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Black Leaders' Concerns Kill Wis. Bill To Open Student Records for Research

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A bill that would give local school boards in Wisconsin the authority to allow private researchers access to confidential student records has been effectively shelved following unexpectedly heated opposition from black leaders in Milwaukee.

Sponsors of the measure said it would simply give school districts authority that those in many other states already have: the ability to commission outside evaluations of school programs.

Wisconsin law currently prohibits districts from granting private researchers access to confidential school records. Such evaluations are now conducted either by the districts themselves or by researchers from the state education department.

The bill, introduced by Representative Barbara Notestein, a Democrat from Milwaukee, was also intended to permit two local community organi4zations to conduct studies in Milwaukee public schools.

One such study, which would be conducted by the Greater Milwaukee Education Trust, seeks to determine the district's future construction needs. The researchers said they needed the records to make demographic projections and to determine what kinds of social services new schools should provide.

But black leaders and lawmakers in Milwaukee questioned why the nonprofit group would need access to student records for that kind of study.

"This isn't about our kids," said Representative Polly Williams, the Milwaukee Democrat who pioneered the city school system's controversial choice program. "You don't need to get into confidential records to know where we need to build schools."

"If they lived in the inner city, they would already know what the needs of our students are," she added.

Ms. Williams also noted that, in the Milwaukee system, the state's largest and most troubled school district and the probable location of many educational studies likely to take place under such a measure, approximately 70 percent of the students are black. Researchers at the community organizations slated to conduct the proposed studies, in contrast, are white, she said.

"They're going to take our records and use them to create new social programs to be funded with the money going to these white organizations," charged Ms. Williams, who is black, "and these new programs are going to be all about keeping us enslaved."

A much-amended version of the bill was passed by the Assembly last month and sent to the Senate. But the measure's sponsors have decided to quietly drop the issue.

"As far as we're concerned," said a spokesman for Ms. Notestein, "the bill is dead."

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