Public School Uniforms Urged in Wisconsin

By Joanne M. Haas | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Madison, Wisconsin ( - A bill allowing public school boards to require student uniforms is being urged by two Milwaukee-area lawmakers who called the proposal an attempt to reduce gang-related violence while building school pride.

"The sad fact is that in some of our schools the kids are already wearing uniforms, but they're uniforms of rival gangs and signify goals of hate and violence," said bill co-author Rep. Pedro Colon, a Democrat who represents the city of Milwaukee.

Joining Colon as an author is Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Republican representing the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, where, in the 1998-99 school year, a uniform policy was initiated at White Lake Elementary School following a year of discussion and a vote by district parents.

Assembly Bill 255, the School Uniform Bill, also requires school boards to give parents and guardians at least three months' notice before implementing the policy, and to assist students in financial need with purchasing their uniforms.

Options are also included in the legislation. The bill would let parents and guardians get an exemption from the policy for their children, and it forbids any academic penalty or discrimination against a child who's exempt from the policy.

"Allowing school uniforms gives local school boards one more tool to use in building an educational atmosphere conducive to growth learning," Jensen said.

This is the third time in five years this legislation has been attempted. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Assembly in 1996 and during the last legislative session, which ended in 2000. In both cases, the measure was stalled in the Senate under both parties' leadership.

But with bi-partisan authorship, the lawmakers hope to increase the bill's chances by introducing it early in the current two-year session, which began in January.

"While our legislation is not the silver bullet in ending the complex issues that face schools," Colon said, "it is a good tool that school districts may use to foster an environment that supports students and education."