MADISON — Education bills passed this week in the Assembly return power and greater choice to parents while aiming to change the trajectory of Milwaukee’s failing public school system.
The bills are part of the Empowering Parents Agenda authored by Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Reps. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger). The package includes a parent’s bill of rights, universal expansion of school choice, and a restructuring of the mammoth and chronically failing Milwaukee Public Schools.
“Our agenda puts parents and kids first,” Darling said, “We are going to increase transparency and accountability while giving parents real options for their children’s education.”
The bills, passed on a party-line vote, now head to the Senate. Gov. Tony Evers is likely to veto them.
Included in the package:
Assembly Bill 963: Parental Bill of Rights — Establishes several parental rights relating to decisions regarding a child’s religion, medical care, records, and education, and creates a cause of action for the violation of these rights. Allows a parent to bring a lawsuit if those rights are violated.
“This legislation establishes parental rights in education by ensuring parents are equal partners in their child’s education by granting them greater access to information and participation,” Libby Sobic, director of Education policy for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said during testimony earlier this month at an Assembly committee hearing on the bill.
Amid growing concerns about radical indoctrination in the classroom and resistance from districts to open up their curriculum to the public, parents would have the right to review instructional materials and outlines.
Assembly Bill 966: Milwaukee Public School Reform – Establishes by 2024, MPS will be divided into smaller community districts that are more manageable and accountable to parents and their communities. The new community district boundaries will be developed by a commission made up of elected officials with a vested interest in the community, including the mayor of Milwaukee, the governor, and the state Superintendent of the Department of Instruction.
The measure is staunchly opposed by Milwaukee educrats. MPS Superintendent Keith Posley warned breaking up the district would hurt the entire community.
“We know that there is strength in bringing our community together and this bill, unfortunately, only weakens those efforts, creating instability and breaking our positive momentum apart,” he testified.
But the public school system has failed too many children, too many families to continue to operate as it has, proponents of the bill say. About 10 percent of students in the district were proficient in math, 17 percent in English, according to the latest state Forward exam. Only 43 percent of students actually bothered to take the test during the pandemic’s Lost Year of Education. The proficiency scores are but one mark of the district’s culture of failure, said Karen Flanigan, a former MPS high school teacher.
“MPS throwing money into a hole is not the answer,” Flanigan told Empower Wisconsin “Imagine if parents knew who their school board members were. Breaking up MPS would offer parents opportunities to have their voices heard.”
Assembly Bill 965: School Accountability Reports — Establishes uniform standards for school accountability reports. Wisconsin’s educational accountability system relies heavily on the state school and district report card. This bill improves the accountability reports to provide a consistent assessment of student success.
Most notably, the public education lie that MPS, with its dismal proficiency scores, “Meets Expectations,” according to the Department of Public Instruction’s most recent report cards.
Assembly Bill 970: School Choice Expansion – Opens school choice to all Wisconsin families by removing state enrollment caps, family income limits, and grade entry points – marking the beginning of true school choice for all our students and families.
Evers, who served as state superintendent for a decade before he was elected governor in 2018, has attempted without success to freeze Wisconsin’s popular education voucher program. He will surely veto the Republican-led Legislature’s attempt to make school choice universal.
Assembly Bill 967 & Assembly Bill 968 High-Performing Charter Replication and Creation of Statewide Charter Board – Charter schools are public schools that operate with less red tape. This bill will streamline replication for the highest performing charter schools in our state and will increase opportunities for more students and families statewide.
Last week, more than 500 Wisconsin families sent 1,500-plus emails to their lawmakers in support of the Empowering Parents K-12 Education Reform bill package, according to the American Federation for Children.
A recent poll from School Choice Wisconsin of more than 700 likely Wisconsin voters showed 61.3% support for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Another poll by Remington Research Group found that 71% of eligible Milwaukee voters agreed that parents should have the right to choose between public, charter and voucher schools.
“I am excited our bills are making strong progress,” Darling said, “The time is now to put children and families first because we can no longer afford to lose another generation of students. We are going to do what is right for kids, parents, and the future of Wisconsin.”