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Common Core bill appears dead in Wisconsin Senate

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Associated Press
March 7, 2014

MADISON — A bill that would give the Legislature power to write and approve Wisconsin's academic standards is unlikely to pass in its current form, the leader of the state Senate said Thursday as hundreds of teachers, school administrators and business leaders converged on the Capitol to oppose it.

And the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which held a hearing on the measure, told The Associated Press that at least five Republican senators told him they opposed the measure that would likely lead to the undoing of the Common Core standards adopted in 2010. That would leave the bill at least four votes shy of the 17 needed to pass.

"The bill isn't dead, but it looks unlikely to pass in its current form," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in an email. Fitzgerald, who is in charge of setting the Senate's agenda for the last two or three days it plans to meet this year, said the proposal is "still a work in progress."

With the bill's future in jeopardy, its chief sponsor, Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, issued a statement saying she wasn't giving up and that she believed momentum for the idea was growing. Vukmir said no senator had told her they opposed it and she would be "shocked" if five senators were against it.

"We should not work to be common," Vukmir said during the hearing in support of the bill. "We should work to be exceptional."

But Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Education Committee, told AP two hours before the hearing that he won't schedule a vote to pass the measure until the bill's sponsors tell him they have at least 17 senators ready to pass it in the Senate.

"I have been approached by numerous senators very concerned with this piece of legislation," Olsen said. "I don't want to say it's dead. It's in limbo. I'm waiting for someone to tell me the next step."

Republicans hold an 18-15 majority and Democrats have been unified in opposing the bill.

About 300 people came to the Capitol in opposition to the measure, filling the hearing room and two other rooms set up for overflow. School leaders told lawmakers that it made no sense to undo the years of work, and millions of dollars, spent so far to implement the standards.

In a dramatic move, dozens of superintendents stood silently in support of fellow superintendents who testified before the committee in opposition to the measure.

"Truthfully, I don't know how to explain to our taxpayers we may start this process over and spend millions of dollars," JoAnn Sternke, superintendent of the Pewaukee school district, said at a news conference prior to the hearing.

Her concerns echoed those that Olsen said Republican senators had told him they had with the bill.

The measure as introduced would create a 15-member board to create model academic standards. The board would be responsible for writing new academic standards, starting with English, reading and math in the first year and social studies and science by the third year.

The ultimate authority over the standards would rest with the Legislature.

Wisconsin is one of 45 states that adopted the Common Core standards covering what students learn in language arts and math. Wisconsin schools have spent an estimated $25 million aligning their curriculum to Common Core since 2010 in anticipation of new tests next year that are tied to those standards.

The bill would undo all of that and create new standards and a new test.

Supporters, including Gov. Scott Walker, argue that Wisconsin should write its own standards that are more rigorous than Common Core. Walker's spokesman Tom Evenson issued a statement prior to the hearing reiterating his support for the bill.

Education leaders, including state Superintendent Tony Evers, are joined by the state chamber of commerce in supporting the current Common Core standards. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which typically sides with Walker and Republicans, released a statement last month backing the standards.

The only groups that registered to lobby in support of the bill as of Thursday morning were the national conservative tea party-aligned group Americans for Prosperity and the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action. Twelve groups, primarily representing teachers, administrators and school boards, were registered in opposition.



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