Educate All Students, Support Public Education

January 14, 2018

Behind Walker’s $200 Per Student Increase in Wisconsin State Budget

Filed under: Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 1:41 pm

by Larry Miller

(The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chose not to run this because it is not suggesting solutions. I beg to differ.)

When is a raise in the budget not a raise? When it restores a tiny fraction of needed funds that have been systematically reduced for years and does nothing to correct the factors that cause under-funding.

The controversial Wisconsin state budget passed last September included an increase of $200 per student in public schools. In reality, that funding level, adjusting for inflation, still falls below what was allocated for K-12 schooling in 2010.

The small bump is not surprising, given the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters who support their public schools. Polls by Marquette Law School [] showed significant support, including a willingness to pay more in tax dollars for adequate resources for public schools.

Public school funding in Wisconsin continues to be constrained by a formula that is fundamentally unjust and broken. Children attending Milwaukee Public Schools are worth approximately $10,000 each under the budget. Those attending Glendale/River Hills are valued at $12,752. If Milwaukee Public School (MPS) children were allocated the same funding as Glendale/River Hills, our district would see an increase of more than $200 million annually. Similar comparisons can be made between MPS and Whitefish Bay, Shorewood, Brown Deer and Fox Point.

The majority of Republican legislators have made it clear that their preference is to support the private voucher system. In this budget the per student allocation increase for voucher students was higher than that for public school students. The budget also included a provision raising statewide the income level at which a family becomes eligible to receive a voucher.

The expensive 25-year voucher “experiment” has done nothing to change the status quo of the growing economic inequality in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Yet we have a President who has promised billions in federal monies toward voucher programs, a Secretary of Education in Betsy DeVos whose political life has been spent dismantling public education, and a state legislature that prefers private to public. The private system exists not parallel to, but at the expense of, the public system.

In addition to unequal funding and diversion of funds to private schools, the broken funding framework fails to support students with special needs, or “special education.” Previous to the 1994 revenue caps, school districts were promised that the state would provide 63% of funding for special education. Right now districts are receiving less than 26% of those expenses, while they are required to fulfill 100% of students’ Individual Education Plans(IEP). This funding has been frozen for a decade. Milwaukee Public Schools has more than 15,000  students with IEP’s. The majority of the money to fulfill these must come from MPS’s general funding, which means less money for libraries, technology, music, the arts, and physical education.

Over the next 15 years, the legislature is giving $3 billion to FoxConn, along with an estimated $18 billion spent for prisons. That money must come from somewhere. This path suggests that public education for our children will suffer even more.

Wisconsin, we are better than this. In Milwaukee Public Schools our time is spent focusing on serving our students, their families and communities. We are doing this with all hands on deck, but with restraints from limited resources.

If we are going to improve the lives of the 85% of MPS students living in poverty, greater resources are crucial. We’ll never achieve regional economic development without high-level statewide public education, equitably and adequately funded.

Milwaukee public schools are faced with large class sizes, ancient buildings, the need for more 21st-century technology, expansion of library resources, and increased student access to music, the arts, and physical education, for starters.

This is an important year for Wisconsin elections. Please put our children’s education at the center of the dialogue and debate. Reform of Wisconsin’s education funding formula, funding for special education services, turning back the expansion of private school vouchers and prioritizing education, not incarceration, should all be part of making Wisconsin great again.







June 6, 2017

Wisconsin Association of School Boards: On School Funding

Filed under: Legislation,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 1:51 pm

John Ashley Statement on Assembly GOP School Funding Plan

The Assembly Republican school funding plan includes provisions we support and it is a positive sign that Assembly GOP legislators recognize the need to increase state aid for school districts. We appreciate and strongly support removing the “strings” of the healthcare cost shift mandate and how funding needs to be budgeted per school building to receive the proposed increases in per-pupil aid. The WASB also supports raising the low-revenue ceiling to help historically low-spending districts and increased funding for high cost special education aid. There are a wide range of other provisions included in the proposal that we are still reviewing.

However, we are concerned that this plan backs away from the governor’s proposed per-pupil categorical aid investments. The WASB does do not support reducing the governor’s proposed increase by $90 million.  The governor’s original proposal, for the first time in several budgets, provides nearly an inflationary increase in state aid to almost all school districts in the state.  We also have concerns with the proposal to cut $50 per pupil of state support for all districts and instead require a subset of districts to recoup this amount by asking their local property taxpayers to pay more, especially in small, rural communities.  While we support giving local school boards options, the financial burden under the Assembly GOP plan would fall entirely on those school boards’ property taxpayers during this budget cycle.

Overall, we hope legislators will support the governor’s investments in per-pupil aid at the $200 and $204 per pupil level while also supporting local control and incorporating the positive proposals from the Assembly GOP on the low- revenue ceiling.

-John H. Ashley is Executive Director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards

Amid state budget impasse, Wisconsin Senate leaders mull going it alone

Filed under: Legislation,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:21 am

MOLLY BECK, MARK SOMMERHAUSER and MATTHEW DeFOUR Wisconsin State Journal 6/6/2017


State Senate leaders on Monday raised the prospect of crafting their own state budget instead of working with the Assembly through the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee — a fresh sign of the growing budget divide among statehouse Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters this week’s talks on the 2017-19 spending plan could prove pivotal.

With less than a month left to the state budget deadline, GOP Senate and Assembly leaders and Gov. Scott Walker are at an impasse over how to spend money on schools, address taxes and plug a shortfall in the state’s roads budget of nearly $1 billion.

Fitzgerald said he hopes to avoid writing a separate budget from the Assembly. But, he said, “we’re in a rougher spot than I thought we were” if the budget committee doesn’t meet this week as Fitzgerald said he’s urging its members to do.

“Then it becomes a full discussion for the full Senate caucus as to where we’re going to proceed,” Fitzgerald said.

Speaking earlier in the day, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, budget committee co-chairman, said it remains to be seen if the panel will meet this week.

The typical state budget process starts with the governor’s proposal. It then goes to JFC, the state’s budget-writing committee, which adds and subtracts from his proposal. Sixteen lawmakers from both houses comprise the committee in an effort to find common ground and to build consensus between the two houses before the full Legislature votes on the budget bill.

July 1 is the deadline to have a new budget in place. If lawmakers and the governor fail to agree on one by then, current spending levels would carry over into the new fiscal year.

Fitzgerald said it would be “pretty easy” for Senate Republicans to develop their own budget. On two of the most high-profile topics, transportation and education, the Senate and Walker are aligned, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald signaled his patience for budget talks is waning and he doesn’t want the process to continue into the new fiscal year.

“I want this budget done by 1 July,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve had more than enough time to debate and discuss this budget.”

Responding to the possibility the Senate would finish writing its own budget based largely on Walker’s blueprint, Nygren said: “Is that waving the white flag that they don’t have ideas? I don’t know.”

Assembly crafted K-12 spending plan

The separate-budget idea surfaced on Friday after Assembly Republicans released their own proposal on school spending late last week, which was immediately rejected by Senate Republicans who want to work with Gov. Scott Walker’s schools proposal.

“It can be done,” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and co-chairwoman of the budget committee, said Monday of writing a separate budget. “I hope we don’t have to do that.”

Walker said in an interview Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal that the “good news” is the Senate GOP caucus is “clearly on board” with his proposal, but he acknowledged what ultimately is passed could change.

“My hope would be that in the end, it certainly doesn’t have to be 100 percent like what I proposed, but that to me having more money for schools and more relief for property taxpayers are certainly two priorities for us that we’re going to keep pushing for,” Walker said.

Some GOP lawmakers have previously discussed separating transportation from the larger budget process. Nygren said any additional talks about breaking from the normal budget process “are news to me.”

The Assembly K-12 spending proposal called for, among other things, a smaller increase in the amount of money schools receive on a per-student basis.

But the “linchpin” of the proposal, Nygren said, is a provision that allows some school districts to raise more in property taxes, about $92 million, to pay for schools. Those districts are typically those that were spending less than the state average when revenue caps were instituted in 1993.

Darling said Friday that provision would be very difficult to do without new money to pay for it because Walker has said he won’t support a budget that raises property taxes above 2014 levels.

More details about the Assembly’s proposal will be released on Tuesday, Nygren said.

Several disagreements

The education proposal was the latest in a string of budget provisions Republicans in both houses have been unable to come to agreement on. How to fund roads, how much to lower property taxes and whether to self-insure state workers have also divided Walker and legislators.

Nygren said one of the biggest challenges has been the governor’s pledge to lower property taxes on a median-value home below what they were in 2014. Assembly Republicans have only committed to property taxes being lower than in 2016.

Additionally, many Republicans want to eliminate the personal property tax, which primarily affects businesses. Doing so would reduce funding for municipalities and school districts by $261 million a year. Some lawmakers want to get rid of Walker’s proposed income tax cut and reimburse local governments for the lost revenue.

Walker acknowledged in the interview Monday that the budget likely won’t be finished by the end of June. He noted that’s not unusual — the last state budget wasn’t signed until July 12.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Monday that schools can’t afford less money than what Walker proposed.

“Our schools can’t afford to shoulder more cuts while wealthy special interests benefit from massive tax giveaways,” she said in a statement.

Secret wrap-up budget motion not dead

Nygren said he expects the finance committee to once again employ a wrap-up, or “999,” budget motion at the close of this year’s budget-crafting process.

“It’s our intent to keep it limited as much as possible,” Nygren said.

Some key lawmakers said last month that in this budget, they were working to block use of the controversial maneuver, deployed in the past to add major policy changes to the state budget at the last minute with little or no public scrutiny. It was what lawmakers used two years ago just before the July 4 weekend to try to drastically limit public access to government records.

Top of Form


Wisconsin Assembly wants to cut $90M from Scott Walker’s school funding increase

Filed under: Legislation,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:19 am

MOLLY BECK Wisconsin State Journal 6/3/2017


The leaders of the state’s budget-writing committee are divided over a school funding plan Assembly lawmakers are considering that includes a $91 million cut to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed $649 million spending bump for public schools.

The split signals another division among Republican legislative leaders on the most significant portions of the state’s next two-year budget.

Tensions have already led to an impasse among both houses and with Walker over the state’s next transportation budget, and Walker’s proposal for the state to self-insure state workers has been rejected by leaders of his own party.

Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said Friday that Assembly Republicans have been drafting a plan for state spending on schools for 2017-19.

The plan would cut Walker’s proposed per-pupil funding increase and target more money to school districts that spend less than most others, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo prepared for Nygren and obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal.

Walker’s 2017-19 budget calls for an increase of $649 million for school districts on a per-student basis. The Assembly proposal would provide $90.8 million less for that funding source.

The Assembly also adds $92.2 million more in revenue limit authority for school districts that spend less than most others and adds $30 million more for the state’s general funding mechanism for schools than what Walker has proposed.

“It’s not a firm proposal. It’s a work in progress,” Nygren said. “I think the concept of it is something we generally support — to put more of our resources toward schools that have actually been held back over the years.”

But Senate Republicans oppose the idea.

“We are sticking with the governor’s (proposed per-pupil increase). That is non-negotiable,” said Senate Education Committee chairman and Joint Finance Committee member, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon.

Olsen said Senate Republicans are not crafting their own K-12 spending plan.

Budget committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also said she will not support the Assembly’s proposal.

Darling said the $649 million increase that Walker has been crisscrossing the state for months to promote will be tough to change.

Multiple state funding sources

In Wisconsin, school districts receive the largest amount of their state funding through a general fund that distributes money through a formula that gives more to districts with more students with challenges, including those who live in poverty. Districts also receive money from several funding streams including through a certain amount per pupil, currently set at $250 per student.

Walker’s plan increases the amount of money schools get per student by $200 in the 2017-18 school year and by another $204 in the 2018-19 school year. Public school officials and advocates have widely supported the idea.

“Because of that positive support of that funding … (school districts) are not going to be happy if that is changed,” Darling said.

Darling and Olsen said they agree with the Assembly’s concept to give more money to low-revenue districts.

Lawmakers say such districts have been “locked in” at their low spending levels for decades because state lawmakers in 1993 imposed caps on how much districts can spend — a limit that is based upon enrollment changes, an inflationary increment, and each district’s revenue from the prior years, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

The Assembly’s proposal would increase the per-student amount by $150 in the 2017-18 school year and by $200 in the 2018-19 school year.

“The way the governor proposed it (the per-student increase) went to everybody, so I guess the differences comes down to if you believe there has been an inequity in the state over the last 24 years that the formula has been in place,” Nygren said. “At some point you have to fix it.”

Darling said she agrees that districts spending less than others because of state-imposed revenue limits set decades ago should be allowed to raise more revenue, but said that goal would likely require new money to accomplish. Walker has said he would veto any state budget plan that increases the tax burden on Wisconsin residents.

“I give them credit for looking at how to get money into the lower-spending districts and I agree with the strategy but I mentioned to them, usually you need new money,” Darling said. “Taking money away from other districts is usually a big issue. That will be a very tough call for most in our (Senate) caucus.”

The Assembly proposal also puts $30 million more than what Walker proposed in the state’s general funding formula.

Tom Evenson, spokesman for Walker, said the governor will review the proposal but is “committed to fully funding public education while enacting reforms that lead to continued property tax relief.”


June 11, 2015

Lawmakers deal MPS deathblow

Filed under: MPS Takeover,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:21 pm

HALL MONITOR — Lawmakers deal MPS deathblow

By Jay Bullock June 1, 2015 Bayview Compass
See blog at:

After Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee finished its late-night work on education funding last month, I posted this line from Shakespeare to Facebook, spoken by Romeo’s friend Mercutio, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.”

Mercutio has just been stabbed and he staggers offstage to die a few lines later.

It was, I thought, the only fitting response to the committee’s votes—and here I do not exaggerate—to bankrupt the Milwaukee Public Schools if its plan works as designed.

The JFC’s education policy hacks and slashes at MPS and public schools around the state, via a massive expansion of statewide private school vouchers, tight limits on how MPS deals with empty (or partly empty) school buildings, and even meddling in how some school boards are constituted.

But the deathblow is a plan to take schools from MPS and give them—buildings, contents, and students (but not the teachers!)—to voucher school operators or charter school programs. The plan would take up to three schools a year in the first two years, and up to five schools a year after that.

It’s the loss of funds from those students that will do the real damage. All of us in MPS, from Superintendent Darienne Driver to folks like me in classrooms, know that it won’t take much of a fiscal hit to send us into a spiral of default and dissolution. Driver who told a local TV program that MPS wouldn’t survive this plan.

Bay View resident and citywide MPS school board representative Terry Falk told me, “We can’t lose 20 schools and survive. Can we lose five schools? I don’t know.”

Like any longstanding organization such as General Motors or Ford, Falk suggested, MPS has legacy retiree-costs that make it uncompetitive with upstarts. Think Toyota or Volkswagen. When foreign automakers opened U.S. plants 20 or 30 years ago, Falk said, their cars could be made more cheaply because they didn’t have decades of retirees to support. The same is true for MPS when compared to new voucher or charter schools.

MPS enrolled 100,000 or more students for many years and had enough teachers to educate all of them. At that time, the district encouraged those teachers to retire early by offering a supplemental pension and retiree health insurance.
“People ask, ‘Why were you so foolish?,’” said Falk, who was an MPS teacher back in those heady days of high enrollment. “Actuarially, it was the correct decision.”

In other words, the district’s bean counters said it was cheaper to pay low salaries for young teachers than to pay high salaries for veteran teachers, including the retirement costs. With today’s high insurance premiums, that sounds crazy now, but a couple of decades ago it was not that expensive to provide insurance to retirees.

“It was an economic incentive for the district for teachers to retire at 55,” Falk said. However, MPS is still supporting many of those teachers, and it needs to plan budgets with funding for retirements among the current staff.
Today MPS enrolls around 80,000 students, its population reduced by students who are enrolled in voucher schools, charter schools, inter-district schools through open enrollment, and other programs that take students out of MPS’s traditional public schools. The lower the district’s enrollment, the greater the share of per-pupil funding that must go to those legacy costs. That means fewer funds for the schools, yet currents students still need to be taught.
“If we had 100,000 kids today, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Falk said.

But we don’t, and that is a problem.

Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum issued a 2012 report about changes MPS enacted after the state’s Act 10 legislation gave districts power to impose change without negotiating with its unions. “We cut long-term costs from $2.6 billion to $1.4 billion,” Falk said of those changes. “I didn’t like it,” he added, “but a brand new teacher in MPS in the last couple of years gets no retiree health benefits and has to teach until at least 60.”

There’s also no supplemental pension, and all of us, new or not, pay more out of pocket for our state pension and skimpier health insurance coverage.

Still, PPF levied this dire warning: “The significant decline in enrollment has made balancing the district’s budget very difficult.” Falling enrollment, they said, “paints a bleak picture for fiscal solvency.”

So how much more can enrollment drop before MPS has to default on payments or even declare bankruptcy? I didn’t get a firm number from anyone. Public Policy Forum’s president Rob Henken cautioned me that “such an analysis would be extremely difficult to do” because there are a lot of variables and moving parts involved in setting MPS’s budget.
Falk couldn’t give a sure number, either, but he offered a guess. “We’re only talking about a few thousand students. That might make the difference,” he said.

If the first three schools handed off to outside operators are large high schools—and low-performing high schools are a constant challenge here—it might take just one year to send the MPS budget into default. If they’re smaller elementary or K-8 schools, it might take a few years to hit that mark.

There are other considerations, such as how much the state or the city will care about the situation. If MPS is facing insolvency, would the city assume some or all of its legacy costs? Would the state increase the district’s revenue limit to stave off disaster?

And, if not, what then? What of the tens of thousands of students in MPS’s remaining schools when the district, like Mercutio, is peppered for this world?

I just don’t know. But it looks like we may find out, and soon.

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle and High School and tweets as @folkbum. Email him at

Wisconsin Rapids Principal Schools Legislature on Qualified Teaching

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teaching,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:02 pm

Education: An endeavor to help build better lives

By Matt Renwick June 6, 2015
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.

I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and now a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it takes at least three years of classroom experience beyond completed college experience for a teacher to become very good at his or her work. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and during student teaching is essential. It is also only the beginning. Teaching truly is a profession that one learns as one does it, and the learning never ends.

Recently, I observed a teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or to form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.

But that bystander would have no idea why. With a highly trained eye, here is what I saw:
■The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally and visually.
■The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically sound (How many people without a degree in education could accurately define “pedagogy”?).
■She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to guide her instruction and ensure that all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
■Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to 10 minutes of lost instruction.
■Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
■A clear segue between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.

This is only a snippet of the positive work I saw in her classroom and shared with her later that day. At our post-observation conference, I asked her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept,” she said. Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?

Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that appears regularly in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy-makers who somehow saw sanity in a decision they had no business addressing.

Attaining a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those who attempted to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set up public schools for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Education is more than just a job — it is a powerful endeavor to help build better lives.

Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids.


Voucher Leader Jim Bender Once Again Exemplifies Double Standard

Filed under: Vouchers,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:52 am

In today’s MJS article on pushback to attacks on public education, Jim Bender a leader of School Choice Wisconsin (# 1 voucher industry organization in Wisconsin), said that superintendents statewide are “lobbying using state and local resources.” (See article at

This is the same voucher industry that has filled the halls of the Wisconsin state capital with bus loads of students to lobby for public funds to go to private schools. This was done on school days during school hours.

If Jim Bender really cared about educating all children, he would cut his ties with tea party politicians, the American Federation for Children and the Koch brothers. He would fight for more resources for public schools and demand real accountability.

June 4, 2015

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids

Filed under: Education Policy,Vouchers,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 9:13 am

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids
By Mary Young, Special to
Published June 3, 2015
Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa was formed in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed public education cuts.

For years, many of we suburban moms and dads have viewed the voucher school versus public school funding debate from the outside looking in.

After all, in Wauwatosa, none of our leaders ran on a platform to siphon money away from Wauwatosa public schools and instead route it to private schools. Our Wauwatosa schools are some of the best in the state – and the nation – so it seemed impossible that our leaders would try to “fix” something that isn’t broken.

We still cannot believe what actually happened.

Despite the clear call from thousands of parents statewide – 3,000 from Wauwatosa alone – to fully-fund our public schools and remove policy items from the budget, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) did the exact opposite.

On May 20, 2015, the JFC voted on education spending for the 2015-2017 biennium. After the vote, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), a JFC member, said the JFC went “above and beyond restoring funds to K-12 education.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Sen. Vukmir and her JFC colleagues – including Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who also represents Wauwatosa – reneged on their promises to support public education:

The JFC claims to have restored Gov. Walker’s $127 million cut in public school funding. This is not true. Much of this funding will pay for an expansion of the state’s funding of private and religious schools, siphoning away money from our kids’ classrooms.

The JFC also increased per-pupil payments for charter and voucher schools. This, too, will reduce general aid to public schools – and even merely “restoring” Gov. Walker’s cut to public education would have meant a decrease, once inflation is taken into account.

The JFC inserted a provision requiring public school districts to allow charter, voucher and home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities sponsored by the public schools – at the expense of the public school districts.

Based on applications received, 2,613 more students will be eligible for the statewide voucher program in 2015-16. Of those students, 81 percent already attend private schools.

The JFC also increased the enrollment cap on the statewide voucher program in 2016-17. The cap will increase annually for 10 years, when it will be eliminated entirely.

If enacted, the JFC’s actions will result in an overall reduction of $600 million to $800 million in state support to public education – and represents a $600 to $800 million increase in taxpayer funding for private schools.

Over the last several months, Wauwatosa parents have joined parents across Wisconsin – Republicans, Democrats and independents – to oppose Gov. Walker’s proposed cuts to public education. We formed Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa, knocked on doors, forwarded thousands of letters, made telephone calls, sent e-mails and attended legislative hearings inside and outside of our city, all in support of our public schools.

Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Kooyenga repeatedly assured SOS Wauwatosa that public school funding would not be cut and that the JFC’s work would “surpass our expectations.” They have broken their promises. After telling us that “public schools are our top priority,” they have shown that they favor private schools. No legislator in any party ran for election on such a platform. But these public officials are creating a system that prioritizes private schools over public schools.

A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed that 78% of Wisconsinites support full funding for our public schools. Yet, for the first time ever, per-pupil funding for public education in Wisconsin will be below the national average. Wisconsin’s legislators are not listening.

National media outlets are taking notice, with the Washington Post asking, “What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?” They ask – and we ask – because it doesn’t benefit our kids, schools or parents.

Wisconsin created its charter and voucher programs to address perceived failings in some of Milwaukee’s public schools. Whether true or not, this perception does not justify expanding the charter and voucher programs and depriving high-achieving public schools of their funding.

Studies consistently show that businesses prefer to locate where educational achievement is high. Wisconsin’s public schools are some of the country’s highest-achieving schools and provide state businesses with high-quality workers. Underfunding public schools, which educate the vast majority of the state’s residents, will damage Wisconsin’s ability to compete with other states.

Our children are our future. They deserve the quality of public education for which Wisconsin has always been known. No matter how good private schools are, they do not represent Wauwatosa – or Wausau, Eau Claire or Lake Mills. Our public schools are the bedrock of Wisconsin’s communities, and weakening our public schools will weaken our communities.

In the short term, SOS Wauwatosa and other parents’ groups across the state will advocate for changes in the JFC’s budget proposals. In the long term, we will continue our fight for adequate funding for public schools beyond the 2015-17 biennium. We are sending an “SOS” to all parents to urge legislators to do what is right for our kids, our schools and our communities.

SOS Wauwatosa commits to remaining an active, permanent nonpartisan community organization that will educate and engage the public in decisions that affect our public schools.

Response: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Op-ed

MPS is changing the status quo
By Larry Miller June 3, 2015 MJS Op-ed

Charles J. Szafir’s May 31 opinion piece contains a glaring factual error that undercuts his entire piece — and it repeats the often-used but false claim that Milwaukee Public Schools leaders believe the “status quo” is acceptable (“At MPS, the status quo is unacceptable,” Crossroads). Both claims are just plain wrong. A clear reading of the piece also calls into question the credibility of a recovery district plan that does not include some of the city’s lowest-performing schools.

First, Szafir falsely tied an analysis showing low test results in reading among schools whose students are mostly African-American and low-income to MPS when it in fact represents results from voucher and charter schools as well, as PolitiFact Wisconsin has noted.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a closer look at data for such schools, it found that seven of the 10 lowest-performing schools in the group were, in fact, voucher schools. Of the five lowest-performing schools — schools where no students were proficient in reading — three are voucher schools.

If Szafir and his allies in the state Legislature are concerned about improving all of the low-performing schools in Milwaukee, why doesn’t their plan address low-performing voucher schools, as those schools have results that are the same or worse than those in MPS’ lowest-performing schools?

Put another way: Why is the status quo at voucher schools apparently acceptable to them?

Milwaukee Public Schools is already implementing its plans to accelerate student achievement growth, and the district is seeing early signs of success, a fact that Szafir failed to note. Specifically:
■MPS’ Commitment Schools effort to transform underperforming schools is accelerating reading and math achievement enough to narrow achievement gaps in most grades K-8.
■MPS’ GE Foundation Schools are seeing similar gains.
■MPS’ 5-in-1 collaboration at Carver Academy is improving school climate and academic outcomes.
■MPS’ work with Milwaukee Succeeds on a foundational reading pilot is seeing some encouraging early results.
■MPS’ four-year graduation rate is up slightly to 60.9% and five- and six-year rates (68.7% and 72.9%, respectively) show that significant numbers of MPS students are willing to take additional time, if necessary, to graduate.
■MPS’ eight strategic objectives — created with input from students, staff and the community — are in place to further accelerate improvement.

Szafir also plays fast and loose with facts about MPS buildings. He falsely claims that Bradley Tech High School is “operating well below capacity,” when its 2014-’15 enrollment of 889 puts it at about 95% of its capacity of 931 as identified in the district’s facilities master plan. He made a point of identifying the number of buildings his organization considers underutilized while failing to note that by his organization’s own standards, MPS has substantially more buildings that are at 100% capacity or above than are underutilized.

MPS has utilized buildings strategically to expand successful schools with waiting lists — such as Golda Meir School and Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School — and it will continue to do so, which helps address the overcapacity issue identified above.

Of the remaining MPS school buildings not currently in use, four already have been specifically identified as sites for expansion of sought-after programs, including international baccalaureate education, language immersion and a charter school. Another nine have been declared surplus by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors and transferred to the city for redevelopment. Yet another is being redeveloped into housing.

The efforts MPS is undertaking to improve outcomes for students may not have the “flash” of plans to strip local control of schools, to transfer public buildings to private entities or to fire teachers en masse. But they are far from the “status quo” and they have the benefit of being strongly rooted in what has worked and is working to improve achievement for students in Milwaukee.

Larry Miller is vice president of the Milwaukee School Board.

May 21, 2015

Madison Legislature: Thieves in the Night

Filed under: Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 1:33 pm

School Administrator’s Alliance May 20, 2015 Statement

Joint Finance Committee Votes to Underfund Public Schools

Committee action puts Wisconsin on a clear path to fall below the national average in per-pupil spending for the first time ever

MADISON — In the middle of the night, long after most parents went to bed, GOP members of the Joint Finance Committee passed, on a 12-4 party line vote, an education spending motion that undermines our tradition of strong public education and puts Wisconsin on a clear path to fall below the national average in per-pupil spending for the first time ever. The 30-page motion, which includes 51 separate school-related provisions, was put together behind closed doors with no public scrutiny, and Republican committee members presented it just one hour before the committee took it up.

Even after its passing, many items included in the motion are not well understood. Despite this, it is clear that the motion puts ideology ahead of evidence by siphoning millions of dollars away from public school students to spend on private voucher schools, which research suggests do not improve student achievement and lack meaningful accountability to the public. Although vouchers produce large political contributions from out-of-state interest groups, they do not produce better educational opportunities for children. We cannot afford to make political hay with educational policies that are both ineffective and expensive.

“This must have felt like Christmas morning for Wisconsin advocates for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers,” said John Forester, director of government relations for the School Administrators Alliance (SAA). “They got to unwrap a wide-open statewide voucher expansion and a brand new special needs voucher program. Clearly, this is the best education budget that millions of dollars in largely out-of-state political contributions can buy. And it didn’t seem to bother majority Republicans one bit that this voucher expansion will drive up local property taxes.”

The committee voted to restore Governor Walker’s proposed $150 per-pupil cut in the first year of the biennium, resulting in a first-year revenue freeze for public schools. The committee then added a very modest $100 in per-pupil revenues for the second year of the budget. At the same time, the committee’s vote to dramatically expand taxpayer-subsidized school vouchers and deduct aid from public schools to pay for it, will leave public schools with a first year cut and significantly reduce the effect of the second-year increase. Wisconsin school districts needed an inflationary increase in revenues to meet the needs of students. What they got will diminish educational opportunities for the students they serve.

“The actions by some members of the Joint Finance Committee in advancing budget provisions that dramatically undermine the future educational opportunities of Wisconsin school children are unconscionable,” said Forester. “The success of our state over the generations has been linked to the
quality of our public education system. Last week, we learned that our state was expected, for the first time, to fall below the national average in terms of per-pupil spending. The action late last night from members of the Joint Finance Committee exacerbates that trend. It’s an embarrassment for the state of Wisconsin and a monumental disservice to our public school students and parents.”

The Joint Finance Committee vote comes after months of advocacy from parents across the state in support of their public schools, efforts these groups have said will continue.

“The success we have in public education in this state is a reflection of the generations of work by Democrats and Republicans in support of our public schools,” said Forester. “Wisconsin parents are joining educators and community leaders in saying loud and clear: ‘We will not stand by while elected leaders dismantle public education in our state.’”

It is unfortunate that the education policies in this budget plan are clearly based on ideology and political expediency rather than evidence. If our objective is to improve student achievement for all Wisconsin children and close achievement gaps, research indicates that we should address the impact of poverty on student learning, invest in early learning opportunities for impoverished children and focus on the recruitment, retention and preparation of high-quality teachers and school leaders.

Unfortunately, the majority’s policy prescriptions — continued under-funding of public schools, dramatic expansion in school privatization, dismantling Wisconsin’s nationally recognized school accountability system, weakening standards for teacher preparation and adding a high-stakes civics test — simply will not move the needle for kids.

“In the days and weeks to come, we will work with pro-education legislators of both parties, parents and community leaders in the fight to restore Wisconsin’s tradition of sound investment in and support for its public schools and public school students,” said Forester. “Budgets are about choices. They are about priorities. It’s clear that the 860,000 public school students in Wisconsin are not a priority in this budget.”

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