- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republicans want to change Wisconsin law to mandate that their feedback be heard on a state education accountability plan.

But so far, at least when counting emails to the state education department, they have had little to say.

Only one Republican lawmaker responded to the Department of Public Instruction’s invitation from January to submit comments about the education plan being written as required by federal law, records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press show.

The lack of emails proves that outreach to lawmakers has been successful and that the bill is unnecessary, said state Superintendent Tony Evers.

“That’s one of the reasons we haven’t had much of a response,” Evers said.

The Republican-controlled state Assembly plans to vote Tuesday on the bill that would prohibit the education department from submitting its plan to the federal government without first responding to any objections filed by members of the Senate or Assembly education committees.

Democratic and Republican opponents alike argue the bill isn’t necessary because lawmakers have had ample opportunity to provide input. The lack of emails plays into their argument.

A January memo from the department to the Legislature’s education committees detailed all the outreach it was doing on the plan, including meeting with school districts, soliciting online feedback, holding public listening sessions, meeting with stakeholders, lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker’s office and convening an advisory council comprising two Democrats and two Republicans.

The department will also be taking public comment for the next two months and from lawmakers and the governor for a third month before submitting the final version of the plan by Sept. 18.

Still, that’s not enough for backers of the GOP bill up for approval Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Ron Tusler, the bill’s sponsor, said a more formal process is needed to ensure any concerns raised by lawmakers are addressed.

“I think we have meaningful consultation we can offer,” he said at a hearing on the bill.

But Democratic Rep. Sondy Pope, who is on the advisory committee, called the bill “absurd” given the opportunities for feedback that already exist.

Tusler said he thinks it’s absurd the Legislature’s role isn’t formalized in state law.

“There’s nobody in this committee that has bad intentions and is trying to prevent this plan from being a success,” he said.

The measure has no Democratic backers and no co-sponsors from either party in the Senate. Sen. Luther Olsen, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told AP he doesn’t think the bill is necessary because the department has gone out of the way to listen to lawmakers’ concerns and input.

Olsen said he won’t bring the bill up for a vote in his committee, meaning it likely will die in the Senate.

Olsen is one of two Republicans on the advisory council. The other is Rep. Adam Neylon, of Pewaukee. The only email received by the education department so far offering comment came from Republican Rep. Romaine Quinn, a member of the Assembly Education Committee.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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