Assembly to Vote on Bill Breaking Up Wisconsin's Largest School District

The Wisconsin Assembly was scheduled to vote on a Republican-backed bill on Tuesday that would break up the state's largest public school district in Milwaukee into up to eight smaller districts, a move critics say will not guarantee better outcomes for struggling students.

Another bill allowing parents to opt their students out of any mask mandates, and requiring schools to be open for in-person teaching, was also up for a vote.

Even if the bill breaking up Milwaukee schools is passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has signaled he will veto the measure, saying it is “too simplistic” and won't work. But it shows the direction Republicans want to head if Evers is defeated in his November reelection bid. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch supports the measure.

Republican supporters say the move would increase accountability and lead to better performance in the smaller districts, ultimately bolstering low reading and math scores for Milwaukee public school students. The measure has the support of conservative groups but is opposed by a wide array of others, including the Milwaukee district, Disability Rights Wisconsin and the state teachers union.

Opponents argue that breaking up the district and its roughly 75,000 students does not guarantee better educational outcomes. They argue that what Milwaukee really needs is more money to bolster educational offerings and other programs to help improve student achievement.

The bill would break up Milwaukee into between four and eight smaller districts starting with the 2024 school year. The idea has been floated unsuccessfully before, including in 2009 and 2015.

Other bills up for a vote Tuesday would:

— Allow parents to opt their children out of any requirement by school districts that they wear a mask. That measure would also require schools to be open for in-person learning. It is supported by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and conservative groups. Opponents include the state education department and groups representing school boards and administrators.

— Eliminate income limits for eligibility to send children to a private school using a taxpayer-funded voucher. The bill also removes a cap on enrollment in the statewide voucher program. Evers opposes expanding the voucher program, so this proposal is also headed for a veto.

— Add the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the list of 21 other days that K-12 schools must observe. Under the bipartisan measure, it would be up to each district to determine how to mark the anniversary of the attacks. Other days that schools must observe include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bullying Awareness Day and Veterans Day.

— Require public and private high schools participating in the school choice program to collect statistics on certain crimes that happen on school property or buses and make that data publicly available.

Republican supporters say having the data available on school report cards will help parents make informed choices about where to send their children. But opponents say schools aren't in the business of collecting such data, what would qualify as something needing to be reported is unclear and the information could be misleading. No groups are registered in support; opponents include organizations representing school boards, administrators and school social workers.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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