Contentious first day of new session in Madison as lawmakers take up School Accountability Bill

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MADISON (WITI) -- The state Legislature began its new session on Wednesday, January 7th in Madison taking up a controversial topic that impacts virtually every student in the state: the so-called "School Accountability Bill," and some Democrats are asking whether the Republican plan is more about politics and punishment than it is about education and improvement.

The goal of strong schools isn't controversial, but the proposal is.

On the first day of the new session, lawmakers discussed a bill that would punish poor performing schools. The legislation has become known as the "School Accountability Bill."

"The goal of what we're doing today is -- you're calling it accountability, we're calling it improvement. We want to ensure that every school in the state of Wisconsin is held ultimately accountable," Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said.

The bill would end public funding for failing voucher schools and convert failing public schools to independent charter schools -- a proposal that has Democrats raising questions.

"I think it's a gift to the corporate lobbyists who were probably the largest contributors to the Republican campaigns in this past season," Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) said.

The bill would also create a 13-member panel, or "accountability board" to assign letter grades to schools.

"Are we talking about punishment for poor performance, or are we talking about being supportive of schools that are struggling?" State Superintendent Tony Evers said.

Evers says testing is the sticking point.

"Transparency has to lead to the same test for all. That's a point of contention right now," Evers said.

The Republican plan would allow private voucher schools to take different tests.

"We're going to ask them all to take the same test. If they want to opt out to a different test, that's possible," Rep. Vos said.

"The private schools do not have to take the same test. If they say so, there's the opt out available.  So, how we ever compare students with different tests is a little hard for me to understand," Rep. Pope said.

Assembly Speaker Vos says he wants quick action on the School Accountability Bill -- saying he hopes a vote will occur by the end of the month.

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