Public schools would be forced to close under bill

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MADISON, BARRON, Wis. (AP, WEAU) -- The latest version of a school accountability bill would force poor-performing public schools in Wisconsin to close or reopen as charter schools.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday that the Republican-authored bill would also make significant changes to the current K-12 school accountability system, including assigning letter grades to schools.

The bill would also require testing for taxpayer-subsidized students at private voucher schools and prohibit the lowest-performing schools from enrolling new voucher students. Participating private schools also could test all students for accountability purposes.

The changes would go into effect in the 2015 school year.

The Senate Education Committee was scheduled to vote Thursday on the latest version of the bill.

The bill would change the grades from whether schools meet expectations, to a letter grade. Any school that gets Fs three years in a row or Ds and Fs for five years would be forced to become a charter school or close its doors.

Barron Area Schools met few expectations according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in last year's rating, something new district administrator Craig Broeren said he is looking to change.

“We are making progress. But the question will be how much progress have we made and is it enough and are we doing the right thing?,” he said.

“As parents and tax payers, we owe the public, to see what we're doing and how we intend to improve things if they are not doing so well.”

He said he supports the bill's accountability for both public and private voucher schools, but does not agree that the state's bottom five percent of schools will get automatic Fs.

“That seems unfair to me and incongruous with what we're attempting to do … is it reality that all our schools will be C or above? Probably not, but I don't believe we should have a straight across the line bottom five percent are Fs period,” Broeren said.

Bill sponsor, republican Senator Luther Olsen's chief of staff said the bottom five percent of schools would have failing grades even without that part of the new bill.

“I do know there's very good charter schools, there's very poor charter schools. And I wouldn't want to see that decision being made simply because it's putting dollars in certain people's pockets,” Broeren said.

Broerin said his district has unique challenges with higher than average numbers of immigrant children and special ed. Populations, but he expects to see improvement when the next school report cards come out.

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