A new bill to make school spending more transparent will get its first public hearing at the legislature on Thursday.

The bill, Assembly Bill 810, would create a computerized database of public school expenditures maintained by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The agency would then post the information on the internet for the public.

“DPI must present the data on its Internet site in a format that allows the public to download, sort, search, and access the data at no cost,” according to the Legislative Reference Bureau memo. “Finally, the bill requires DPI to annually conduct a public information campaign on the availability of financial data on its Internet site.”

The law, if passed by the legislature this session, would go into effect for the 2021-22 school year.

Libby Sobic, the Director of Education Policy for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, explained in an interview by John Muir of WTAQ on Tuesday the importance of increasing school expenditure transparency.

“Right now we are spending an historic amount of money, $14 billion on our K-12 system,” Sobic said. “And yet, our Department of Public Instruction provides very little information that taxpayers, parents or even school boards can access to understand how their school district is spending money compared to their peer school districts.”

Sobic said it was especially important to have that information when we know school test scores in both rural and urban areas are not what they should be.

“And so, in order to have a bigger conversation about how can we improve education and where we should be spending money, we first have to understand where that money is going,” Sobic told Muir. “And this bill by state Senator Alberta Darling and state Representative Mary Felzkowski is really an important first step in that process.”

Another education bill, Assembly Bill 849, that will be getting a public hearing on Thursday is a bill to expand the part-time open enrollment program.

The program will be renamed the course choice program and would allow a student to take a course at another educational institution. The educational institution could be a public school in the district, a public school in another district, a private school, an independent charter school, or even a nonprofit that is recognized by DPI. The student would be allowed to enroll in two courses at the other educational institution.

Current law restricts the open enrollment choice to two courses at a public school in another district.

The Assembly will also be holding a hearing on Assembly Bill 779 which would expand extracurricular activity opportunities for students enrolled in online charter schools.

The bill by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) would allow a student attending an online charter school, or virtual school, to participate in extracurricular activities in the student’s home district. This allows students who live a substantial distance from the online charter school to still have the extracurricular experiences that other students have.

“Extracurricular activities provide students with a well-rounded educational experience,” said Allen in a statement when the bill was introduced. “Our virtual students deserve every opportunity afforded to all other Wisconsin students.”

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