Bills imposing legislative mandates on schools are cropping up

The WASB GR Team does our best to try to minimize or eliminate legislative mandates on schools, especially unfunded mandates that require school boards to spend money and other resources.  Often, the best way to guard against such mandates is to speak out before they become law.

Below is a sampling of currently proposed mandate measures that have come to our attention in the 2019-20 Legislative Session.  (In assembling this list, we make no judgements as to the merits or value of the proposals but simply note that each of the proposals would impose legislative mandates on schools.)

  • Requiring Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Education (Assembly Bill 377 / Senate Bill 347) These companion bills (nicknamed “Erin’s Law”) would require the DPI to develop, by July 1, 2020, a child sexual abuse prevention policy and instructional program to be provided to pupils in grades kindergarten to six. The DPI program must include an age-appropriate curriculum to provide pupils with the knowledge and tools to escape from a sexual abuse situation and communicate incidents of sexual abuse. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, each school board must provide a child sexual abuse prevention instructional program to pupils in grades kindergarten to six. In doing so, each school board must adopt and administer either DPI’s program or its own child sexual abuse prevention instructional program. (AB 377 is currently in the Assembly Committee on Children and Families.  SB 347 is currently in the  Senate Committee on Education.)
  • Requiring the Provision of Feminine Hygiene (Menstrual) Products in School Buildings (Assembly Bill 381) This bill requires each school district, operator of an independent charter school, and governing body of a private school participating in a parental choice program to make available tampons and sanitary napkins at no charge in restroom facilities in buildings owned, leased, or occupied by the school board, operator, or governing body. (AB 381 is currently in the Assembly Committee on State Affairs.)
  • Requiring Teen Dating Violence Prevention Education (Assembly Bill 378) This bill requires the DPI to prepare, by July 1, 2020, a model policy governing the prevention of and appropriate responses to teen dating violence and sexual violence when pupils are at school or while pupils are under the supervision of a school authority. By January 1, 2021, each school board must adopt either DPI’s policy and curriculum or its own policy and curriculum. The bill also requires DPI to incorporate teen dating violence and sexual violence prevention curriculum into its model health curriculum.  (AB 378 is currently in the Assembly Committee on Education.)
  • Requiring Cursive Writing Instruction in Elementary Grades (no bill number yet) This draft bill requires the state superintendent of public instruction to incorporate cursive writing into the model academic standards for English language arts. This bill also requires a school board, independent charter school, and private school participating in a parental choice program to include cursive writing in its curriculum for the elementary grades. Specifically, each elementary school curriculum must include the objective that pupils be able to write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.  (Because this bill has not been introduced yet, it has not yet been referred to a committee.)  It’s main authors are Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (Fond du Lac), who are the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees, respectively.
  • Requiring Schools to Test for and Remediate Lead Contamination in Drinking Water (no bill number yet) A bill draft recently circulated by Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) would require all K-12 schools that receive public funding to test all sources of drinking water, referred to in the bill as “potable” water, for lead contamination at least once every three years.  Testing would continue to be required every three years unless two consecutive tests show lead levels that are effectively negligible, defined as below 1 part-per-billion.  Test results must be posted on a school’s website or be available for examination upon request and submitted to DPI within thirty days of receiving results.

If lead levels in any source of potable water in the school exceed the federal standard, the water source with lead contamination must be disconnected and, if necessary, alternative sources of potable drinking water must be provided.  Additionally, a remediation plan must be developed, posted online or made available for examination upon request, and submitted to DPI within six months. The draft bill would provide an exception to the current restrictions on the scheduling of school district referenda that allows a school district with a test that shows lead contamination to go to referendum outside of a regularly scheduled election and to ask more than two questions in one year if necessary.  Such a special referendum may include only costs associated with the lead remediation plan.

The draft bill would allow the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) to use school trust funds to issue loans to school districts, municipalities, technical college districts, and cooperative educational service agencies for the purpose of remediating lead contamination in schools and would further allow Safe Drinking Water Loan Program (SDWLP) funds to be used to reduce the principal and interest rates on BCPL loans made for the purpose of remediating lead contamination in schools.

Note: The Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality, chaired by Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), is currently studying a wide range of water quality issues and has been working to develop a bipartisan bill addressing lead contamination, among other concerns.  It appears that the state Assembly’s strong preference is to attempt to work within the Task Force structure to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations on all aspects of drinking water, perhaps by early 2020.  That dynamic could play a role in how the lead contamination issue is ultimately addressed.