Wisconsin Assembly panel considers mandatory cursive bill
MADISON — Wisconsin legislators struggled Wednesday with a bill that would force schools to teach cursive writing, questioning whether they should make teachers spend time and money preserving the centuries-old style in today’s computerized word.
Republican Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, a former teacher, introduced the bill in September. The measure would require schools that receive state dollars to include cursive in their elementary curriculum with the goal of having students write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.
Cursive, known for its distinctive loops and curlicues, has largely been relegated to writing thank-you notes and credit card receipts over the last 20 years. But it’s been making a comeback recently; at least 10 other states have included cursive requirements in their state education standards.
Thiesfeldt’s bill wouldn’t come cheap, at least according to state education officials. The Department of Public Instruction estimates public and charter schools would have to spend between $1.7 million to $5.95 million on student materials such as workbooks annually and between $250,000 and $1.6 million on teacher training in at least the first year of the requirement. Voucher schools would face costs of up to $595,000 annually for materials and up to $160,000 on teacher training in the first year.
Thiesfeldt tried to make a case for the measure during a public hearing in front of the Assembly state affairs committee Wednesday afternoon.
He said studies have shown writing in cursive fosters neurological connections in students’ brains, improves retention and can help dyslexic children read because cursive letters are more distinctive than printed letters.
“This bill isn’t just about nostalgia or being able to read grandmas’ letters and primary source historical documents,” Thiesfeldt said.
Krista Huerta, an occupational therapist and handwriting specialist in the Delavan-Darien School District, told the committee that she spent three years working with a student who couldn’t write or type her own name. Now the student writes in cursive “without hesitation,” saying cursive is calming and lets her get her thoughts out faster.
“This basic foundational skill has facilitated closing a learning gap for this student,” Huerta said. “(Cursive) is a gift to our future generations.”
But committee members sounded skeptical.
Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, a Milwaukee Democratic, asked Thiesfeldt for copies of the studies he mentioned. He didn’t have any to show the committee but told Cabrera they’re not hard to find with Google.
Rep. Christine Sinicki, another Milwaukee Democrat, said teachers in her district have balked at the bill’s cost. Other members said they were uncomfortable with handing schools another unfunded mandate.
“My concern still is we keep adding these state things that we think should be taught in schools,” said Republican Rep. Tyler Vorpagel. “I just struggle with again adding another mandate from us on top of what we already do.”
DPI officials submitted written testimony arguing the bill would overwrite local school boards’ ability to set their own curriculum. They also pointed out that cursive could present a challenge for disabled students.
Dan Rossmiller is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, which opposes the bill. He said the bill erodes local boards’ ability to set their own curriculum.
Putting together coherent sentences and spelling correctly are more important than the format, he argued. Employers these days ask applicants whether they can use Microsoft Word or Excel, not whether they can write in cursive, he said.
“This is probably a case of micromanagement by the state,” Rossmiller said. “Are we teaching something that is a necessary component of being an educated person in the 21st century? Society is moving forward and some things we thought were essential skills may not be essential skills.”
Sinicki observed that the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Republican Luther Olsen, submitted written testimony in a cursive font that he composed on a computer.