School Choice Compromise Bill 

On March 3 2006, the state Senate passed SB 618, the school choice compromise bill. A day earlier the state Assembly passed the identical AB 1057. The bill:

o Lifts the cap on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to 22,500 students.
o Repeals the prior year eligibility requirements.
o Raises family income eligibility to 220% of the poverty level once a student is in the program.
o Mandates accreditation (Schools approved for PAVE scholarships in the 2005-2006 school year are exempt from this requirement).
o Mandates standardized testing as part of a longitudinal study.
o Provides $25 million in new SAGE money for public schools.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle (D).

AB 3 and AB 100

As of June 1, the 2005 Legislature had sent Governor Doyle one bill involving school choice and charter programs in Wisconsin. Assembly Bill 3 would have set the enrollment cap for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program at 16,500 students. Governor Doyle vetoed AB 3.

The Joint Committee on Finance included several choice and charter measures in Assembly Bill 100, the 2005-07 biennial budget. The Assembly and Senate approved these measures (listed below).

The Assembly rejected proposals by Democratic leaders to reduce payments to schools in the choice program and to limit choice enrollment at individual schools.

Here is a summary of the provisions in AB 100, and Governor Doyle’s action on them.

Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Repeal of arbitrary eligibility barriers – school choice

Current law excludes many low-income Milwaukee families who meet income eligibility requirements from the school choice program, including:

o Families who have just moved to Milwaukee.

o Children in the fourth grade or higher unless they attended MPS in the prior year.

o Children who attend an independent public charter school.

The budget repeals these restrictions.

UPDATE: Governor Doyle vetoed this measure.

Change in income threshold for current students only

Current law removes families whose income grows modestly or temporarily.

The budget permits families to remain in the program so long as income is at or below 220% of the federal poverty level. Rep. Polly Williams sponsored this bill in the last session.

UDPATE: Governor Doyle vetoed this measure.

Choice teachers

The budget requires choice teachers with primary responsibility for teaching students to have a high school diploma.

While we do not believe this occurs often, we support the provision.

UPDATE: Governor Doyle signed this measure.

Independent charter schools

Repeal of arbitrary eligibility barriers – independent charters

Current law prevents some Milwaukee students (older students currently enrolled in non-MPCP private schools, etc.) from attending these public schools chartered by the City of Milwaukee or UW-Milwaukee.

The budget makes all Milwaukee students eligible to attend these schools. Non-Milwaukee students could attend only if space was available after accommodating Milwaukee students only.

UPDATE: Governor Doyle signed this measure.

End misleading charter printouts

Under current law, DPI periodically releases a list of the supposed cost of independent charter (“2R”) schools to districts outside Milwaukee and Racine.

These printouts have been used to distort the facts. LFB says that districts outside Milwaukee and Racine would lose an estimated $5.6 million in state aid if this type of public school was shut down.

The budget eliminates the printouts. Independent charter students would be included when determining the revenue limit and general aid figure for MPS and the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) and the money to pay for independent charters would be deducted directly from MPS and RUSD. LFB says this would treat independent charters “in a manner similar to [charters] sponsored by school districts [and] would be similar to the open enrollment programs.”

UPDATE: Governor Doyle vetoed this measure.

Make independent charters eligible for lunch aid

Independent charters are the only public schools not eligible for lunch aid.

The budget makes them eligible and thus treats them like all other public schools. This change does not increase state spending.

UPDATE: Governor Doyle signed this measure.

Accountability

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) filed permanent administrative rules to implement Act 155 during the week of June 27. Act 155 requires participating schools to show evidence of sound fiscal practices and requires new schools to demonstrate that they are financially viable. The new law also gives the Superintendent explicit authority to remove schools if they fail to meet new or existing provisions of the law.

DPI already has used provisions of Act 155 to remove five schools from the program and expects to bar additional schools from participation before school begins this fall.

The rules to implement Act 155 were developed by DPI representatives and a working group of school choice representatives, including school principals and independent auditors. They are intended to give DPI tools to detect problems and act on them at an early stage.