On Tuesday (March 14) the state Assembly took floor action on a pair of bills relating to reporting of crimes by schools as part of a floor calendar of bills focusing on crime. Below is a description of those bills and the Assembly’s action on them.
Beginning in the 2024-25 school year, AB 53 would require public high schools and private high schools participating in a parental choice (voucher) program to collect statistics on violations of municipal disorderly conduct ordinances and certain crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, burglary, battery, and arson, that occur on school property or on transportation provided by the school. The high school must collect statistics about the crime or disorderly conduct only if: 1) it occurred on a weekday between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.; 2) it is reported to law enforcement; and 3) a charge is filed, or citation is issued.
AB 53 further would require that the collected statistics be reported to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and be included on the annual school and school district accountability report (a/k/a “school and district report cards”). However, the DPI may not consider crime statistics reported by a school or school district for purposes of determining a school or school district’s performance on the annual school and school district accountability report (a/k/a report cards”).
During the floor debate, those arguing against AB 53 cited testimony received from the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools objecting to the unfunded mandate aspect of the bill, which said, “even with those changes (suggested by WCRIS), private schools would still struggle with additional state-mandated paperwork. Our administrators are already too busy struggling with the teacher and substitute shortage.”
Public school groups, including the WASB, made similar arguments. The WASB also asked why not require law enforcement, which, after all, is the custodian of these records, to report these incidents,
The author, Rep. Cindi Duchow, described AB 53 not as a bill to combat crime but rather a parent transparency bill designed to let parents know what is happening in their schools. It was passed on a 61-35 party line vote. Three Republicans were recorded as not voting.
Following passage of the bill, Rep. Duchow issued a press release which stated, in part. “We send our kids to school expecting they will be safe and secure, but there’s always the question in the back of our minds, ‘are they really going to be ok?’…This type of transparency will help parents and guardians make informed choices about where they want their children educated.”
Assembly Bill 69 –Reporting to law enforcement certain crimes and other incidents that occur in or on public school buildings and grounds, requiring certain schools to employ armed school resource officers, and allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding to reimburse schools for costs of employing armed school resource officers. [Main author: Rep. Nik Rettinger (R-Mukwonago)]
AB 69 would require each public school, including a charter school, to report any incident that occurs in a school building or on school grounds to local law enforcement. As introduced, the bill provides that, if 100 or more incidents occur in and on public school buildings and grounds during a school semester, and at least 25 of those incidents result in an arrest, the school must, no later than the first day of the next school year, employ or contract for the employment of a law enforcement officer as an armed school resource officer (SRO) to work at the school.
Under the bill, “incident” is a defined term that includes violations of state and municipal disorderly conduct laws and certain crimes, including homicide, sexual assault, burglary, battery, and arson. However, the bill provides that, for purposes of counting the number of incidents that resulted in arrest, “incident” does not include incidents related to use or possession of alcohol, cigarettes, nicotine, tobacco products, or vaping devices.
The bill would also require the DPI to reimburse a school board or the operator of an independent charter school that begins employing or enters into a new contract for the employment of a law enforcement officer as an armed SRO all of the following amounts:
1) 75 percent of the costs associated with the SRO for the 2023-24 school year;
2) 50 percent of the costs associated with the SRO for the 2024-25 school year; and
3) 25 percent of the costs associated with the SRO for the 2025-26 school year.
The bill specifies the governor must allocate money received by the state under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to reimburse DPI for these payments to school boards and independent charter school operators.
The funding under AB 53 would be one-time funding only and would only partially pay the costs of SROs. As noted by the fiscal note for the bill prepared by the DPI:
“Any district/ICS that hires an armed SRO as a result of the bill would have to absorb the costs from its general operating budget initially; the bill provides for partial reimbursement of those costs (reimbursement by DPI) for the first three years. Over time, the school district/ICS would be responsible for absorbing the full cost of employing the armed SROs.”
It further notes that:
“The bill further directs that DPI be reimbursed for the payments to school districts/ICS from the Governor’s discretionary allocation of federal ARPA funds. However, reimbursement for armed SROs would not be allowable for reimbursement with federal ARPA funding, because ARPA funds are to be used to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The fiscal note for the bill prepared by the state Department of Administration (DOA) indicates that with respect to the particular federal ARPA funds specified in the bill:
“[R]ecipients must obligate all funds by December 31, 2024, and expend funds by December 31, 2026. The obligation deadline under ARPA is prior to the required reimbursements as they are outlined under the bill for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years, as fifty and twenty-five percent of costs for armed school resource officers, respectively.
Therefore, no amount is available for allocation for AB-69’s specified reimbursements, nor are reimbursements permitted per (U.S.) Treasury (Department)’s Final Rule (governing the disbursement of these funds) for part of one and the entirety of another of the three school years identified in the bill.
Assembly Bill 69 was amended on a voice vote to substitute the phrase “a 5-month period that occurs during a school term” for “a semester” in the portion of the bill that specifies the period of time during which incidents are to be counted for purposes of determining whether a school district must employ a law enforcement officer as an armed SRO in the school. The amendment also deleted the provisions in the bill relating to reimbursements for the costs of SROs in the 2025-26 school year.
Per floor debate, the amendment was offered for two reasons: 1) to reflect that not all schools operate on a semester calendar; and 2) because the 2025-26 school year is entirely outside the period for which reimbursements are permitted (as noted in the fiscal note cited above).
Assembly Bill 69 was passed as amended on a 59-36 vote. All Democrats and one Republican voted no. Three Republicans were recorded as not voting.