Educate All Students, Support Public Education

May 15, 2013

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 4:59 pm

Posted on May 15, 2013 Forward Institute

Forward Institute has released its new study at a press conference in Milwaukee’s City Hall. The following remarks were made by Chair Scott Wittkopf, highlighting the most important findings of the comprehensive study.

Wisconsin has always been a leader in K-12 public education because we have long valued the right of every child to receive a quality public education. The fundamental nature of our values is reflected in the State Constitution, which guarantees all children equal access to educational opportunity in our public schools. That constitutional right is now being systematically eroded and defunded. The research presented in this report shows that current fiscal policy and education funding are depriving our poorest students access to a sound public education. Public schools are not failing our children, Wisconsin legislators and policymakers are failing the public schools that serve our children.

Our comprehensive report documents in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the state funding they receive.

The following seven points highlight critical findings of our study:

1. The number of students in poverty has nearly doubled since 1997, increasing from 24% of all students to 42% (Reference Poster Figure 1). At the same time, inflation-adjusted state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in over 17 years. On average, schools with higher poverty enrollment levels have experienced per-pupil funding cuts over 2 times the cuts in the most affluent districts.

2. Analyzing state testing data revealed a paradox within economically disadvantaged (ED) students scoring proficient or advanced. As ED enrollment increased, the percentage of ED students scoring proficient or advanced also increased. Our analysis discovered that as more children dropped into ED due to economic circumstances, they brought their typically higher test scores into the ED group. This has resulted in the false perception that poorer students’ test proficiency rates have been rising. Further, as ED enrollment approaches 50%, we are seeing a plateau and beginning of a downward trend in ED scores. A student who begins in poverty does not have previously higher scores to bring into a cohort, as we observed over the past decade. Therefore, we can expect to see a growing achievement gap between ED and non-ED test scores in the coming decade. 

3. If the Walker proposal to increase voucher school funding is adopted, over $2,000 more will go to a K-8 voucher student than a public school student. A voucher high school student will receive nearly $3000 more in state aid than a public school student (Reference Poster Figure #2). When controlling for inflation, K-8 voucher schools will have seen a $400 increase, and voucher high schools a $1000 increase in per student funding from the 1999 school year. In comparison, public schools will have seen a $1000 per student decrease from the 1999 level. The economic disparities in state funding between voucher and public schools are important in the education funding debate. As we will demonstrate, there is evidence that voucher schools have no positive effect on student graduation/attainment levels or test scores. This raises the question, is there sufficient evidence to support the claim of voucher advocates that voucher schools afford a better educational opportunity to students? Based on the data, we conclude the evidence does not support this claim.

4. The new School Report Card scores released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have a strong correlation to the level of poverty in any given school and school district (reference poster figure #3). Nearly half of the school-to-school difference in Report Card Scores can be explained by the difference in poverty level from school to school. When compared to other factors at the school district level such as teacher experience, racial demographics, and per pupil revenue limits, poverty still accounts for 44% of the school district difference in Report Card scores. This fact makes any use of the DPI School Report Cards for significant funding or incentive decisions poor public policy.

5. The Walker budget proposes to expand voucher schools into districts where School Report Card scores “fail to meet expectations.”  This proposal will assure that more schools and school districts of high poverty will lose resources. As we have shown, School Report Card scores are directly correlated to level of poverty, and districts with underperforming schools are therefore districts with schools of higher poverty. Funding to operate the voucher school expansion will come directly out of those public schools of highest poverty. 

6. Milwaukee voucher program students underperform Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students on statewide tests, with a lower percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. In the Milwaukee voucher program (based on two years’ (2010-2012) data) over 20 children graduate for every child testing proficient in 10th grade reading. The statewide ratio is about 1:1. The MPS ratio is about 2:1. In mathematics, the statewide ratio is about 1:1, MPS ratio is about 3:1, and the voucher student ratio is over 50:1.That means over 20 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade reading, and over 50 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade mathematics. This translates into a much higher cost in state aid for a voucher student to become proficient or advanced than an MPS or high poverty statewide student to become proficient or advanced (reference poster figure #4).  This provides a stark illustration of the high cost to taxpayers for low student proficiency in the voucher program, and raises a significant question of educational adequacy for voucher schools, as the expectation should be for a high school graduate to be proficient in reading and math.

7. As a result of recent budget decisions resulting in education austerity, there is strong evidence that the current public education funding and delivery system in Wisconsin is unconstitutional. When compared to their more affluent peers, students of poverty are not receiving an adequate public education as defined by State Supreme Court precedent, statutes, and the State Constitution. Further, the system has created two distinct classes of students, those of poverty and non-poverty. Both groups have predictable outcomes based on level of poverty. Recent budgeting decisions are exacerbating this dichotomy.

Based on our conclusions, we present the following 5 policy recommendations:

1. Fair Funding – The Legislature should approve, and the Governor should sign, Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding” formula into law. This would be a first step toward addressing the increasing needs of rural and urban districts most affected by poverty.

2. Address Issues of Poverty and Education – The two greatest challenges to ensuring a prosperous and vibrant Wisconsin for future generations are poverty and education. The Governor should join with non-partisan, bi-partisan, broad-based constituent groups to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Commission.” This commission should be charged with a one-year mission to develop a statewide plan bringing parents and communities (rural and urban) impacted by poverty together for the purpose of implementing an intervention plan to address poverty and education issues. There are already successful models in communities that address the external poverty issues that have negative effects on education. Achievement gaps are largely attributable to factors outside of school walls. If Wisconsin is to substantially narrow these gaps, education policy must incorporate health and nutrition supports and after-school enrichment to address barriers to learning that are driven by child poverty.

3. Voucher Program Sunset – The twenty-year Milwaukee and one-year Racine private school voucher experiment should be sunsetted by the Legislature in 2024. The voucher experiment can show no positive voucher school effects on student outcomes and attainment, beyond what already can be attributed to the voucher schools’ select student demographic and parental factors. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund a second statewide school district, nor an expensive entitlement program, when the public schools are not failing. It is, in fact, the state of Wisconsin that is failing public schools and the children they serve. Dividing resources between two statewide school districts exacerbates this growing problem in the face of increasing poverty rates.

4. Charter Schools – Charter schools eligible for state aid should be allowed only under the auspices and as an instrumentality of an existing public school district to ensure public accountability in fiscal, academic, staff, and student functions.

5. School Report Cards – School Report Cards issued by DPI should be used as part of the big picture to measure overall school and student performance along with other standards and measures, balancing “input” (educational access, quality, services, resources, etc.) and “output” (student results). It should be acknowledged that the use of School Report Cards exclusively for reward, incentive, funding, penalty, or other fiscal consequence is improper, poor public policy, and would further erode access to educational opportunity.

This report demonstrates in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and indeed are facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the funding they receive. The failure of Wisconsin policy makers to acknowledge and address these issues is creating a generation of economically disadvantaged students that will lag far behind their more fortunate peers.

Public schools are not failing Wisconsin’s students, the state of Wisconsin is failing the public schools which serve these students.

The full report can be accessed here:

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education 2013

May 10, 2013

Tax Increase Alert: “Lena Taylor Tax” On Milwaukee Property Owners

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 5:03 pm

Scott Walker’s budget calls for increased funding for private school vouchers.

Lena Taylor supports Walker’s budget proposal which increases state aid to kindergarten-through-eighth-grade voucher schools to $7,050 per pupil from $6,442 in the 2014-’15 school year, an increase of $608 per pupil, or 9.4%. For voucher high schools, the per-pupil aid would rise to $7,856, an increase of $1,414, or 21.9%.

This school year saw $54 million taken from the Milwaukee Public School’s budget and given to the voucher program. The difference was made up by the MPS school board, through its taxing authority, by raising property tax on Milwaukee property owners.

It is estimated that next year, based on Walker’s proposed aid to vouchers, there will be a $16 million increase in the amount taken from MPS  for a total of $70 million that must be made up by Milwaukee property taxpayers. This tax increase is now being called the “Lena Taylor Tax.”

Release of “Gold Standard Research” Exposes Milwaukee Voucher Program

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 5:02 pm

Recent Research and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

These articles represent peer-reviewed findings based on the same data and conducted by many of the same researchers who conducted the original evaluation covered in the SCDP reports. (School Choice Demonstration Project; the legislatively mandated study of the effectiveness of the school choice program.)Peer-reviewed journals represent the gold standard of scientific findings, and so these findings are of particular interest. These differ from the reports published in the original SCDP reports, which were not subjected to the same scrutiny that academic peer-reviewed articles received. Thus, they represent an updated and more rigorous analysis of the reports produced by the SCDP in recent years.

Following is an abstract from the report:

Few school choice evaluations consider students who leave such programs, and fewer still consider the effects of leaving these programs as policy-relevant outcomes. Using a representative sample of students from the citywide voucher program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we analyze more than 1,000 students who leave the program during a 4-year period. We show that low-performing voucher students tend to move from the voucher sector into lower performing and less effective public schools than the typical public school student attends, whereas high-performing students transfer to better public schools. In general, transferring students realize substantial achievement gains after moving to the public sector; these results are robust to multiple analytical approaches. This evidence has important implications for school choice policy and research.  

·         “The results presented in Figure 1 and Table 6 provide a generally consistent substantive story. Prior to transferring to MPS, students experience a multi-year slide in achievement. After enrolling in the public schools, students exhibit a notable increase in their math and reading scores. The achievement growth occurs most intensely in the 1st year post-transfer but appears to continue into the 2nd year as well. Considered as a whole, the evidence indicates that the results presented in Table 5 are not attributable, at least wholly, to a reversion to the mean after an uncharacteristically poor academic year in the MPCP.” (p.191) 

·         “Our results indicate that students who leave the voucher program and enroll in MPS are disproportionately disadvantaged relative to both their new public school peers and typical voucher students. After leaving the MPCP, low-achieving students tend to enroll in low-performing, less effective public schools, whereas high-achieving students generally attend higher performing, more effective schools in MPS. However, all students exhibit increased levels of achievement in both reading and mathematics after transferring, and the magnitudes of these increases are not negligible; on average, they are in the range of 0.15 to 0.20 standard deviations. Focusing on the average effect, however, masks the fact that the achievement effects of moving from the MPCP to MPS are somewhat larger for low-performing students than for their higher achieving peers” (p. 180)

 To see the research go to:

May 9, 2013

Special Ed Vouchers Won’t End Discrimination

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:55 pm

By Karyn Rotker, Courtney Bowie and Monica Murphy

May 8, 2013 MJS

T. was a kindergartner with a medical disorder that caused toilet difficulties. Despite her mother’s pleas, her teacher wouldn’t allow her to use the bathroom as needed – and humiliated her by discussing her problems publicly.

A. was a 9-year-old who sometimes wouldn’t speak. Her teacher left her sitting by herself in a corner of the classroom.

S. was a 4-year-old receiving speech and language services. When his mother met with administrators to enroll him in school, they tried to talk her out of it.

K. was an 8-year-old with attention deficition hyperactivity disorder. A school refused to admit him unless he was put on medication.

B. was an eighth-grader with mental health issues. Her behavior was improving, but she was expelled from school for having a verbal dispute with another student.

What do these children have in common? They all have disabilities, they all tried to participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and they all were denied admission, not served or pushed back into public schools by private voucher schools. These children have become part of a dual education system that segregates the overwhelming majority of children with disabilities in public schools, while providing them with fewer and fewer resources.

Pro-voucher forces claim that private schools serve many children with disabilities, but they have no serious data to prove it. The schools told the state Department of Public Instruction that only 1.6% of their children were students with disabilities for testing purposes. A study they use to argue that 14% of voucher students have disabilities only says that 14.6% of children who attended both Milwaukee Public Schools and voucher schools were in special education in MPS.

And the vast majority of the children who attended MPS and voucher schools went from the voucher schools back to MPS. During the first semester of this school year, 306 children moved from voucher schools back to MPS – 142 of them children with disabilities.

In 2011, ACLU, ACLU of Wisconsin and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a complaint alleging that because Wisconsin administers this program with public dollars, it must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed.

In an April 9 letter, DOJ told DPI that it must ensure that students with disabilities “do not encounter discrimination (in the voucher program) on the basis of their disabilities.” The state can’t escape the legal requirement to eliminate disability discrimination in its public programs by delegating education to private schools, DOJ explained.

This means that voucher schools cannot discourage children with disabilities from applying or deny them admission just because they are disabled. And “DPI must further ensure that voucher schools, absent a valid ADA defense, do not expel/exit a student with a disability unless the school has first determined, on a case-by-case basis, that there are no reasonable modifications to school policies, practices or procedures that could enhance the school’s capacity to serve that student.”

Pro-voucher forces argue that the solution is to create a separate special needs voucher program, which will make things worse because no private school will have to accept those vouchers. Thus, private schools will continue to pick and choose which children with disabilities they want to serve. At the same time, children will lose their federally protected special education rights. And some special needs voucher supporters want to create segregated schools for children with disabilities, further undermining efforts to integrate these children into schools and communities.

It is time to suspend any effort to expand vouchers – unless and until the state creates a system that stops discriminating against children with disabilities.

Karyn Rotker is a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. Courtney Bowie is a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Project. Monica Murphy is a managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin.

Grandparents know vouchers don’t work

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:48 pm

Wisconsin is marching inexorably down a path toward two separate publicly-funded education systems for our k-12 students. One is our traditional public schools; the other, private voucher schools largely funded by taxpayer dollars.

The school voucher program began in 1990 under Governor Tommy Thompson with a modest investment in Milwaukee. 337 students, all low-income, used vouchers valued at $734,000 ($2,178/voucher) to attend seven private, nonsectarian schools. Since then, the voucher program has grown exponentially. Funding last year equaled $158M and provided vouchers worth $6,442 to 24,000 students who attended private/parochial schools in Racine and Milwaukee.

In the next two years, the program expansion, if approved by the State legislature, will spread to at least nine more school districts, including Madison. 29,000 students will participate. Funding will increase to $209M – an almost 300-fold increase since inception. Public school funding, over that time span, has increased only three-fold.

Vouchers will be available to a family of four with an income of almost $78,000/year. In addition, these students may always have been private school students. Once students secure a voucher, they have that voucher in subsequent years no matter how high the family income. This policy generates a separate system, subsidizing private education at taxpayer expense with no accountability to, nor approval from, that taxpayer.

Are vouchers worth the price? No! Studies show that academic performance among voucher students is no better than that of students in public schools. In a 2011 study, the independent Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau determined that 75% of students who entered Milwaukee voucher schools as 9th graders left that school before graduation. We call that a 75% DROP-OUT rate!

What will vouchers cost local property tax payers? Beginning in 2014-15, a voucher for an elementary student will cost $7,050; for a high school student $7,856. The local school district pays 38.4% of that cost. A district’s voucher costs are the first draw on education funding. That money comes off the top before a penny is spent for public school students.

Make no mistake, the intent of voucher supporters is to make vouchers available to every Wisconsin student, rural or urban or suburban. School Choice Wisconsin VP, Terry Brown said: “A voucher in every backpack!” However, some years ago, when asked about statewide expansion, former Governor Thompson responded: “We can’t afford two systems of education.” No, we cannot!

Another challenge in the State Budget – the “State Charter Authorizing Board.” As a group of political appointees, this Board can authorize non-profits, local governments, etc., to create PRIVATE CHARTER SHOOLS funded by state dollars as first draw on spending. Local school boards have no authority over these schools, but, once again, they can levy a property tax to make up lost revenue. Taxpayers, beware!!

We are GRUMPS, GRandparents United for Madison Public Schools. Many of us have grandchildren in public schools; we believe public schools are an important community asset.

Our local schools are the glue that holds diverse neighborhoods together – in schools children come together to learn from, and about, each other in a common setting.

Fragmenting our schools threatens community unity. We are stronger together than we are as separate groups. We are more likely to move our children, and Madison, forward if we do it together. We should not tolerate, nor can we afford, separate systems.


Anne Arnesen, Barbara Arnold, Nan Brien, Carol Carstensen

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