Art Teacher to Walker: I'm ready to take my So-You-Think-You-Can-Be-A-Surgeon Test

Of the many terrible ideas that have come out of Governor Walker's Presidential Campaign Headquarters the Wisconsin State Capitol lately, perhaps none is more offensive than Gov. Walker's proposition that anyone with "life experience" should be allowed an easy path toward "teaching" our kids. 

Photo: MTEA
Despite DPI  having already significantly weakened teacher certification options just two years ago by creating a "teaching equivalency" certificate (about which, of course, I have much-blogged), the  governor would like to take his disrespect for both the teaching profession and the 875,000 children who attend Wisconsin public schools to the next level by loosening teacher licensing requirements thusly:  by creating "alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license."
That's right.  Scott Walker thinks anyone who passes a "competency test" is fit to teach your kids.

Your ADHD kids.
Your special needs kids.
Your kids who only get one balanced meal a day, and that's at school.
Your high-achieving kids who need individualized attention and assignments at discrete moments throughout the day so they don't get bored and tune out.
Your tactile learner who needs something in her hands at all times or she totally loses focus.
Your English language learner who just started 10th grade midyear in the US and is doing math at a college level but reads at a first grade level.

But don't worry.  We're going to make sure these "teachers" have A LOT of life experience.  Your child will be lucky to have them.  And you'll be lucky to be paying their new, improved salaries with your tax dollars.
Creates alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license.  - See more at:
Creates alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license.  - See more at:
And maybe, just maybe, if things go really well, Walker will expand the program and you'll be lucky enough to get this amazing art teacher to you'll also be lucky enough to be your surgeon, should you ever need one.

I present to you, with the author's kind permission, our MoD OPEN LETTER OF THE WEEK....a brilliant letter to governor Walker from  Wisconsin elementary art teacher, Michele Hatchell:

Dear Governor Walker,

I heard about your idea for a new program where individuals with “real-life experience” and a bachelor’s degree would be able to get a teaching license in any subject as long as they pass a test proving they are knowledgeable. What a great idea! Why don’t you do this for all kinds of jobs? I have been thinking, and I would love to be a surgeon, but I sure don’t have time or money for all that college that it would take to change careers. And I think I have many experiences that would enable me to pass a test to help people surgically. Also, the pay would be a bit better than my current profession which would be helpful for my family.

You see, I have been an elementary art teacher for the past twenty years and I have spent at least 11 years taking college courses to get my K-12 art license and 1-6 classroom license and to renew my licenses every five years. So wow, it would be so much easier if I didn’t have to go to medical school to start my new career.

I looked at a few medical sites and thought I would share some cross over skills from my life experience as an elementary art teacher that would help me be a good surgeon. Maybe that would be helpful to you when developing “the test” for being a surgeon. Maybe someone in your family would be willing to let me remove their appendix after I passed the “Be A Surgeon Test.” I wouldn’t want to start with brain surgery or heart surgery because hearts and minds take a lot of time to heal if they are damaged. Also, I have become very skilled at tests in this current educational climate, so I feel confident I would be deemed proficient on the first try.

Surgical Skill: Bone Fixation and Casting

Real Life Experience:
I have made several thousand paper mache masks and plaster finger puppets with children over the past twenty years. I have photos if that would be helpful.

Surgical Skill: Hand Sewn Gastrointestinal Anastomosis

Real Life Experience:
I have a lot of experience hand sewing sock monkeys and quilts with small children. I also knit every day to keep my fingers nimble-- I could provide a couple sweaters as portfolio examples for the test.

Surgical Skill: Knot Tying

Real Life Experience:
I tie young children’s shoes many times a day to keep my knot tying skills sharp.

Surgical Skill: Stapled Gastrointestinal Anastomosis
Real Life Experience:
I have stapled hundreds of bulletin boards to display the children’s creativity-- I know that tools matter because I am particular about the type of stapler I use and the type of staple remover so that the children’s work is not damaged.

Surgical Skill: Latex Allergy Anaphylaxis

Real Life Experience:
Every year I have attended the blood borne pathogen inservice at school, I know where the epi pens are in the nurse’s office and one year I got special balloons for our paper mache project because a child had a latex allergy.

If you don’t think this would work, maybe I could take a test to be a lawyer or a governor?

Michele Hatchell, Elementary Art Teacher/ aspiring surgeon

Testimony: Wisconsinites Strongly Oppose School "Accountability" Proposal

The following testimony will be presented to the Senate Committee on Education Reform and Government Operations today, Jan. 27, 2015, at the hearing on the so-called School Takeover Bill, Senate Bill 1 (SB1).  If you want to know why those who care about public education in Wisconsin stand united in opposition to this dangerous bill, please read and share with your friends, encouraging them to speak out NOW to defend our schools.  You can click here to find out more about the bill how you can submit your own testimony to the committee.  

Many thanks to Pam Kobielus of the No Vouchers Coalition for sharing her powerful testimony and doing her part to make an impact in her community to protect local schools from the privatization efforts that threaten the future of our schools and our children.  Her organization conducted a survey of Wisconsinites, and the results she shares in her testimony make clear that they overwhelmingly oppose legislation which weaken and punish struggling public schools while they give voucher schools a free pass to continue siphoning public funds from the schools that need it most.



Relating to: the school and school district accountability report, chronically failing schools and school districts, and educational options information

My name is Pamela Kobielus.  I am submitting this statement to the record as written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 1 (SB-1) and ask that this testimony be distributed in its entirety to all members of the Legislative Committee on Education Reform & Government Operations.  

Good morning members of the Committee on Education Reform & Government Operations. I am the founder of “The No Vouchers Coalition”, located in the northern community of Merrill, WI.  Unlike corporate lobbyists who claim to represent the interests of public school parents while donating large sums of money to Republican candidates in Wisconsin to promote lobbyists’ “for-profit” educational business interests, we are a true – and rapidly growing -- voluntary grassroots organization representing member public school parents, business owners and other taxpayers who support the public school system.  Our group charges no membership fees.  Our group accepts no donations, nor does our group make contributions to any political party or candidate.  Our group’s sole interest is in ensuring that elected representatives protect educational opportunities for each and every child in Wisconsin.

I have attended both public and private schools in Wisconsin, graduating from the public high school in in Merrill, WI in 1972.  I went on to graduate with a Bachelor in Business Administration (B.B.A.) from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, and, received my Masters in Business Administration (M.B.A.) from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA.   I have more than thirty (30) years management and executive experience working in private industry, transferring the knowledge I acquired in school to successful positions working in media, commercial banking, mortgage banking and in the utility, healthcare and technology industries.  I have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of a public school education.  It is what prepared me for the future and it was instrumental in my success working in private industry, and, also, in running my own profitable businesses.

Several years ago, I retired to care for my widowed, retired mother who is now 83 years old.  My plans to spend my time caring for my parent were interrupted, when I accidentally learned in the local media that our school district was struggling with cuts to the public school education budget.   After attending local Board of Education meetings in two separate years, I undertook personal research to determine the genesis of the budgetary problems facing our rural public school districts in Wisconsin.  What I found alarmed me, and, in the summer of 2014, I founded “The No Vouchers Coalition” with a small group of other concerned residents.  In the past seven (7) months, our group has grown rapidly as more and more people learn what has happened to funding for our local public schools over the last decade.

In the manner of the magicians, Penn & Teller, it is our intention to peel away the onion of Republican legislators’ proposed school reform.  Because what we found will make public school parents of any political affiliation angry, we will continue to pull back the curtain to show voters in Wisconsin what is fact and what is fiction in Republican legislators’ magic act.

As those of you on the Committee who are also in private business know, it is easy to “make” something – even something good -- fail.  You can make a project, a business division, or even an entire company fail.  First, one can withholding funding for the entity you wish to destroy.  Figuratively speaking, you shut off its air supply, slowly choking it to death.  Second, you can withhold authority while still holding management accountable for performance, which is now out of their control.  However, these methods are not ethical nor are they good business sense when the entity you wish to destroy is producing a quality product that is needed and which contributes to the economic health of the community.

What Republican legislators in the State of Wisconsin are attempting to do is to cause public school districts to fail by defunding their operations, so that privately-run for-profit businesses can “take over”, have “unfettered access to”, “get their mitts on” – however you wish to describe it – large, very large amounts of public taxpayer money.  We’d like to remind legislators that those tax dollars, sourced from hard-working families in our local communities, belong to the taxpayers of Wisconsin and should remain in Wisconsin, benefiting the children of Wisconsin, and not some out-of-state for-profit business whose primary loyalty is to individual stockholders or hedge fund managers. 

The media is catching on as well.  In an editorial published this week (on January 26, 2015), the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram noted: “There’s also a segment in the private sector that would love to get its hands on the billions of taxpayer dollars now used to support public schools. Whether those folks would be in the long-term best interest of most students is far from clear.”

The No Vouchers Coalition agrees:  Wisconsin’s public school children are not for sale to the highest bidder.

You may ask how our group came to learn that Republican legislators are actively working to defund Wisconsin’s public school districts.  The answer is: we had to do our own research.   For example, we learned that for the school year 2013-2014, it was mandated that public schools take $64 million off the top of their budget in order to fund primarily privately-run, charter schools located mostly in Southeastern Wisconsin.  We found that few people understood this meant deducting the following amounts from budgets of Northern Wisconsin public school districts:  $219,568 from Antigo; $876,928 from Eau Claire; $1,976,652 from Green Bay; $182,169 from Medford; $262,120 from Merrill; $54,259 from Rhinelander; $405,509 from Superior; $29,367 from Tomahawk, and, $757, 025 from Wausau.  The entire list of cuts, which negatively impacted our local public schools can be found here:
Furthermore, we determined that Republican legislators did not make clear to public school parents, local businesses or other taxpayers that these cuts to local public school districts were mandated in order to fund primarily privately-run charter schools.  How do we know this?  We surveyed members of “The No Vouchers Coalition” and other members of our local communities.  That is how we know.  We asked -- something Republican legislators failed to do.  And, while the distribution of our surveys was not meant to be a statistical sampling of the community, 90.2% of respondents told us that legislators did not make clear these monies were to be taken from local public school districts to give to privately-run charter schools.  In summary, Republican legislators do not have a mandate from voters for the types of reforms which are being proposed in Senate Bill 1 (SB1).  We would posit that the only mandate which Republican legislators have is to serve the business interests of privately-run education corporations which donate to the Republican caucus.  We suggest that it is necessary and indeed appropriate for all legislators to hold public hearings throughout Wisconsin, on days and at times that are convenient to working families.

For clearly communicating the intent, purpose and amount of public school budget cuts for the 2013-2014 school year, I give Republican legislators a grade of:  F

We also heard from Gov. Walker that he had increased public school budgets for the 2014-2015 school year.  Gov. Walker’s claim included a sin: a sin of omission.  That is, we determined that while public school budgets for certain school districts were increased, 48% of school districts across that state saw significant budget cuts.  For example, we identified the following cuts for public school districts in my immediate area:  $88,092 for Antigo; $462,700 for Merrill; $565,078 for Rhinelander; and $297,443 for Tomahawk.  We began to see a clearer picture that pointed to an ongoing, systematic defunding of local public school districts.

So, we again surveyed our members and the public to see if Gov. Walker made clear to them the fact that nearly half of public school districts in Wisconsin received budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year.  We found that 95.5% of respondents said that Gov. Walker did not make these additional budget cuts clear.

For clearly communicating to Wisconsin residents the fact that nearly half of public school districts got significant budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year, I give Gov. Walker a grade of:  F

The negative impact of budget cuts on our local public schools is evident from sample comments submitted by survey respondents to The No Vouchers Coalition, including:

“There have already been cuts to programming that our public school system used to provide.”

“Our school district recently successfully passed a referendum to stabilize funding for our schools. We are up in the northwoods and there are no adequate alternatives to public education...”
“I have seen reduced staffing and larger class sizes. Our district is having a referendum this spring.”
“I have no children in school now, but have talked with parents who have said their children no longer have the same opportunities as mine did.”
“There has been some staff reduction.”
“I have seen a reduction in staff and programs in our school district. We recently passed a referendum for sports and technology.”
“My kids are in grades 5, 2, and 4K. Their classes have gotten larger in size in the past couple of years and their teachers are clearly being asked to do more with less. The "teacher wish list" now includes things like printer paper! They are being asked to provide their own paper for the printer so that my kids can have worksheets.”
“We have had cuts to programs, cuts to the arts and larger class sizes. We have a hard time retaining the quality of staff we used to. We have not had a referendum recently but we have closed all the schools we can and it was a huge community loss and family loss.”
“There has been reduced staffing, increased fees to parents, reduced busing, referendums to increase local property taxes, our district does not have the technology needed for every child.”

As you can see from member and citizen comments, budget cuts are hurting our public schools and the children they are supposed to serve.  The pain you are inflicting on families who live in our rural communities is very, very real.

As elected legislators, you have an obligation to provide necessary funding “for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as possible (Wisconsin Constitution, Article X, Section 3).”  With these repeated public school budget cuts, you have failed to meet your obligation to the children of Wisconsin.

Our members, who include small business owners, also understand the negative impact these budget cuts have on local communities.  In Merrill, WI, for example, my hometown, where taxpayers regularly pay taxes to the State of Wisconsin, our local public school district has had state aid for public schools cut $262,120 in 2013-2014 and $462,700 in 2014-2015, for a total of $724,820 over a two year period.   We found similar cuts to public school budgets in district after district throughout Wisconsin.

The compound negative affect of fewer tax dollars being returned to citizens can and does have a devastating impact on jobs and the economic health of businesses in our local communities.  As legislators, you are systematically removing these monies from our local communities.  When fewer tax dollars are returned to our communities to circulate locally, job growth stagnates, taxable wages decline and local businesses suffer.  In addition, homeownership declines shrinking the property tax base necessary to fund community services, which in turn either increases local property taxes or results in cuts to community programs and services.  

Because of all this, we encourage all our business members to contact the recently formed Wisconsin Business Alliance to better understand the negative impact that public school budget cuts have on job growth, local taxes and the economic health of the communities in which we live.

While these monies no longer circulate in our struggling local economies, they do fatten the coffers of lobbyists and the privately-run education corporations whom these lobbyists represent.  As you know, these lobbyists were the only people testifying in support of Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) earlier this year and were granted preferential scheduling over the testimony of Wisconsin citizens who had traveled from all over Wisconsin to testify in opposition to that bill.  

As we talked with members in our communities to gauge their understanding of public school funding, it became apparent that Republican legislators’ desire to implement bold education reforms are not clearly understood by Wisconsin voters.  So we asked our members and the general public which “tool” they preferred to stabilize public school funding:  (a) local property tax increases, (b) cuts to school programs and services, (c) a combination of tax increases and school cuts, or, (d) none of the above.  Property tax increases and/or school budget cuts were unacceptable to more than 96% of our members.

With regard to giving local communities adequate “tools” to offset reduced state aid for local public school districts, Gov. Walker did not clearly explain how these “tools” work, and I give him a grade of:  F

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) also includes a mandate to defund public school districts that have one or more “chronically failing” schools.  Republican legislators propose measuring the success or failure of public and independent charter schools by creating a new report card by which two separate “accountability boards” will judge performance.   In effect, legislators are creating an “easier” test for independent charter schools to take in order to receive a passing grade.  If legislators are so confident in the ability of independent, charter schools to perform, we challenge them to first require these schools to meet the same nationally recognized standards and operating requirements that public schools must meet.   I suspect, given that the State of Wisconsin has lost more than $139 million to unaccountable, privately-run for-profit schools over the last decade(1), legislators do not have this confidence and therefore are proposing an “easier” test for these schools.

Creating an “easier” test for independent charter schools takes budget and staff resources that are just not available, given the $2.2 billion deficit Gov. Walker and the legislature now face.  Taking additional money from the Department of Public Instruction, or, from Wisconsin’s general budget to create this separate method of grading school performance only adds to the budget pressures of local public school districts and/or increases local property taxes. 

Rather, we believe that legislators are not confident that independent, charter schools can meet the current standard of accountability that has been established for public schools.

Meaningful improvements in school performance can only be achieved by first addressing the underlying issues of poverty, the need for affordable housing and the availability of jobs with family-sustaining wages.  These conditions exist in all Wisconsin communities, not just in larger urban areas.

Second, improvements can only be realized if public schools have resources necessary to implement evidence-based best-practice strategies.  Given Act 10’s $1.6 billion cut to public school budgets, the additional budget cuts absorbed by public schools over the last two years, as well as cuts to food share programs and the refusal to accept the return of tax money (that Wisconsin citizens paid to the Federal government) to improve access to healthcare insurance programs, we are not confident that Republican legislators will fund Wisconsin’s public school system in a manner adequate to implement performance improvement plans that may be mandated.

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) differs from Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) in that it calls for establishing two separate “accountability boards” for any school receiving public funds.  The bill would establish (1) the PACB - Public and Charter School Board, and, (2) the CAB – Choice Accountability Board for schools receiving voucher money.  Each of these boards would have the authority to review annual reports and identify “failing” schools, review and implement “improvement plans” (for public schools only!).

What is different, and, in our view perhaps unconstitutional, is the fact that the public school accountability board would be appointed by the Superintendent of Public Schools, while the private school accountability board would consist of the Governor’s political appointees.  


First, the Wisconsin Constitution (article X, Section 3) calls “for the establishment of school districts, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable…”  Separate accountability boards is not uniform.   The full scope of accountability standards at the federal and state level as proposed are not uniform.

Furthermore, the establishment of Academic Review Boards (ARBs) violates current law by usurping the authority of the State Superintendent in the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  As noted earlier in this testimony, Republican legislators appears to be purposely setting up the DPI for failure by (1) defunding public schools, and, (2) by slowing removing constitutional authorities vested in the DPI, while still holding DPI accountable for both current and proposed (new) performance standards.  In private industry, it is the equivalent of your boss reducing your budget significantly, then requiring you to bring a project in on-time, with a smaller budget, using the original specifications and quality requirements, while taking away your management authority and giving it to your co-worker, whose budget is larger and whose performance standards are set much lower.

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) also gives the Public and Charter Board full discretion to “implement or modify any requirements required to be in a school district improvement plan.”  This appears to be purposely vague.  For without specific changes to this language – reviewed and approved by local communities – this appears to allow a politically-appointed board to punish and take control of local school district decision-making authority.  Whereas local school districts with locally-elected Boards of Education providing oversight currently have the autonomy to make changes and implement improvement plans, SB1 would allow the PACB to usurp local authority, giving the PACB the ability to do anything it wants from shuttering schools, selling off property and facilities, to replacing staff with lower-paid, less experienced teachers whose “life experiences” form the basis for the granting of professional licenses and certifications.

Republican legislators never asked their constituents – local families, businesses and other taxpayers – how they felt about giving up the authority they vested in elected members of their local Board of Education and turning that authority over to a partisan board appointed by the Governor.  However, we did.

We told our members and other community members taking the survey that Republican legislators may be trying to create a statewide board of unelected officials with the authority to create privately-run charter schools anywhere in the state of Wisconsin – paid for with local property taxes.  We asked whether they preferred locally-elected Boards of Education, or, a statewide board of unelected officials managing local community schools.  The answer was very clear:  97.3% preferred a locally-elected Board of Education.   We find it ironic, to say the least, that the Governor and Republican legislators in Madison continually complain about federal mandates (and the lack of state control), then demonstrate the height of hypocrisy by proposing legislation designed to take away local control and authority by legislating the creation of a state-level board of appointed officials. 

Let’s be clear.  The proposed penalties for public schools found to be “failing” are harsh and swift.  “The bill authorizes the DPI to withhold state aid from a school district that fails to comply with an improvement plan for a chronically failing school or school district…”  The penalties are intended to pull funds from schools and districts where the tax base and budget are least able to support implementation of effective improvement plans.

By contrast, the only penalty for privately-run voucher schools that are identified as “chronically failing” in SB1 is to freeze enrollment at current levels for a period of three years.  These “chronically failing” schools would continue to receive public taxpayer funding (vouchers) from the state as long as the student remained enrolled at the private school.  Senate Bill 1 (SB1) contains no provision or penalty to the “chronically failing” private school for not meeting standards, for failing to demonstrate achievement, for shutting down in the middle of a school year, or, for leaving the State of Wisconsin.  Penalties for “chronically failing” private schools are anything but penalties.  And Republican legislators should know that a substantial percentage of our members and other taxpayers are well aware of the types of chronic failures associated with these types of privately-run schools – most likely as a result of media reports noted earlier in this testimony.  To proceed without clearly establishing in SB1 immediate and harsh penalties for privately-run schools who misuse public taxpayer money is a dereliction of legislators’ fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

Finally, with respect to “accountability”, SB1 proposes letting schools make an appeal after being labeled a “chronically failing school” and letting the politically-appointed board decide whether or not “exceptional circumstances justify (the school’s) performance on the annual accountability reports.”  Because public schools must maintain current operating and performance standards, while privately-run schools do not (and are graded using the *easy* test), this has the appearance of being an underhanded way of setting up public schools for failure, while giving “chronically failing” private schools access to a “free pass”.   

If the Assembly and Senate fast-track this bill knowing what we have told you today that your constituents are saying, we will hold those legislators accountable at the ballot box – for failing to adequately communicate the contents of this bill, for failing to communicate how Governor Walker’s “tools” hurt public schools and increase local property taxes; for failing to fulfill a constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for public schools that are open to all Wisconsin children, for failing to consider the negative fiscal impacts on jobs and the economic health of our communities, and, for failing to acknowledge constituents’ strong preference for local control.

Finally, we ask Wisconsin legislators to identify all the authors of Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) and Senate Bill 1 (SB1), so that Wisconsin taxpayers can see the financial campaign donations made to legislators by privately-run, for-profit educational corporations seeking to expand their business footprint in Wisconsin.

In summary, we oppose Senate Bill 1 (SB1) as written.  We ask legislators to incorporate the express wishes of their constituents in the final language of the bill, and, then, to hold hearings with constituents across the State of Wisconsin on days and at times that are convenient to the working, taxpaying families they represent.

Thank you.

Pamela Kobielus
Founder, The No Vouchers Coalition
Merrill, WI

Unpacking Wisconsin's "Accountability" Bill: The Senate Version (SB1)

Dear friends of Wisconsin public schools, 
A couple of weeks ago we warned you about AB1 - the very first bill of the 2015 legislative session, which called for a 13-member board of political appointees that would set and enforce standards of 'accountability' (including punishments for "failing" schools and rewards for "successful" ones), and included a state mandate to convert "chronically failing" public schools to charter schools that would not be subject to local control.  Public school advocates all over the state put out the word, and it worked: the hearing room was packed, legislators were flooded with letters of concern, and before the hearing even began, it was announced that the original bill was being scrapped and major revisions would be written (though we're still waiting on the amended bill).

At the standing-room-only hearing, an overflow room was set up to make room for all who came to testify against the bill, and the only person in Wisconsin to officially speak in favor of the bill was its author, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt.  Testimony went on for 11.5 hours, and Rebecca Kemble at The Progressive Magazine has done an excellent job of pulling out some of the highlights after the delayed release of the footage due to technical difficulties at Wisconsin Eye.

SB1 text (the Senate version of AB1 - the Public School Takeover Bill which is being promoted as a "school accountability" bill) is now online, and a public hearing for the bill is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015 in room 411 South of the Capitol. 

The Senate version of the bill is half as long and twice as sneaky as the Assembly bill, but  equally reprehensible in failing to create any legitimate accountability for the private schools currently receiving tax dollars to exploit the system and capitalize on our children, while penalizing the public schools that serve some of our most vulnerable student populations and have the highest percentages of low-income students.  The bill is a very thinly veiled attempt to both limit accountability for private schools and open the doors to more privatization AND further burden public schools with top-down mandates that revoke local control.

Here are the major features of the bill that are cause for concern if you support excellent public schools that provide equal opportunity for success for all students:

  1. The Senate bill (SB1) differs from the Assembly version (AB1) in that it calls for establishing and giving unprecedented authority to two separate "accountability boards"  for schools receiving tax dollars (one for public & charter schools - the PACB, one for voucher schools - the CAB or "choice accountability board"). These boards would have authority to review annual accountability reports and identify "failing" schools, then review and approve "improvement plans" (for public schools only) [see below for what happens when schools don't improve]. The ARB for public schools would be appointed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the ARB for the private schools would be political appointees (appointed by the Governor). The Constitutionality of this attempt to legislate two separate, unequal school systems in Wisconsin is seriously in question, and this feature of the bill is not likely to stand a court challenge since Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution explicitly calls for "the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years; and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein."  Further, and equally problematic, the establishment of Academic Review Boards violates current law by usurping the authority of the Department of Public Instruction (under the leadership of a democratically elected Superintendent) and local control of local schools by local, democratically elected school boards.
  2. The bill gives full discretion to the Public and Charter Board to "Implement or modify ANY requirements required to be in a school district improvement plan." This is basically a carte blanche to the board to usurp local authority and take control of district-level decision-making.  It could mean anything, and that's the intention.There are 5 provisions under this section of the bill, all are penal and open-ended enough to allow the PACB to supercede local authority and autonomy and do anything from fire staff to shut down schools:
  3.  SB1 includes a mandate to defund public school districts that have one or more "chronically failing" schools, with much harsher provisions for traditional public schools than independent charters:
    "The bill authorizes DPI to withhold state aid from a school district that fails to comply with an improvement plan for a chronically failing school or school district or with a directive made by the PCAB to the school board of a chronically failing school or school district. Additionally, the contract for an independent charter school that is identified as a chronically failing school in the penultimate year of a contract term, may not be renewed."
    This means the districts already struggling most, post Act-10 and the draconian budget cuts of the past two biennial budgets, are likely to be hit hardest and most directly by this bill and find the least support for "improving" struggling schools. Let's be clear on what this really means:  It means this bill intentionally targets Milwaukee Public Schools and other districts with high percentages of both low-income students and students of color, districts where the privatization interests have long been circling in their attempts to cash in on opportunities to "save" struggling schools...without providing the results (or the accountability!) to back up their claims.

    In despicable contrast:  The penalty for "chronically failing" private voucher schools?  They can't accept new voucher students for three years.  Students already enrolled can stay (!) and the school will continue to receive tax dollars in the form of vouchers as long as those students wish to be enrolled.

    Let that sink in: Voucher schools that are "failing" would not be allow to accept new voucher students (current students could stay).   In other words: there's no "sanction" here at all for private schools that fail our kids.  They can continue to collect tax dollars and retain current voucher students.  They can continue to "counsel out" struggling students (sending them back to public schools, but keeping the voucher money). There's no provision or penalty for failing to meet standards, for failing to demonstrate achievement, for shutting down in the middle of a school year and leaving the state.  In short: they remain entirely unaccountable to the public.

    Oh, and both private and public schools could "appeal" if they didn't like being labeled "chronically failing schools", and the board could decided whether or not "
    exceptional circumstances justify [the schools'] performance on the annual accountability reports."  In the absence of uniformity of standards of accountability, it does not take great leaps of the imagination to see where this loophole would lead:  the entire system sets up public schools to fail while giving voucher schools an easy out of accountability - and an easy "in" to collecting more public dollars.
  4. "Accountability" means that we are under an obligation to ensure an equal opportunity for successful learning for every child attending public school in this state. Establishing penalties and punishments based on standardized test scores and inequitable measures of "success" or "failure" is a misguided, ineffective and politically-motivated approach to improving struggling schools.  We already have a nationally applauded system of accountability for our public schools, and we already know how to improve the schools that most need help: fund them at levels adequate to ensure we can meet the needs of all learners, and adopt community schools models to meet the needs of all students.  What's lacking (and is entirely absent from this bill) is real accountability for private voucher schools and independent charters. This was perhaps the most common thread of testimony at the AB1 hearing, as Rebecca Kemble summarized:
    A broad range of people from all over the state and across the political spectrum spoke in opposition to the measure. Superintendents from the school districts of Milwaukee, Green Bay, Pewaukee and Appleton all had similar messages: For meaningful improvements in so-called failing schools to occur, educators need to be supported with adequate resources to implement proven, evidence-based strategies, the most simplest of all being small class sizes staffed with well-trained, well-compensated and motivated teachers.
    They also pointed out that housing, income and nutritional stability in the families of school kids have more of an impact on their academic achievement than any other kind of in-school interventions.
    In the wake of the recent $1.6 billion cut to Wisconsin’s public schools, as well as cuts to public health care and food share programs, those simple yet effective solutions seem to be out of reach.
  5.  Fiscal impacts.  What this bill pointedly does NOT mention (and what is yet to be established by the LRB or DPI), is the high cost of all of this on the taxpayers of this state, and the fact that we simply cannot afford two separate systems of education in Wisconsin, and local communities cannot afford the economic fall-out of labeling local schools as "failures" when we should be investing in their success.  While legislators imply that there's no real "cost" to establishing these boards, it was crystal clear to all those who testified against the Assembly version of the bill, is that this restructuring will have an immediate and negative impact on ALL public schools in Wisconsin, and particularly the rural schools which may not be "failing" by the "standards" of the current accountability system, but will most certainly be en route to doing so when their meager funds are spread even thinner as more and more money is siphoned into voucher schools and independent charter schools.  Whatever "requirements" are mandated by the PACB will be paid for by the taxpayers - and if one of those mandates is to convert a public school to an independent charter, then that money will be sucked out of the general public school fund and every district in the state will pay the price.
  6.  Bias and politics.  Perhaps most frustrating of all is the way this bill (and the ones we know are yet to come in this legislative session) play politics at the expense of our kids and their future, and the health of our local communities. 

    The doubl
    e-standards and assumptions of this bill, and its mandate that districts provide free advertising to private schools for all residents, make clear that this bill has been directly influenced, if not crafted by, the privatization lobbyists who remain the only "interest" in support of these bills.  The fact that the bill does not provide ANY clear measures of accountability for private schools, but provides strict sanctions and penalties for public schools, makes it extremely difficult to see the bill as anything less than the public school takeover bill that it is. 

    This is not a game, and we are not so foolish as to be tricked into believing that this bill is about "accountability" at all.  It's not: it's about taking control of public schools so that they can fulfill the long-stated goal of the conservative "reform" movement:  "Public Schools: Make them Private."

    Many Republican legislators in Wisconsin do not, in fact, share this goal.  They recognize the value and necessity of investment in our beloved community schools and they oppose efforts to undermine local control.  But they have been manipulated by the rhetoric of "reform" by many of their sponsors, and they need to hear from YOU to be reminded that we ALL want to invest in strategies and policies that ensure the success of all students, in the public schools that are the hearts of our communities. 
Like the Assembly version of the bill, SB1 ignores the rigorous system of accountability already in place for public schools and fails to make similar demands of accountability for voucher and independent charter schools. 

For public schools, this bill is all-stick, no-carrot.  For private voucher schools, it's all carrot, no stick.  The privatization lobbyists who paid so richly to elect Wisconsin Republicans are finally seeing the end results of their payback, led in large part by the American Federation for Children, whose leader, billionaire Betsy DeVos, so famously once said she always expects a "return" on her philanthropic "investments".

The language used in this bill is much more subtle and sneaky than the incendiary language of AB1, but the message is the same: a board of appointees would have the power and authority to control local schools and a big-government mandate to penalize struggling schools while rewarding those that are already doing well.  This bill both exploits and ensures existing gaps between the have and have-not districts in Wisconsin, and paves a road of gold for the privateers to swoop in an capitalize on our children by setting up more for-profit education "ventures" (independent charter schools and voucher schools) that have consistently proven less successful than traditional public schools and are NOT held accountable to taxpayers. 

While public schools are required by law to serve all students and meet federal requirements for equitable resources and treatment for all, charter and voucher schools can "counsel out" kids who do not score well, suspend and discipline students as they wish, and have very lax, often illegal, provisions for services for special needs students.  These shortcomings are well-documented.    

What we need in Wisconsin is state-level investment and support of local control of local schools so that we can ensure that every child in the state has an equal opportunity to an excellent education.  Public schools are the heart of our communities, and the heart of the social contract of any democracy.  Show legislators you support public schools by taking a strong stand against this dangerous bill.
  • The public hearing on SB1 will be Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 9am. Mark your calendars and plan to attend.  The hearing notice has recently been updated to include this line: "At the discretion of the Chair, time limits may be placed on testimony. Written testimony will be accepted and distributed to members of the Committee."  This means they know we're coming and want to limit our time to speak.  Those planning to testify in person should be prepared to limit their remarks to as little as 3 minutes, and would be wise to bring written copies of the "long version" of your testimony to submit to the committee after speaking (or email that testimony in advance).
  • Written testimony may be submitted to the chair of the Committee on Education Reform and Government Operations, Sen. Paul Farrow at:
  • If you send written testimony, be sure to: 
    • Include a statement that you wish your concerns to be submitted to the record as written testimony and distributed to the entire committee. 
    • Include your full name, address, and phone number. 
    • CC Gov. Walker ( and your own representatives, as well as Senate & Assembly leaders Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Rep. Robin Vos
  • For your copy/past convenience, here are the key email addresses of the legislators you should contact (first five names are the Education Reform & Government Operations committee members):
    + your own legislators

  • SPREAD THE WORD. After you've prepared your testimony (either to submit in person at the hearing or in writing ahead of time), FORWARD your testimony to you friends, neighbors and others who care about protecting public schools and local control in Wisconsin. Share your testimony on social media and invite others to do the same.  You can also paste your testimony in the comments to this post, or email me and I'll put them online.
We CAN stop this bill, but only if we speak up and speak out, and make sure that we do our part to make sure that the average Wisconsin citizen knows what's really at stake in these bills.  Republican legislators are not being honest about what these bills mean to our schools, and the negative impacts of this legislation cannot be overstated.  Our public schools - the hearts of our communities - are at stake here, and we need to send the message loud and clear: OUR KIDS ARE NOT FOR SALE.