SUSAN TROLLER | The Capital Times Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Susan Troller is an award-winning education reporter who has covered business, art and urban design, food and K-12 schools for The Capital Times over the past five years. Chalkboard explores issues and topics that have an impact on children, families and education.
Testimony at the Capitol over a controversial bill that would strip control over charter schools from locally elected officials and place it in the hands of a politically appointed state-wide authorizing board drew hundreds on Wednesday to a standing-room-only Senate education committee hearing.
Senate Bill 22, authored by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would also fund independent charter schools ahead of traditional public schools. I wrote about the bill on Tuesday and it’s generated a robust conversation.
Madison Superintendent Daniel Nerad testified in opposition to the bill, and so did local school board member Marjorie Passman. Kaleem Caire, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and a strong proponent of the proposed boys-only Madison Preparatory Academy for minority students, testified in support of the bill. Madison Prep, if approved, will be a publicly funded charter school in Madison.
Caire, like others supporting SB 22, says charters provide innovations and opportunities for students who may otherwise fall through the cracks in traditional schools, and that added independence gives them the tools they need to succeed and grow. Caire was so passionate in defending his position his testimony ran considerably over his allotted time.
In the several hours I listened to supporters and opponents have their say, testimony seemed to be running about 3-to-1 in opposition to the proposal.
Some of the most moving testimony came from parents and teachers in hard hit rural districts who say there is nothing left to cut in their cash-strapped districts, and anything more that siphons students or funds from their schools will be disastrous.
Many questioned why the bill’s authors feel it’s preferable to fund innovations for independent charter schools when traditional public schools have had to cut programs like art, music, business and technology that once offered options beyond the basics for students in conventional classrooms.
Yedda Ligocki, 29, teaches social studies in Montello, where she grew up and graduated from high school. She would love to remain as a teacher in her home town but she says the future is uncertain.
Her district has had to repeatedly cut school budgets to meet state revenue cap limits that were established in 1993; as a result, all electives at the Montello High School are now taught by part time teachers. The school has eked out all energy savings it can find, she says, and many staff positions for teaching aides and custodians have been eliminated. The district has worked at being innovative, including the use of some online classes and it also looks to its local charter school for fresh ideas.
“We’ve done whatever we can to save money. There’s literally nothing left to cut. You have to heat the school, you have to provide lunches for kids who are hungry,” she told me after she testified, explaining that her county and district have substantial numbers of working poor families.
“In our community, the school is everything to us. If we lose our school, we’re likely to lose all kinds of businesses, and many of our college-educated wage earners. It will be a ghost town. You know, when these small towns go away, you can’t come back later and fix it,” she said.
At 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, legislators were still listening to testimony on the bill, and the Capitol was kept open beyond its normal 6 p.m. closing time to accommodate the lengthy hearing.