EXPLAIN IT TO ME: Literacy Law Implementation

Jun 10, 2024 | Uncategorized, Wisconsin Voices Blog


In late 2022, IRG released a comprehensive plan outlining how to fundamentally transform the way children are taught how to read in Wisconsin. After years of other states passing Wisconsin in national reading rankings – rural, urban, and every demographic – reading in Wisconsin needs an overhaul. Lawmakers agreed and quickly set to work crafting legislation that would do just that. After passing Assembly Bill 321, the Governor signed the bill (2023 Act 20) in July of 2023. In the state budget, the legislature set aside $50 million to be allocated by the Joint Finance Committee at the request of the Department of Public Instruction for the implementation of the bill. 

Later in the session, it became clear that there needed to be more written into the law to ensure that the funding could be allocated for the implementation of Act 20. However, when signing this bill, Act 100, the Governor made it immensely more complicated when he partially vetoed this legislation. 

Governor’s Partial Veto

Governor Evers used his powerful veto pen to partial veto Act 100, stripping the specified appropriations originally laid out in the bill and instead giving DPI one “lump sum” literacy appropriation. This means that the legislature’s original intent to have money allocated by purpose (curriculum replacement, retraining programs, coaching) was removed. In practice, this gives DPI more discretion as to how they use the funding. The Governor claimed that because the bill falls under ch. 20 of state statutes, he has authority to partially veto the legislation as if it were a budget bill. In response to his veto, the legislature sued the Governor, claiming that he does not have the authority to partially veto the bill because there is no actual funding in the bill. Representative Joel Kitchens, the primary author of Act 20, pointed out the unprecedented reach of the Governor’s power.

Current Status

The Wisconsin Legislature has sued over Act 20 and DPI has countersued. The resolution of the powers of the Governor’s office will be determined in court.

In the meantime, DPI and Rep. Kitchens alike have assured schools that money will be there for later reimbursements of curriculum and retraining. Both have said the primary delay will be of the head of the Office of Literacy as well as coaches, which would need to be paid salaries from those funds. However, because coaching is supposed to come after schools have purchased new materials and provided science-based professional development to teachers, this is not a crisis for children.

What could become a crisis for children is DPI’s appointment of Barb Novak as Literacy Director. She will control Act 100 funds when released and lead some of Act 20’s implementation. However, as recently as 2017, she was the president of a group that later lobbied against Act 20. The Senate now decides whether to confirm her, so they should question her decade of work at DPI.