Cursive writing proposal expected to cost schools millions of dollars annually, estimate shows

Should Wisconsin students be required to learn cursive writing? A group of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say yes, but the idea is getting some pushback from the group representing the state’s school boards.

Public, independent charter and private schools would be required to include cursive writing in elementary school curricula under the bipartisan bill. The objective would be for students to write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.

One of the bill’s authors is education committee chair and former teacher Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond Du Lac, who testified at a public hearing Wednesday.

“Surprisingly to many, cursive writing can lend a hand in the process of improving reading,” Thiesfeldt said in a written testimony. “This bill isn’t just about nostalgia of being able to read grandma’s letters and primary source historical documents.”

Thiesfeldt pointed out the benefits of cursive writing, including improved learning outcomes and memory recall. He says cursive may come more naturally than print for students with learning disabilities.

Should Wisconsin elementary school students be required to learn to write in cursive?

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt introduced a bill that would require that to happen. #news3now pic.twitter.com/uVeJ1QkqOd

— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) November 6, 2019

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, raised concerns that the cursive writing proposal will be an unfunded mandate with high costs for schools.

The proposal does not provide funding to implement cursive writing in schools, and schools would be expected to come up with the money themselves.

The bill’s fiscal estimate shows it would cost between $1.7 million and $5.95 million a year across public schools for materials. It is expected to cost between $250,000 and $1.6 million on teacher training in at least the first year of the requirement.

The cursive bill is estimated to have a per-student cost of between $10 and $35 a year and a per-teacher cost of between $25 and $160 a year.

Thiesfeldt said he does not agree with the fiscal estimate and that it does not account for schools that currently teach cursive. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction does not keep data on how many schools currently teach it.

Rep. Marisabel Cabrera, D-Milwaukee, asked how students with low budgets will afford to implement cursive. She asked Thiesfeldt if that meant they would have to cut music or art.

“Where would they get those funds from?” Cabrera asked. “Why not fund it if it’s so important?”

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is the only group formally registered against the plan.

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