Assembly Republicans advanced legislation Tuesday to create a parent bill of rights and break up Milwaukee Public Schools into a number of smaller districts, along with other bills revolving around education.
In a pre-session Republican press conference, state Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Racine, said the day’s bills were oriented around empowering parents.
“Many of these bills are designed to provide parents more choice,” he said. “We cannot allow the status quo to continue to fail our students and our families.”
Stay informed on the latest news
Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.
Democrats objected to many of the bills on the agenda. State Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, offered a bill amendment early on in the day’s proceedings that would have increased funding for the state’s universities and public schools.
“Many of my Democratic colleagues have dedicated their professional and personal time to uplifting our public schools,” Neubauer said. “We all know how critical it is for all of our kids to get the best education possible. It’s truly about investing in kids, teachers and communities.”
Parent bill of rights
One proposal discussed in the chamber would give parents and guardians guaranteed rights with regard to how their children are taught in schools. Those include the right to review instructional materials and determine a child’s medical care. The bill also allows parents and guardians to sue governments and officials who violate those rights.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said even if many of the provisions in the legislation are already part of state law, those rights should still be clarified.
“What is the harm in reaffirming that parents across the state of Wisconsin have a say in their kids’ education?” Thiesfeldt said.
Supporters of the bill in a committee hearing earlier this month argued parents had been made to feel powerless in the education of their children. But state Rep. Jill Billings, D-LaCrosse, said parents are provided ample opportunity to take part in a child’s education without micromanaging on the state’s part.
“We trust our parents, we trust our schools and our districts to work together to provide the best education possible for our kids,” Billings said. “We know them, and we know that things are working well.”
The bill passed out of the Assembly on a party line vote. It now goes to the Senate.
Democrats defended Milwaukee Public Schools in a debate on a bill that would replace the district with four to eight smaller districts from 2024 onward.
State Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, called the legislation “reckless, costly and vindictive.”
“I find it completely disingenuous that the majority party thinks any improvements in student achievement will be made by simply creating dozens more school board members while inflicting incalculable administrative costs,” Pope said. “This is simply a racist attack on Milwaukee Public Schools.”
State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said the legislation was “unworkable.” Noting the proposal’s prior history, she claimed the bill was part of a Republican attack to destroy public education in favor of voucher schools.
“It’s red meat for election time coming up,” Sinicki said. “This is a hoax.”
Wittke, the bill’s author, said it provides a framework for change.
“Something has to be done other than telling me that all we have to do is back up the truck and pour more money in it,” Wittke said. “Saying that something smaller isn’t better, how will we ever know unless we do something bolder and actually follow through with this to see if we can provide a better opportunity for the children that reside there?”
The bill advanced to the Senate on a voice vote, though multiple members of the Assembly voiced their opposition to the legislation.
UW System mandates
A number of the day’s bills were directed specifically toward the operations of the University of Wisconsin and state technical college systems.
Those bills that passed include:
- Requiring the UW System in some circumstances to give refunds to students with housing and meal plan contracts who are unable to access those benefits;
- Removing immunity for campus administrators for violating the expressive rights of a person on a UW or technical college campus;
- Allowing public college students to take a class on the U.S. Constitution to fulfill diversity and ethnic studies requirements;
- Banning teaching of race or sex stereotyping in the state’s public colleges, including “that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed; in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.”
Other legislation voted on
Other proposals that came up for discussion in the Assembly would:
- Require schools to offer full-time, in-person education options and prohibit mask mandates for children whose parents opt out of the requirement;
- Require third-graders to achieve proficiency on a standardized reading test to advance to the fourth grade;
- Eliminate family income requirements to participate in school voucher programs and remove enrollment caps for voucher schools;
- Allow microschools, which are similar to homeschools and have limits of 20 children, to fulfill attendance requirements required by state law.
Many of the bills passed in the chamber Tuesday would likely face a veto from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Trustworthy news, world-class music and Wisconsin stories … made possible by people like you.
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2024, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.