday, March 11, 2015---4:10 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans are again delaying action on a bill imposing sanctions on failing public schools.

The bill could lead to converting public schools into charter schools and firing teachers. It was scheduled for a committee vote Thursday with the full Assembly taking it up next week.

But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said Wednesday that the vote is being delayed in the hopes that a deal can be reached with the Senate, which has not endorsed sanctions. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has also not supported sanctions.

Assembly Education Committee chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt says he's negotiating with Sen. Paul Farrow, who had been against the bill as written.

Farrow says Thiesfeldt doesn't have the votes to pass his proposal out of committee and that's why he delayed the vote.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press
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UPDATED: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 --- 2:25 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans are once again delaying action on a bill imposing sanctions on failing public schools in the hopes of reaching a compromise with the state Senate.

The bill that could lead to converting public schools into charter schools and firing teachers was scheduled for a committee vote Thursday with the full Assembly taking it up next week.

But Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said Wednesday that the vote is being delayed in the hopes that a deal can be reached with the Senate, which has not endorsed sanctions. Gov. Scott Walker has also not supported sanctions.

Assembly Education Committee chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt says Sen. Paul Farrow, who had been against sanctions, has told him he is open to the idea.

Farrow did not immediately return a message.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 --- 10:32 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans are moving ahead with plans to sanction failing Wisconsin public schools.

Assembly Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt released the latest proposal Tuesday morning and planned to vote on it Thursday. The full Assembly could take it up later this month.

The latest proposal would impose sanctions on public schools that receive a D or F on school report cards for at least three years starting with the 2016-2017 academic year.

After three years, the school board would be required to either convert the public school into an independent charter school, reorganize the school or contract with an educating management agency for five years.

Private schools that have at least 20 students receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers would not be able to accept new students after three failing years.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Thursday, February 19, 2015 --- 10:23 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans are backing off their original plan to force failing public schools to be converted into independent charter schools.

The idea ran into opposition from Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Republicans, both of whom are advocating for no sanctions.

Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt tells The Associated Press on Thursday that he's re-working his proposal to still include sanctions, but forced closure wouldn't be the sole penalty.

Thiesfeldt says the new version would require school boards at failing schools to pick from a variety of sanctions, one of which would be converting to a charter with an option of reverting back to a public school. He says another option could be firing teachers and administrators.

Thiesfeldt says he hopes to vote on the bill within a month.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 --- 12:48 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Republican state senator says he does not believe the state can force failing public schools to be converted into independent charter schools.

Sen. Paul Farrow made his comments Tuesday while testifying in support of a measure he introduced that does not include sanctions. Assembly Republicans are backing a different approach with sanctions.

Gov. Scott Walker has said he does not support sanctions and wants to provide information for parents to decide where to send their children.

Republicans who control the Legislature haven't been able to agree on what approach to take.

The Assembly bill also assigns letter grades to schools and allows private schools in the voucher program to take different tests than ones used in public schools.

The Senate bill does not have any of those elements.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Friday, January 23, 2015 --- 11:35 a.m.

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker is telling Wisconsin public school district administrators that he does not support sanctions included in a Republican proposal targeting failing schools.

Walker reiterated his position against sanctions during a speech Friday in Milwaukee at an annual education convention that draws superintendents, principals and other school officials.

Assembly Republicans have proposed forcing failing public schools to convert to independent charter schools. Walker says he does not support that, and instead wants to give parents and communities comparable information about different schools so they can make an informed decision about where to send their children.

Walker says he also opposes creating new boards to oversee the accountability process, something Senate Republicans are calling for.

The Senate bill has no sanctions.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Thursday, January 15, 2015 --- 1:38 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says an accountability bill doesn't need to have sanctions for failing schools in order to get his support.

That position puts him at odds with fellow Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who tells The Associated Press that not having sanctions in the bill would "just be political theater."

Walker and Vos commented on the issue at separate events Thursday.

There are competing Republican proposals in the Legislature.

The Assembly bill would force failing public schools to close and reopen as independent charter schools. The Senate version does not have that sanction.

Under both bills, failing private schools in the voucher program wouldn't be allowed to accept new students on vouchers.

Walker says the most important sanction is giving parents objective, comparable information.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Thursday, January 15, 2015 --- 11:55 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says an accountability bill doesn't need to have sanctions for failing schools in order to get his support.

Walker was asked about the issue Thursday as competing proposals are making their way through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Assembly bill would force failing public schools to close and reopen as independent charter schools. The Senate version does not have that sanction.

Under both bills, failing private schools in the voucher program wouldn't be allowed to accept new students on vouchers.

Walker says the most important sanction is giving parents objective, comparable information so they can make the best choice for their children.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 --- 3:51 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Questions and answers about the Legislature's debate over measuring and reporting performance of public, private and charter school performance in Wisconsin:

Q: There's been a lot of talk about a school accountability bill in the Legislature, but don't we already have school report cards?

A: Yes. Report cards for all of Wisconsin's public schools and independent charter schools have been required for at least two years. And the Legislature last year passed a bill to require private schools that accept voucher students to submit a variety of data to eventually be included on the report cards.

New proposals this year include whether to assign letter grades to schools, whether to let private schools take a different test than those in public schools and whether to impose sanctions on schools deemed to be failing.

Who has the authority over the accountability system -- the state Department of Public Instruction or perhaps one or more independent boards -- is also part of the current debate.

Q: So what is the Legislature going to do?

A: That's unclear. Right now, there are two proposals, both sponsored by Republicans. The goal is to come up with a system to ensure that all schools receiving taxpayer money are effectively teaching students.

Under the Assembly version, all public, charter and private voucher schools would be assigned a letter grade based on lots of performance measures including test scores. Failing public schools that don't improve over a period of at least four years would be forced to convert into independent charter schools. Failing private schools would not be allowed to accept new voucher students, but existing students could remain.

The Senate version wouldn't impose sanctions on public schools, but would similarly not allow failing private schools to accept new voucher students. The Senate bill would not give schools a grade, but instead would put them into one of five performance categories.

The Assembly bill would have the state Department of Public Instruction oversee the accountability system. The Senate bill would create two new boards: one to oversee public and charter schools and one for private voucher schools.

The Assembly bill would allow for private schools to use up to four different standardized tests to measure student performance, while the Senate bill would allow all schools to take the same test. Under federal rules, public schools would have to use the state-chosen test.

Q: Wow, that's confusing. What's going to pass the Legislature?

A: Republicans control the Senate and Assembly, but they haven't agreed on what approach to take. Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants something to pass soon that gives parents information they need to make a choice about where to send their children to school.

Q: Who's for it and who's against it?

A: Hundreds of people showed up to testify on the Assembly bill Wednesday in a hearing expected to last into the evening. Nine groups that registered to lobby on the measure were opposed. None had registered in support by midday Wednesday. Those in opposition include the state Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Association of School Administrators, superintendents from Milwaukee and Madison schools and the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Two advocates for private voucher schools, the American Federation for Children and School Choice Wisconsin, testified in support of parts of the bill, but didn't take a position because so much remains in flux.

Q: OK. So what happens next?

A: The Assembly Education Committee held a hearing on its proposal on Wednesday, and the Senate was expected to hold a hearing on its version by the end of the month. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants to vote on the Assembly bill this month, but it's not clear when the Senate may take action.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 --- 10:09 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate and Assembly remain far apart on a school accountability bill that Gov. Scott Walker has made a priority.

An overflow crowd packed a Capitol hearing room Wednesday for a public hearing on the Assembly version of the bill, which would force failing public schools to convert into independent charters.

Senate Republicans introduced their bill Tuesday that does not have sanctions.

Assembly bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt said Wednesday minutes before the hearing that he was open to making changes, but not to the sanctions.

Thiesfeldt says he no longer will push for creation of a new board to oversee the grading of schools and sanctions and require the Department of Public Instruction to adopt new standards other than Common Core.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 --- 3:42 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Failing Wisconsin public schools would not be forced to turn into independent charter schools under an alternative accountability bill from Senate Republicans.

That is a major difference from a bill introduced last week by Assembly Republicans, setting up a conflict among the two houses on one of the first issues the Legislature is addressing this year.

Senate Republican leaders unveiled their approach to the school accountability issue on Tuesday.

Unlike the Assembly bill, theirs would require all schools to use the same test to see how students are performing. The Assembly would allow up to four different tests.

The Senate version also creates a separate board to oversee public schools in the voucher program.

A public hearing is set for Wednesday on the Assembly version of the bill.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATED: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 --- 3:08 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate planned to unveil an alternative approach to a school accountability bill put forward by Assembly Republicans last week.

Senate Republican leaders planned to release the bill on Tuesday afternoon, just hours before Gov. Scott Walker's State of the State speech. The Assembly Education Committee was to hold a public hearing on the other bill on Wednesday.

That measure would assign letter grades to schools for the first time and require failing public schools to close and reopen as charter schools.

The bill is on a fast track for passage despite facing opposition from public and private schools as well as some key Senate Republicans.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says the issue may be headed to a conference committee to work out differences.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATE: Thursday, January 8, 2015 --- 3:35 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker says he likes the direction Assembly Republicans are taking with a bill that would force failing public schools to close and reopen as independent charter schools.

Walker was asked Thursday about his opinion on the bill introduced Wednesday as the first measure of the 2015 legislative session.

Walker says there are "some things we can embrace" in the proposal, while also saying there could be changes.

He says his priority is ensuring there is a system that produces an objective measure for parents to determine what school they want to choose for their children.

Walker says he will talk more about the issue in his State of the State speech on Tuesday.

But he says he's optimistic an agreement can be reached after years of stalemate.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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UPDATE: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 --- 10:34 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin schools would receive a letter grade based on a variety of performance measures starting next year under a long-awaited accountability bill introduced by Assembly Republicans.

The bill introduced Wednesday differs from an earlier draft that would have forced teachers and principals at failing schools to be fired. That provision has been removed.

However, the latest version does call for converting a failing public school into an independent charter school if it doesn't improve over a four-year period.

The sanctions wouldn't take effect until the 2017-2018 school year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt says he hopes to debate the measure later this month. It is the first bill introduced in the Assembly this session.

Gov. Scott Walker has said passing an accountability bill is one of his top priorities.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015
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Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2015 --- 8:53 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans are disagreeing over what sanctions to impose on public and voucher schools in Wisconsin that are deemed to be failing.

An Assembly proposal shared with senators at a meeting Tuesday night called for firing the principal and teachers at public schools that receive grades of D or F on report cards.

Private schools accepting students on taxpayer-funded vouchers would have to replace the administrator of the school or not accept new voucher students for two years.

But Republican Sen. Paul Farrow said Wednesday he objected to those sanctions and Republicans in the Assembly agreed to make changes.

Assembly Republicans planned to introduce their bill later Wednesday. It was to be the first bill introduced this year.

Gov. Scott Walker has said passing a school accountability bill is a priority.

Copyright: Associated Press 2015