Brief

Legislation lets families who favor or oppose COVID-19 mandates switch schools

By: - November 10, 2021 5:41 pm
Student with mask up close and an empty classroom behind

Alexandra_Koch | Pixabay

Republicans in the Legislature have teed up a bill that uses COVID-19 mandates as a justification for temporarily loosening public school open-enrollment rules.

The legislation would allow families to transfer a student from a public or private school to another this year or next year because of dissatisfaction over school district mask policy or vaccine policy. State aid money would follow the student from one school to the other. 

The legislation takes both sides in the public divide over whether schools should require students and staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended — and whether they should require students to be vaccinated from the coronavirus.

“At a time when families are incredibly unnerved with how their school district is responding to COVID19, parents need to have the option to enroll their children in the best educational option especially in regards to mask/vaccine policies, whether that includes masking/vaccines or refraining from those practices,” said State Rep. Barb Dittrich, author of the Assembly bill, in testimony submitted at a public hearing Tuesday.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) submitted testimony opposing the bill, calling it a needless duplication of the current open enrollment rules while also disregarding current rules, processes and timelines for the state’s open enrollment and private school choice programs, leading to “a confusing landscape for parents and schools.”

If enacted the legislation would enable students to transfer schools once a year in the current 2021-22 school year or the 2022-23 school year for any of the following reasons:

  • They’re enrolled in a school that requires wearing masks, and they want to transfer to a school that doesn’t require masks.
  • They’re enrolled in a school that doesn’t require masks, and they want to transfer to a school that does require them.
  • They’re enrolled in a school that requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination and they want to transfer to a school without that requirement.
  • They’re enrolled in a school without a COVID-19 vaccination mandate and they want to transfer to a school that requires the vaccination.

For each student transferring to a public school, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) would pay up to $8,161 to that school. For each student in grades K-8 transferring to a private school, DPI would pay up to $8,336 to the new school. For students in grades 9-12, private schools would receive up to $8,962.

For students with disabilities, DPI would pay up to $13,013 to the school, whether it’s public or private. For all students transferring, DPI would correspondingly reduce state aid to the school that the student is leaving. The funds associated with all transfers would be prorated after the third Friday in September.

The bill also requires all school athletic leagues to allow students to transfer leagues if they were required to attend virtual school at least some of the time.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the Wisconsin Education Association Council submitted testimony opposing the legislation, and several other education groups registered in opposition as well.

The Assembly Mental Health Committee, which held Tuesday’s public hearing, advanced AB-600 on a 10-4 party-line vote Wednesday. The Senate version, SB-567, had a public hearing and passed the Senate Health Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote in October.

With DPI’s opposition and the partisan division in both houses on the bill, it faces a virtually certain veto should it reach Gov. Tony Evers.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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