Action by WEAC members leads to withdrawal of proposal that threatened teacher rights

Due to the efforts of WEAC members, a proposal to seriously threaten teacher rights won’t move forward, the state education agency announced Thursday. Thousands of WEAC members answered the call to action to provide testimony on proposed changes, which included the licensure system as well as sweeping revisions to teacher discipline procedures. While WEAC collaborated on the system changes to support the goal of easing the teacher shortage, our members determined the discipline changes would push professionals away from teaching.

“WEAC members stood up in huge numbers to get involved,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “Teachers want to partner on sound solutions to easing the teacher shortage, and this particular proposal would not have achieved that.”

South Central Wisconsin teacher Lauren Thompson, who provided testimony, thanked the DPI for listening to teachers, saying, “As an early career educator, these changes could have seriously changed my outlook on the profession. I appreciate that you took my testimony, and the testimony of teachers across the state, seriously enough to pull the changes.”

In response to the outpouring of concern from teachers like Lauren, the DPI has sent an email to WEAC, saying:

“In response to feedback from WEAC, other organizations, and the public, the department will be removing the proposed changes to PI 34 regarding professional misconduct. In its place, the department will use the current license investigation, denial, and revocation process contained in PI 34.35.”

President Martin called the announcement an example of how the union can improve the day-to-day lives of educators. “We couldn’t have achieved this without collective action. Nobody else would have brought this issue to our attention and organized educators to action,” he said. “From holding a tele-town hall for WEAC members to understand the issue, to soliciting nearly 1,000 pieces of testimony, our union made a difference.”

This is only one example of union victory when educators work together. After WEAC united to oppose a plan to end Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave, the head of a Senate committee last week indicated he won’t move ahead with the bill this session. And, a misguided proposal introduced under the guise of “protecting teachers” appears to have stalled after we stood together in opposition.

To join WEAC in our efforts for students, educators and public schools, go to www.weac.org/join.


Teacher Licensing Revisions: Need to Know

What won’t move forward: A complete overhaul of disciplinary procedures that created vague rules for teacher discipline including “boundary violations,” suspensions and revocations.

What will move forward: The portion of changes that relate to the licensure system will move forward. These changes were crafted with input from education stakeholders, including WEAC, and represent collaboration between education groups. WEAC has secured agreement from the DPI that all current license holders would have the choice to be grandfathered or convert to the new system. The proposal would:

  • Create four tiers of licensure to simplify and clarify ambiguity.
  • Create out-of-state license reciprocity.
  • Accept National Board Certification as an acceptable indicator to qualify for licensure.
  • Provide license reciprocity for speech and language pathologists/audiologists with clinical licenses, a logical step to address the educator shortage. This proposed change further illustrates that the Educator Effectiveness matrix does not fit every educator license category.
  • Provide for internships and residencies, effective methods to address the teacher shortage. The proposed changes reflect current statewide practice.
  • Increase flexibility around testing requirements for preservice educators to focus on core teaching methods.
  • Expand grade levels one can teach.
  • Create broad field licenses in science, music, ELA and social studies.
  • Allow school districts to endorse candidates for a teacher license. WEAC has achieved assurances from the DPI to ensure that the DPI or a higher education institution with a DPI-approved teacher preparation program would be involved with any license issuance, so the quality of education isn’t diminished for students.

Legislative Update – February 15 – Bill that severely threatens student privacy up for a vote on Tuesday

AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote next Tuesday. The bill, introduced by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Read this column by teacher Andy Waity, president of Madison Teachers Inc.

Welfare Overhaul. The Assembly took up the special session welfare overhaul package on the floor this afternoon. All 10 of the bills have cleared a Senate committee as of this week. Juvenile corrections were also up for a joint public hearing. A rundown of other bills in the mix is below. Find details on all here: All the Bills We’re Watching.

The Assembly is also set to vote today on the following bills:

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577 would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

AB-872 Career and Tech Ed Grants (Loudenbeck, Amy) Career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils and making an appropriation.

AB-804 Merit Scholarships (August, Tyler) Merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students and making an appropriation.

The Assembly is set to vote Tuesday, February 20, on the following bills:

AB-215 Nutrition Education (Petryk, Warren) Education about nutrition.

AB-564 Robotics League Grants (Neylon, Adam) Robotics league participation grants.

AB-569 School Reports (Kitchens, Joel) Publication of school and school district accountability reports.

AB-745 Apprenticeship Participation (Quinn, Romaine) Participation in an apprenticeship program by a high school senior and granting rule-making authority.

AB-808 Apprenticeship Grants (Jacque, Andre) Grants to technical college students for apprenticeships expenses and making an appropriation.

Committee votes next week:

Thiesfeldt Teacher Bill. AB-693 will be up for an Assembly committee vote. The bill severely threatens student privacy under the guise of protecting teachers. So far, there’s no companion bill, and WEAC continues to monitor. Take Action Now!

4K Pilot Program. The Assembly Children and Families Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday, February 21, on AB-797, a Department of Children and Families pilot project to expand 4-year-old kindergarten programs. The Senate Education Committee has passed the companion bill, SB-663.

Passed by Assembly

AB-805 College Credit in High School (Kooyenga, Dale) Excluding certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. Am. 1 to Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Sub. 2 adopted, (Voice Vote).  Passed, (Voice Vote).  Messaged.  

AB-835 Sparsity Aid (Nygren, John) Sparsity aid, the revenue limit ceiling for school districts, and making an appropriation. Am. 3 adopted, (Voice Vote). Passed, 90-3.  Messaged

Passed by Senate Education Committee

AB-221 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Kremer, Jesse) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

SB-105 Pupil Instruction Pilot Program (Olsen, Luther) Creating a pilot program under which certain school districts are not required to provide a minimum number of hours of direct pupil instruction. Passage failed recommendation, 3-4.  

Passed by the Assembly Education Committee:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Earlier this week:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

Updates on important issues:

WI FMLA. We shared last week that the Senate Labor Chair is indicating in emails that he has no intention of moving ahead with a bill to eviscerate WI FMLA. WEAC has been on-the-job since October activating members, and you can keep the pressure up by using our Action Alert. We’ve had about 500 action-takers to date, and almost 50 of them have also sent a note to Senator Steve Nass to let him know we’re watching now that he’s committed NOT to advance the bill this session.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

 

98.3 percent of Wisconsin communities provide free 4K

From the Department of Public Instruction

With the addition of three public school districts offering 4-year-old kindergarten (4K) to children and their families for the 2017-18 school year, Wisconsin now has 98.3 percent of communities that provide free public education to 4-year-olds.

The three new districts — Ashland, Brighton #1, and Hudson — will receive 4K start-up grants to offset the lag in funding related to how students are counted for state aid purposes. The grants are authorized to provide $3,000 per student in the first year of a new 4K program and $1,500 per student in the second year. Funding is estimated to be prorated to about $1,400 per student at the end of the first year of 4K for these new districts and estimated at the full statutory allocation ($1,500) at the end of the second year. For the 2017-18 school year, 404 public school districts are offering 4K to 48,905 students, an increase of 141 students from last year’s unaudited figures.

“Research is clear that young children develop important skills and gain a foundation for future learning through 4-year-old kindergarten programs,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Quality 4K offers rich experiences, including play-based learning that helps kids learn to work cooperatively and get along as well as expanding academic knowledge. This truly sets the stage for future success.”

Both Ashland and Hudson are using a community approach to provide services to children and their families. The community approach brings together local leaders representing business, schools, child care, Head Start, recreation, and parent education to develop programs that meet community needs.

Quality 4K programs, whether offered publicly or privately, have some common characteristics. They include highly trained teachers who have expertise in early childhood education, small class sizes, and a program that provides rich learning experiences and time for child-directed exploration. Public 4K programs are encouraged to follow the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which are aligned with the academic standards students will encounter as they progress through public schools in the state.

In addition to 4K in public schools and various community approach settings, many 4-year-olds attend state-supported 4K through independent charter and private voucher schools. All 17 independent charter schools in Racine and Milwaukee that serve elementary students offer 4K programs, enrolling 697 students for the 2017-18 school year. For the state’s three private school choice programs, 100 schools offer 4K in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program, enrolling 1,964 students; 12 schools offer 4K in the Racine Parental Choice Program, enrolling 192 students; and 69 schools offer 4K in the Wisconsin Parental Choice program, enrolling 248 students.

For state aid purposes, 4K students are counted as 0.5 or 0.6 FTE (full time equivalent), depending on the services the schools provide. Under state law, 4K programs must offer at least 437 hours of direct pupil instruction. Outreach activities totaling 87.5 hours, such as child-parent activities, home visits, or parent education, may be a part of the scheduled hours for the 0.5 FTE student count or in addition to the 437 hours for the 0.6 FTE count.

Legislative Update – February 14 – Assembly OKs rural schools bill

After lengthy debate, the Assembly passed a bill 91-2 to help rural schools. The two members voting against the bill were Reps. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. An amendment allows districts with a failed referendum to present another one to voters. If successful, they would then qualify. This provision in the bill, even with the added amendment, received sharp criticism from Democrats. Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, the ranking member of the Assembly Education Committee, voted for the bill, but said she was still troubled over its retroactive provision. “Now that the majority party has finally decided to take meaningful action in funding education, they want to punish districts who did what they had to do just to survive,” Pope said. Here’s more about the bill, from a recent WEAC Legislative Update:

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists continue to do their thing at the Capitol, looking for more ways to siphon funding meant for the majority of Wisconsin kids who attend public schools. In fact, SPECIAL NEEDS VOUCHERS ARE SET TO TRIPLE NEXT YEAR.

This week:

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee approved AB 851 / SB 711, which requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

Career and Tech Ed Grants. The Joint Finance Committee meets Tuesday to take up AB-872 / SB-746, which establishes career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils.

Workers Comp Changes. The Senate Labor Committee meets Wednesday to take up SB 665, with changes to the worker’s compensation law.

See All the Bills We’re Watching

Participate in the Working People’s Day of Action February 24 in Madison!

Around the country, workers are taking a stand against the continued assault on the rights of working people! Join the Working People’s Day of Action, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Saturday, February 24, 2018, at the State Street side of the Capitol Square in Madison.

AFSCME Wisconsin invites you to stand with your union colleagues, fellow workers and advocates to show all those who have taken away the rights of working people that they will be held accountable.

Speakers at the rally will address the power workers have to demand fair treatment, the proud history of labor, and the Janus vs AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court case. Arguments in that case will be heard before the high court two days after the rally.

Open the Day of Action flier.

‘Janus’ case is not just an attack on unions, it is an attack on racial minorities

In this column, published by The Daily Beast, journalist Barrett Holmes Pitner says unions have consistently provided a pathway into the middle class for American minorities. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules this year in favor of the Janus case, it will undermine unions and severely impact the ability of minorities in particular to achieve fair wages and benefits.

“Championing unions formed an integral part of the civil rights movement in 1960s,” writes Pitner, a politics and race-and-culture journalist, and an adjunct professor in the department of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders linked social justice to the strength of labor unions to provide minorities with employment opportunities and a livable wage. Public-sector jobs have historically provided employment opportunities for African Americans before the private sector did, and the employment opportunities created within them provided the black community with job opportunities that never existed before.

“These unions also brought new protections to valued professionals within the black community, notably teachers. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond, teaching was especially important, given that white educators simply wouldn’t teach black children in many parts of the country. Many of our best and brightest have flocked to this profession.”

Read the entire column by Pitner:

Unions Helped Integrate America. The Supreme Court Could End That This Year.

This month the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that threatens to severely weaken the collective bargaining power of America’s unions. This is not a column about the merits and demerits of public-employee unions.

Legislative Update – February 9 – FMLA bill ‘won’t move forward’

Senator Steve Nass, chairman of the Senate committee weighing a bill to end the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act, said he has “no intention of moving this bill forward in the remaining days of this session.” Nass made the statement in response to WEAC’s Save Wisconsin FMLA emails, showing that our collective action makes a difference. Don’t stop now! SHARE OUR ACTION ALERT WITH OTHERS WHO HAVEN’T EMAILED YET.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) amended Senate Bill 690 before unanimously passing it Thursday. The amendment allows for nine school districts that would have been frozen under the proposal the ability to go to advisory referendum to use the low revenue ceiling increase. If the referendum passes, districts could raise the local levy using the low revenue ceiling adjustment. If the referendum fails, a new three-year freeze wouldn’t be enacted but the district would still have to wait the three years since the operational referendum failed to use the low revenue ceiling. The Assembly Education Committee has already passed companion bill AB 835, so the next stop for this one is in the full Senate and Assembly. Here are the details of the bill:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A bill to begin gifted and talented education savings accounts (AKA vouchers) was pulled before a committee vote this week, as an amendment was introduced to require repayments to the state in cases of fraud, but it’s back on the legislative track now. The bill would allow any type of school to define “gifted and talented” without oversight, and as is the nature of privatization, collect public money.  The bill is SB 725 / AB 830, the nation’s first attempt at vouchers for gifted and talented children. The measure would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four. Read national praise for this idea from privatizers at The 74.

Tax proposal. A one-time $100 per child tax credit, regardless of income, refunded by check in July and a sales tax holiday the first weekend of August for purchases under $100 are moving ahead. The governor is publicizing his agreement with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The bill will likely be introduced and sent to committee next week.  Senator Scott Fitzgerald said his caucus will talk about the proposal, but noted that the sales tax holiday was removed from the budget last year. Assembly GOP leaders, who worked with Walker on the plan, said it would cost $172 million. That includes $122 million for the per-child credit and an estimated $50 million for the sales tax holiday.

Circulating for co-sponsorship:

Supplemental Sparsity Aid. LRB-5382 would provide supplemental sparsity aid for school districts with high property valuation and making an appropriation. Read the memo.

Teacher Grant Program. LRB-5386  would create a grant program for teachers employed by sparsely populated school districts and requiring the exercise of rule-making authority. Read the memo.

Higher Ed Scholarships. LRB-5387 would award academic excellence higher education scholarships to pupils of public and tribal high schools with enrollments of at least 20 but fewer than 80 pupils. Read the memo.

BILLS WE ARE WATCHING

Public hearings Wednesday:

Usurp local control on workplace standards. The Assembly Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday on AB 748 / SB 634. The bill preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. The bill has passed the Senate Committee on Labor.

Dual Enrollment. The Assembly Education Committee will hold its public hearing on AB 851. The bill requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022. The Senate version, SB 711, received a public hearing Tuesday.

Ready for votes:

Firearm Possession at School. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.

County jailers and the WRS. AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act, is ready to be scheduled for an Assembly vote. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development will vote Tuesday on AB 872, which would create an incentive grant program for school districts that provide training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Drug abuse awareness, prevention in school. SB 767 lists requirements for counselors and specialists to be certified, and also goes beyond current law to require school boards to incorporate drug abuse awareness and prevention in health instructional programs.

Passed through committee:

Career and Tech Ed Grants. An Assembly committee unanimously passed AB-872, which would provide career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils. The Senate version, SB-746, is up for a public hearing Thursday.  Read the fiscal estimate.

Votes scheduled:

Merit scholarships. The Senate Government Operations, Technology & Consumer Protection Committee will vote Thursday on SB-700, which would provide merit scholarships for certain University of Wisconsin System students.

Bill circulating for co-sponsorship:

Local Minimum Wage. LRB-4544 would allow for the enactment of local minimum wage ordinances. Currently, in Wisconsin, local units of government are preempted by state statute from establishing a local minimum wage. Wisconsin’s minimum has stayed stagnant since 2009 at $7.25 an hour. Twenty five percent of Wisconsinites are working low wage jobs that pay less than $11.56 per hour which, even working full time, cannot keep a family of four out of poverty. Read the memo.

LRB-2581 Memo DOA Duties (Vinehout, Kathleen) The duties and function of the Department of Administration, the Department of Revenue, and the Office of the State Treasurer and making appropriations. Deadline: Friday, February 16, 3 pm

Public hearings held Tuesday:

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4KSB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. The Senate Universities & Tech College Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday on SB 444 / AB 540, which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, along with two Wisconsin Technical College System Board appointments.

Other updates:

LEGISLATIVE AUDIT BUREAU RELEASES UW SYSTEM AUDIT. The Legislative Audit Bureau has released an audit of the UW System. According to the audit, LAB “have reported concerns related to information technology (IT) security policies, procedures, and controls at UW System since the early 1990s. Such weaknesses increase the risk that unauthorized or erroneous transactions could be processed or changes could be made to accounting, payroll, and student data. We continued to identify weaknesses and reported these weaknesses as a significant deficiency in internal control in our Independent Auditor’s Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting and on Compliance and Other Matters.”

Examination finds ‘significant concerns’ over Education Savings Accounts

From the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice

In recent years, efforts to expand school choice programs across the U.S. have grown rapidly. Since the introduction of the first school voucher program in Milwaukee in 1990, public funding of private and religious schools has gained traction and there are 30 states now offering vouchers or voucher-like programs.

School choice advocates have begun introducing a new form of private school choice funding: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Parents who take their children out of public schools can use ESA programs to fund their children’s private or religious school education. In states that offer ESA programs, parents can also use the funds for education-related expenses, including: online courses, private tutoring, transportation, and much more.

A new policy brief published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) examines the emergence of ESA policies and makes recommendations for policy makers who are considering adopting or expanding these programs. The policy brief, The State of Education Savings Account Programs in the United States, found significant concerns with ESA programs and a stunning lack of research evidence to support ongoing calls for continued expansion.

Available research and evaluations of ESA policies remains severely lacking. This gap is critical in light of the fact that ESA programs are being expanded at a rapid pace. Since 2016, 13 states have introduced ESAs. New Hampshire is the latest state to adopt these policies.

Authors of the report urge policy makers to pause the adoption or expansion of ESA programs until more guidelines are in place that ensure accountability and transparency. NEPC produced the report with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Why You Should Care

Proponents of ESAs argue these programs provide parents with more choice, flexibility and freedom to design their child’s education, especially if they are dissatisfied with public school options. Against this backdrop, it is likely ESAs will continue to expand across the country.

That’s why it is critical for state and federal policy makers and education leaders to examine ESA policies and put accountability measures in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and transparently, and that every child has access to a quality education.

CORE MESSAGES

  • According to the authors of the brief (Jimenez-CastellanosMathis, & Welner), policy makers should be wary of the adoption or expansion of ESA policies.
    • ESA programs are a new type of private school funding that diverts much-needed funding away from public schools and redirect it to parents who enroll their children in private or religious schools and supplemental programs.
    • Parents receive taxpayer dollars that would have been used towards their child’s public school education, which then can be used at their discretion towards private or religious school tuition and fees, online courses, tutoring and other services.
    • Current ESA policies contain no requirements regarding curriculum or teacher qualifications.
  • Policy makers lack the evidence-based to support the adoption or expansion of ESA programs.
    • Existing research on other conventional school voucher programs point to a number of problems, including: lower student performance, less accountability, reduced access and increased segregation.
    • Authors of the policy brief found that ESAs appear to be an end run around state constitutional prohibitions against using public funds to support religious activities.
  • Considering the potential adverse effects and lack of evidence-based research on ESA programs, state policy makers need to take a step back on ESA programs, and ensure the implications of such programs are fully considered before enacting them into law.
    • State policy makers and education leaders in states with existing ESA programs or those considering adopting an ESA program should develop comprehensive evaluation systems that determine the impact of ESA programs on students, families, schools, districts and states.
    • Policy makers need to make sure guidelines are in place that ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and transparently, and that students inside and outside of such programs are receiving quality and equitable educational opportunities.

Find the brief on the Great Lakes Center website:

http://www.greatlakescenter.org

Legislative Update – February 2

BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION ON SCHOOL FUNDING HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING IN MILWAUKEE

A school funding commission created by the Legislature met Friday, February 2, in Milwaukee, with invited testimony from Milwaukee Public Schools, the Southeast Wisconsin Schools Alliance and a voucher lobbyist group. The hearing was one of a handful planned around the state to inform the next biennium budget.

Senator Luther Olsen opened the meeting, repeating his stance that making changes to school funding requires money in order to make sure there aren’t schools that win and other schools that lose. Olsen said school districts need to be held harmless in any proposal or there will never be enough support in the Legislature to pass it.

Highlights of the Milwaukee Public Schools testimony included support for mental health needs, transportation needs and literacy issues. The Alliance highlighted issues affecting schools, including declining enrollment and the need for local control of school start dates. The voucher lobby said funding should have a “mobility function.”

Public education advocates prepared to speak out around the hearings said one concern stands out across our communities: inequity. “All children have a right to a quality public education, but parents do not feel that their public schools are receiving adequate resources from the state,” said Ingrid Walker-Henry, co-chair of Schools and Communities United in Milwaukee, pointing out that this concern is tied directly to the strain of private school funding schemes on public school funds. “For over 25 years, Milwaukee has been home to a private voucher school experiment. Parents have grave concerns about the millions of public dollars being siphoned to private, unaccountable school operators who are not performing better than our public schools. We hope that legislators on the committee will hear Milwaukee parents’ calls for adequate and equitable funding and for all publicly funded schools to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our public schools.”

This week in the Legislature:

Common School Funds. A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 713 / AB 857. The bill would eliminate the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running.

  • In a nutshell, the requirement that schools spend Common School Fund monies on instructional materials, library books or school library computers/software would be eliminated under this bill, and any items purchased would no longer have to be located in the school library.
  • Since the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would no longer make loans, the interest from those loans – which now goes into the Common School Fund – would be gone. Over the past 10 years, the loan program invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin, and the interest earnings are a key source of revenue for the Common School Fund.
  • The bill would for the first time allow SWIB to invest state trust fund dollars using their typical investment strategy, instead of only investing in fixed accounts. It’s estimated if this approach were active during the financial crash of 2008, a loss up to $290 million would have occurred and school libraries would have been left in the dark.

Low Revenue Ceiling and Sparsity Aid. The Assembly Education Committee passed AB 835, a bill to help rural schools. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he has said he supports the provisions now. The bill addresses two areas:

  • Low Revenue Ceiling: Would increase the low revenue ceiling from $9,100 to $9,400 in 2019. The bill also would increase the low revenue ceiling by $100 each school year, beginning in 2020, until the ceiling reaches $9,800 in 2023. Districts with failed operating referendums in the prior three years would not be eligible. Of the 107 school districts that would be eligible under this bill, nine had failed referenda. The DPI estimates the statewide cost of this bill to be a maximum of $21.8 million in 2019, depending on whether nine additional school districts going to referendum this spring are successful.
  • Sparsity Aid: This would, beginning in 2019, increase the sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400. Under the bill, the appropriation for sparsity aid would be increased by $6.5 million in 2019.

Annual School Reports. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB569, which requires the Department of Public Instruction to publish its annual school and school district accountability report by November 30, rather than in September. This bill also changes the date by which DPI must determine whether a school is placed in the school takeover program to November 30 instead of October 15. The Senate has already passed the companion bill, SB-494.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost in some districts. The Assembly Education Committee held a public hearing on AB 803. In this bill, expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum are excluded from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, under the bill, a negative tertiary school district will not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill protects some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approve capital projects. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.

Grants to schools for public safety training. The Assembly Committee on Workforce Development held a hearing on AB 872, which creates an incentive grant program for school districts that provide
training for certain public safety occupations and provides completion awards for students who complete those programs. The Assembly committee is set to vote on the measure Tuesday and the companion bill, SB 746, is set for a Senate committee vote on Thursday.

Pupil Exam InformationAB-300 / SB 222 was passed out of the Assembly and Senate education committees. The bill requires school boards beginning next school year to annually provide information about mandatory pupil examinations to parents and guardians.

Tech grants for apprenticeship training programs. AB 808 was passed by an Assembly committee. The Senate Workforce Development Committee held a public hearing on companion bill SB 682, which creates a grant program under which the Technical College System Board may award grants of up to $1,000 to technical college students who have undertaken an apprenticeship training program in conjunction with their course of instruction at the technical college. These grants may be awarded only to assist students in paying materials expenses associated with the apprenticeship training program, including costs of purchasing tools, clothing, equipment, and supplies. The TCS Board must establish an application process and criteria for awarding these grants, which criteria must consider the financial need and anticipated or actual expenses of the applicant. The TCS Board may award grants totaling up to $50,000 per academic year.

Gifted and talented vouchers. A fiscal estimate was received for the latest voucher scam, AB830 / SB725. The bill claims to help low-income parents get services for their gifted and talented children, but instead it expands the amount of tax dollars spent on private schools – at the expense of the 90 percent of children who attend public schools. Senator Alberta Darling is proposing the measure, which would pay private school tuition and expenses for 2,000 families who meet requirements set forth. The program would provide $1,000 for each “gifted and talented” student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four.

Robotics league participation grants. Representative Kooyenga was added as a co-author of AB564/SB483, which expands eligibility for robotics grants to include sixth- through eighth-grade teams.

Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday

The following bills will receive public hearings:

Dual Enrollment. SB 711 requires the University of Wisconsin System to award grants to school districts, independent charter schools and voucher schools to support dual enrollment programs taught in high schools. Under the bill, grants are awarded to assist high school teachers in meeting the minimal qualifications necessary to teach dual enrollment courses. The grants would end after June 30, 2022.

College Credit in High SchoolSB 677 / AB-805 would exclude certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. The bill was approved by the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee this week.

Expanding 4K. SB 663 would allow the Department of Children and Families, as a pilot project, to award grants to organizations, including school boards, with existing four-year-old kindergarten programs for the purpose of expanding those programs.

Repealing rules around large-area supplemental aid. SB 685 / AB 477 would repeal the administrative rules promulgated by the Department of Public Instruction to administer a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles and incorporates the repealed provisions into current law. The bill also changes, from enrollment to membership, the terminology used to refer to the number of pupils counted to determine the school district’s eligibility to receive the supplemental aid.

County jailers and the WRS. The Assembly is set to vote on AB 676 / SB 577, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act. While the bill would likely not have a cost impact on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, there is insufficient knowledge as to whether this bill would increase or decrease county costs. Fiscal estimate

Senate Judiciary And Public Safety meets Tuesday

Firearm Possession at School. The committee will vote on AB-496, regarding suspending and expelling a pupil for possession of a firearm at school. Its companion bill, SB-402, has passed out of committee.

The so-called ‘Teacher Protect Act’ would ‘supersize the school-to-prison pipeline’ while failing to provide resources to create safety, legislators told

Concerned Wisconsinites gathered at the State Capitol Thursday for a press event followed by a public hearing on AB693, known as the “Teacher Protection Act,” to express their concerns about the proposal’s effects on vulnerable Wisconsin students.

While everyone agrees that teachers and students deserve a safe environment for teaching and learning, the “Teacher Protection Act” offers no new resources or ideas for bringing safety through improved relationships and behavior, according to two organizations leading the charge against the bill – Wisconsin Family Ties and Disability Rights Wisconsin. Instead, they said, the bill would increase the likelihood of students being punished for behaviors that are often a direct result of disability or trauma, and would result in a detrimental increase in contact between schools and law enforcement.

WEAC also believes the bill misses mark on teacher protection. WEAC is not supporting the proposed legislation, and instead is offering – from the educators’ perspective – protections that would make a difference in our classrooms and schools. Read more about this bill.

At their press conference, the two advocacy groups said that, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity, Wisconsin is already seventh in the nation for referral-rate of students to law enforcement, and third in the nation when it comes to referring students with disabilities. AB693 would mandate that if a victim or adult witness of a “physical assault” at school asked their principal to refer the student to law enforcement, the principal would be required to do so.

Here is more from Wisconsin Family Ties and Disability Rights Wisconsin:

Nikki Weigel from Wisconsin Dells knows about inappropriate law enforcement referrals first-hand. When her son Caleb, who has brain damage and anxiety as well as being on the autism spectrum, had a meltdown incident at school at age 9, he was handcuffed and put into a squad car. After an ensuing meltdown at home, she says, “He had learned so well that adults define him as a ‘bad boy,’ that he pulled out a pair of play handcuffs and tried to handcuff himself behind his own back. Then he grabbed a toy gun and tried to shoot himself, thinking he deserved to die, all for disability-related behavior he could not yet control. We need to find a better way, because this is not the answer.”

When Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond Du Lac) introduced the measure, he cited a 2016 story called “Blood on the Blackboard” that highlighted various incidents in which injuries to teachers were poorly handled by their districts. Among the interviewees was Shana Schloemer, a counselor from West Bend, who spoke about the issues that can be created by poverty and other trauma experienced by students.

When Shana heard about the story being used in context of the “Teacher Protection Act,” she says, “I was truly horrified to think I had contributed to this legislation in any way! I had no idea that my words would be used to justify the further criminalization of students. All I wanted to do was bring a perspective of how wounded these children can be.”

In addition to increasing contact between schools and law enforcement, AB693 would also allow teachers to seek to suspend a student through a school board hearing process, if their administrator chose not to issue a suspension. Suspensions are widely-recognized as ineffective for changing behavior or teaching social/emotional skills. In addition, Wisconsin suspends students with disabilities at three times the rate of students without disabilities, while students with emotional/behavioral disability are suspended at eleven times the rate of their non-disabled peers.

According to Nicki Vander Meulen of the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, “As a school board member, I can’t imagine that any school board would want to be forced to hold hearings and be increasing suspension rates by overturning their principals’ decisions. We are already suspending students with disabilities at disproportionate rates. These are the students who are most likely to be harmed by any increased emphasis on suspensions.”

Ken Taylor, Executive Director of Kids Forward, believes the actions promoted by this bill would do little to protect teachers, and would instead make it harder for students to achieve their full academic potential, particularly youth of color.

“Current data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows that compared to white students, American Indian students are three times as likely to be suspended, Latino students are over twice as likely to be suspended, and African-American students are nearly nine times as likely to be suspended. While reasons for those disparities are complex, one powerful driver is the subjectivity of adults. Students of color are punished more severely than their white peers for similar behavior. This bill would only increase disparities, keeping more kids of color out of classroom and making it harder for them to succeed,” he said.

The participants in the press conference called upon the Legislature to reject AB693 and to instead prioritize creating well-resourced, supportive conditions for teaching, learning, and true overall safety. One increasingly-evident path to greater support for vulnerable students would be to increase special education categorical aid, which has not received a funding increase in a full decade.

Wisconsin Family Ties, Wisconsin’s family voice for children’s mental health, is a parent-run nonprofit organization serving families that include children with social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges. 

Disability Rights Wisconsin is the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy system for the State of Wisconsin.

Watch Thursday morning’s news conference: