Published Online: November 6, 2009

Wis. Legislature Passes Education Reform Bill

The state Assembly early in the morning Friday passed a bill that removes a ban on using student test results to evaluate teachers in order to be eligible for nearly $4.5 billion in federal stimulus money.

It cleared the Senate on Thursday and now heads to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle who said he will sign it.

The votes came after President Barack Obama came to Madison on Wednesday to tout the Race to the Top grant program and urge states like Wisconsin to make bold reforms.

"If you're willing to hold yourselves more accountable, if you develop a strong plan to improve the quality of education in your state, we'll offer you a grant to help make that plan a reality," Obama said in his speech at a Madison middle school.

Race to the Top is intended to improve student achievement, boost the performance of minority students and raise graduation rates.

Doyle said in his introduction of Obama that Wisconsin needs to compete for those grants.

"We know, we have to step it up," Doyle said. "We have to face a hard truth here in Wisconsin that our achievement gap is among the worst in the nation."

States are expected to be able to start applying for the grants in about two months.

Republicans argued that the proposal was useless because teachers couldn't be disciplined based on the scores and any evaluation process would have to be bargained with the teachers union.

"This bill does nothing for quality education," said Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, shortly before the early morning vote. "This is basically a race for the money, not a race for the top."

Assembly Republicans attempted to change the bill to allow for the student test data to be used to remove teachers, but Democrats blocked a vote.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards opposed the bill because of the prohibition on using the results to discipline teachers. The powerful state teachers' union, Wisconsin Education Association Council, supported the bill as long as the scores couldn't be used to discipline teachers.

Other education reform bills passed Thursday by the Legislature would clear the way for data about student performance to be shared among Wisconsin colleges and universities and the state Department of Public Instruction.

Another bill that would expand the powers of the state superintendent to intervene in failing schools was not taken up.

Doyle has indicated that he may call lawmakers into special session to deal with the most controversial education reform bill of all. It would allow the mayor of Milwaukee to take over control of that city's struggling school district.

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