- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Momentum is growing in the Wisconsin Legislature to require that data about crimes committed on school grounds be more readily available for parents and others to view alongside test scores and graduation rates.

The push for such a law comes on the heels of the voucher program expanding statewide and the lifting of enrollment caps. Advocates of the school choice program have used crime data to persuade public school students to transfer to voucher or charter schools, particularly in Milwaukee, saying their schools are a safer option than urban public schools.

School safety is a significant factor for parents when deciding where to send their children, said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, which represents private schools in the voucher program. The group analyzed police data from 2014 and issued a report comparing a higher number of calls to schools in the Milwaukee public school district with those to charter and private vouchers schools.

Statewide crime reporting would put an emphasis on the information, but “I don’t know that it would benefit one school or the other,” Bender said.

The Department of Public Instruction says incidents that result in suspensions and expulsions already are searchable online, but it doesn’t include non-disciplinary incidents where police are called. And backers of the two crime-reporting bills say the goal is the same: getting more information to parents and community members.

The bill sponsored by Rep. John Jagler, a Republican from Watertown, calls for all public high schools, as well as those in the choice and charter school programs, to report crime data for inclusion in the state report card. That is the preferred approach of Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, his spokeswoman Kit Beyer said. The bill has 26 co-sponsors including Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard, a former police officer from Racine.

A second competing proposal, backed by Republican Senate President Mary Lazich, seeks a more limited pilot program with reporting from one urban, one rural and one suburban school district.

Ideally, she said, the information would be collected statewide but it makes sense to start with a more limited approach. Her bill would set aside $25,000 for the Department of Public Instruction to set up the pilot.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hasn’t taken a public position on either approach. Spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said he was reviewing them as he puts together GOP priorities for next year’s session.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Department of Public Instruction believes doing a more limited pilot program first is the best approach, spokesman John Johnson said. But he noted that “tons of information” is already available on the department’s website, searchable by district and individual school, about the number and types of incidents that result in suspensions and expulsions.

But it doesn’t involve times when police are called but there are no suspension or expulsions, Jagler said.

“That’s why this information is important to parents,” he said.

Local school districts have little motivation to report incidents in a more comprehensive way because there’s no requirement to do it, Lazich and Rep. Ken Skowronski said in a memo sent last week to other lawmakers.

Their bill creating the pilot program starting in 2016 would require the three participating schools, which have not been selected, to maintain records of crimes and other incidents- including bullying, hazing and alcohol and other drug use - that occur on school district property, at a school event or on buses.

Jagler’s bill would require all high schools to collect statistics on specific crimes and safety-related incidents reported to a principal, school security or local law enforcement that occur on school property, buses or at an event. However, his measure lists specific crimes that would have to be reported, from disorderly conduct to murder.

Starting in the 2017 school year, the data from Jagler’s bill would be included on the state report card, which also contains test scores, graduation rates and demographic information. The crime data would not go into the calculation for determining the score assigned to each school and district.

One big unknown with Jagler’s bill is how much it would cost school districts, said Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

“It would be good for the Legislature to have some sense of how much is required with this mandate before going statewide with it,” he said.

Rossmiller said he’s “not hearing a clamoring” from school boards for the type of reporting proposed.

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