- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin submitted a federally required school improvement plan to President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday over objections from Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups that it didn’t do enough to embrace innovative ideas, such as expanding taxpayer-funded private school choice programs.

All 50 states must submit accountability plans under the law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, to continue receiving federal education funding. Wisconsin gets more than $500 million per year in such funding.

Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has four months to review Wisconsin’s plan and either approve or reject it. An email seeking comment from the U.S. Department of Education press office was not immediately returned.

Walker last week refused to sign off on the state report, but didn’t publicly offer specific suggestions for ways to improve the plan written by the state Department of Public Instruction. That agency is overseen by state Superintendent Tony Evers, an opponent of voucher schools who is running as a Democrat for governor next year, hoping to challenge Walker for a third term.

Evers issued a statement through his campaign saying Walker is putting his own re-election campaign ahead of what’s best for the state’s school children.

“I believe we’re stronger when we work together,” Evers said. “That’s why I wrote this plan in consultation with Walker’s office, as well as teachers, parents, school districts, choice schools and a wide array of others.”

Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson did not immediately return an email seeking comment on submission of the plan despite the governor’s call that it be further revised.

Walker said to Evers in a letter last week that the state didn’t have a rigorous enough intervention plan for low-performing schools. Wisconsin’s plan calls for those schools to create an improvement plan under supervision of the state education department.

Wisconsin’s plan, which will dictate education policy in the state’s K-12 schools for years to come, calls for cutting the achievement and graduation gaps in half over the next six years, but does not specify how that will be achieved.

The state’s lowest-performing 5 percent of schools will be targeted for improvement, but not forced to reorganize or turned into private charter schools.

The first draft of Wisconsin’s plan was released in April. The Department of Public Instruction said since then it gathered additional feedback through four presentations to the state Legislature, 13 meetings with professional organizations, six public listening sessions that attracted nearly 200 people and more than 50 responses to an online survey.

The final version largely mirrors that initial draft, with mostly technical changes. But there were revisions to address concerns raised over the accountability section and how the lowest-performing schools would be identified and addressed.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a Milwaukee-based conservative law firm, is a frequent critic of the state education department and a supporter of expanding school choice programs. It criticized Wisconsin’s plan, saying it reflects the bureaucratic status quo rather than taking advantage of freedoms allowed under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The group has threatened to sue over the process used to implement the plan.

CJ Szafir, an attorney and vice president of policy at the institute, said he expects DeVos will approve Wisconsin’s plan but the group continues to hope that changes can be made to improve it.

Republican state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, said the state was “missing an opportunity to act boldly and lead the nation in school reform.”

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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