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Failing Schools Beware: A New Bill Is Out For Blood

Failing public schools will be forcibly converted into charter schools under a new academic accountability law introduced in Wisconsin’s legislature Wednesday — and everyone’s getting fired.

The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, requires that a public school classified as “failing” for three straight years under a new school evaluation system would be forced to follow an improvement plan for four years. If it is still failing at that point, the school could be closed and transformed into a charter, with the side effect of laying off all of its teachers and staff.

Democrats and teacher advocates have reacted by accusing Republicans of seeking to kill off public schools, which have already been rocked by a significant expansion of charter schools and school vouchers in the state.

“The bill charts a course for the end of our neighborhood public schools as we know them, paving the way for struggling schools to be converted to privately run charter schools unanswerable to locally elected school boards and taxpayers,” said Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, in a statement.

Passing an academic accountability bill is a major goal for the state’s Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, who has identified education reform as a top priority in his second term. While Walker hasn’t openly endorsed the bill, which was put together by Republicans in the State Assembly, he has said there are “some things we can embrace” about the measure, The Associated Press reports.

The bill would also increase accountability for private schools, by cutting off school vouchers from private schools that don’t measure up academically.

Not all conservatives are thrilled, however. Some Republicans say the state should focus on creating a reliable system for rating schools before immediately imposing penalties on those found to be failing.

Others argue the bill’s structure will actually be harmful to school choice, despite outward appearances. A blog post by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, says the bill “moves the ball backwards” because the board responsible for governing school evaluations would be substantially controlled by the state’s Department of Public Instruction. The DPI, the group argues, is typically hostile to school choice and could use its powers to favor public schools. The national group Hispanics for School Choice objected on similar grounds, saying the bill would “dilute the power of parents to choose what is best for their families” by strengthening the DPI.

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