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Walker signing bills on reading, wolf hunt, concussions

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

Madison – Gov. Scott Walker is signing bills Monday to reform the way reading is taught in schools and protect high school athletes against concussions.

The Republican governor is also signing a bill to establish the first wolf hunt in a half century starting this fall. Walker will sign the bills in Wausau, Green Bay and Woodruff.

The education-reform bill is aimed at improving reading achievement, implementing a consistent method for evaluating educators, and raising expectations for teacher-training programs.

The bill would require public elementary schools to administer an early literacy assessment for kindergartners starting this fall. The state would provide an additional $800,000 for the screenings.

The ideas for education reform have gained bipartisan support, but some Democrats have opposed the bill because a plan to create a statewide school accountability system for public schools and publicly funded private voucher schools was not included in the legislation put forth by Republican legislators.

The measure would also require prospective elementary and special-education teachers to take a new reading instruction exam before they could obtain teaching licenses, beginning on Jan. 1, 2014. The proposal also requires a statewide educator evaluation system whereby a principal or teacher’s score would be based 50% on student performance measures and 50% on their practice.

The same bill would raise the stakes for teacher-preparation programs by making institutions of higher education and alternative-certification programs publicize their teacher candidates’ first-time pass rates on exams and assessments required for licensure.

It would also require those programs to hand over more data about their candidates to the Department of Public Instruction, so that those future teachers can be better tracked into the schools at which they eventually land teaching jobs.

Walker will approve the youth-concussion bill in a ceremony Monday at Lambeau Field. The bill sets new guidelines for young athletes who may have sustained a head injury on the field of play.

The measure calls for the state Department of Public Instruction, in conjunction with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, to develop guidelines and other information to educate coaches and athletes and their parents about the risk of concussions and head injuries in youth athletic activities, including club sports.

The measure also requires that a person suspected of suffering a concussion or head injury in a youth athletic activity be removed from the field of play immediately. That person would not be able to return to the field of play until he or she has been evaluated by a trained health care provider. The health care provider would have to provide written clearance in order for the athlete to return to play.

Provisions in the bill protect coaches, officials or volunteers from liability if they fail to remove an athlete from competition, unless there is gross negligence or gross misconduct.

The wolf hunting bill is designed to calm the worries of farmers, landowners and hunters who believe that wolves are taking a toll on the deer population. Advocates have questioned, however, whether it’s too early to bring back hunting of wolves, which has not happened since they were wiped off the landscape more than 50 years ago.

Wisconsin took over management of wolves on Jan. 27 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from a federal list of endangered species.

As the wolf population has increased in Wisconsin, so have tensions with some property owners. Wolves have killed increasing numbers of livestock, pets and hunting dogs. In 2011 alone, wolves killed 20 dogs, mostly hunting dogs.

The proposed hunting rules are modeled after those used for bear hunting. The season would start Oct. 15 and end in February.