Evers says his ‘transformational budget’ will fund 4-year-old kindergarten for all students and achieve two-thirds state funding of schools

State Superintendent Tony Evers said Wednesday that he will propose a “transformational budget” that provides full funding of 4-year-old kindergarten and achieve the state’s longtime commitment of funding two-thirds the cost of local public schools “without any gimmicks while holding the line on taxes.”

“No more false choices. There’s a better way, and that is the high road,” Evers said in opening remarks at the Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit at Appleton North High School.

“We need to prioritize mental health, we need to shatter the decade-long freeze on special education funding, we need to reform our broken school funding system, and we need to restore and expand crucial student support services,” Evers said.

WEAC President Ron Martin welcomed Evers’ proposals, adding, “Investing in our public schools is essential to building a strong Wisconsin. For the past seven years we have – under the current governor – experienced extreme cuts to our public schools that have hurt our schools and kids while contributing to the low morale of educators. These proposals by State Superintendent Evers begin the process of turning that around.”

Evers reiterated his proposals to increase student mental health funding tenfold, direct unused school safety funds to student mental health services and shatter the decades-long freeze on special education funding by increasing funding 163%.

“Your leadership on this issue has to happen,” he said. “We need this reality.”

Saying that Wisconsin’ school funding formula has been broken for a long time, Evers said that in order to fix it, “it is time to do more than just shuffle the deck chairs, it has to increase opportunities to close those achievement gaps for kids.”

To address the achievement gaps, Evers said his budget proposal will include:

  • Funds to provide full-day 4-year-old kindergarten for all students in Wisconsin.
  • An unprecedented $20 million state investment in expanding and supporting high-quality after-school programs. “We all know our students need many caring, stable adults in their lives to nurture them, to help them be safe and to reach their full potential,” and these after-school programs will be “difference-makers,” especially in rural areas, he said.
  • Increase the low revenue ceilings so all districts – not just a few – can catch up. “There is no reason that in some districts a kid is supported by $18,000 while in another district by $9,600. That is patently unfair.”

In thanking Summer Summit attendees for their work in support of public schools, Evers said, “Advocacy around public schools has never been more important. We can make a huge difference in our kids’ lives. This is the year we can make that happen.”

 

Evers to seek 163% increase in special education funding

State Superintendent Tony Evers said Monday he will seek a 163% increase in special education funding in his next biennial budget request. The request will increase the state reimbursement rate for special education costs from 27% to 60% and free up funding for other programs at the local school district level.

WEAC President Ron Martin applauded Evers’ announcement, saying that years of underfunding of special education has worsened under Scott Walker. “It’s incredibly important at a time when so many children have unique needs that we provide the resources needed so all kids can be successful no matter their learning style or ability,” he said.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Evers’ announcement was welcomed by disability-rights advocates.

“This is just such a welcome investment in our most vulnerable students, and it’s long overdue,” said Joanne Juhnke, policy director for Wisconsin Family Ties.

“We applaud any effort to champion a meaningful increase in special education funding in our state,” Lisa Pugh of the Survival Coalition of Disability Organizations in Wisconsin said in a statement. “The state investment in special education has been flat-funded for a decade, forcing local districts to make up the difference and harming students with disabilities.”

Read more:

Evers to seek unprecedented $600 million more in special education funding

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers will seek an unprecedented increase in school funding for students with disabilities in the 2019-’21 state budget, the latest in a series of announcements by Gov. Scott Walker and his top Democratic challenger as they position themselves as the most education-friendly in advance of the November election.

Special needs voucher program costs taxpayers $5.6 million, reduces aid to public schools, report says

The Wisconsin program that allows children with special needs to attend private schools at taxpayer expense cost the state $5.6 million in “scholarships” in its first two years, and diverted $4.1 million in needed state aid away from 25 local public school districts, according to a new audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau. Milwaukee Public Schools alone lost more than $2.6 million in state aid because of the program.

In addition, an analysis of the report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the report “confirmed what many critics had feared: that it would serve primarily children already in private schools and leave children with the greatest needs to the public schools.”

The report points out that:

  • Only about one-fourth of the 306 students who participated at some point during these two school years had attended a public school in the school year before participating, and most of the remaining students had attended private schools.
  • Approximately three-fourths of participating students lived in the boundaries of Milwaukee Public Schools.
  • In the 2017-18 school year, participating students attended 26 participating private schools and were from 25 resident school districts.
  • The number of participating private schools increased from 24 in the 2016-17 school year to 26 in the 2017-18 school year.
  • In the 2018-19 school year, 84 private schools intend to participate.

Read more:

Special needs vouchers cost Wisconsin public schools $5.6 million in first two years

A Wisconsin program that allows special needs students to attend private schools on taxpayer-funded vouchers cost local public schools almost $5.6 million in state funding over the last two years, including hundreds of districts where no residents participated in the program, according to a new state audit and related documents.

Read the entire audit report:

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DPI announces mental health grants, says much more is needed

Advocacy groups, including the Wisconsin Public Education Network, joined in a news conference calling for increased funding for mental health services in schools.

The Department of Public Instruction on Monday announced a series of new grants totaling $3.2 million for mental health services in schools, but State Superintendent Tony Evers and advocacy groups said much more is needed.

“In a given year, one in five students faces a mental health issue, with more than 80 percent of incidents going untreated,” Evers said. “Those students who do get help, more often than not, receive it through their school. This grant is a good start toward student mental health needs. But, we absolutely must do more to address student mental health so our kids have the support they need to be successful in school and eventually their communities.” 

In a news release DPI said students deal with the same mental health issues as adults, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, and substance abuse. Whether treated or not, these problems can tie into major challenges found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior, and dropping out.

In addition to the grants announced Monday, the DPI budget proposal calls for:

  • $44 million in aid for social workers and mental health staff in schools to address the low ratio of social workers to students.
  • $10 million to fund collaborative grants between schools and hospitals.
  • $5 million in specialized support for mental health training in schools.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy as saying the ratio of social workers to students has been rising since 2012 to a figure “astronomically out of whack compared to national numbers.” In 2012, the ratio was one social worker to 1,050 students.

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

DPI calls for more than $60 million boost for school mental health services

The state Department of Public Instruction on Monday called for more than $60 million in new spending on mental health in Wisconsin schools. The budget proposal calls for: $44 million in aid for social workers and mental health staff in schools to address the low ratio of social workers to students.

‘Local activism around public education may just transform Wisconsin’s political culture’

The Progressive Magazine this summer took a close look at the history of Governor Walker’s attacks on public schools, educators and students. In an article that recounts the devastating impact of the Act 10 law that undermined collective bargaining, as well as deep cuts to state funding of public schools, author Jennifer C. Berkshire finds reason for optimism in a state known for its fighting spirit and strong support for public schools.

“But there is another, more hopeful story to be told about Wisconsin, seven years after Walker officially kicked off his war on labor,” Berkshire writes. “It involves parents and teachers and local grassroots activists coming together to fight for the public schools in their communities. While Walker and the Republicans who control Wisconsin’s legislature got their way in 2011, there is a robust ongoing debate, throughout the state, about the role of public education and who should pay for it.

“Just as in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado, states roiled by teacher and parent uprisings this spring, school funding has emerged as a flashpoint in Wisconsin. In the place where the modern era of scorched-earth-style state politics began, local activism around public education may just transform Wisconsin’s political culture.”

The article includes interviews with Heather DuBois Bourenane of the Wisconsin Public Education Network and Angelina Cruz, president of the Racine Education Association.

Read entire article:

 

Winning Battles on Education

It would be easy to write the story of Wisconsin’s current union landscape as a tragedy. In this version of events, the bomb that Governor Scott Walker and his allies dropped on the state’s public sector unions has worked just as intended: The ranks of the unions have thinned; their coffers are depleted; their influence over the state and its legislative priorities has been reduced to where, in 2017, the state teachers’ union no longer employed a lobbyist at the statehouse.

Democrat Caleb Frostman wins Senate District 1 seat

Caleb Frostman

WEAC-recommended candidate Caleb Frostman won election to Senate District 1 in a special election Tuesday. His victory attracted national attention because Frostman, a Democrat, won in a district that went for Donald Trump by more than 17 points two years ago and for Scott Walker by 23 points in 2014. The district has been held by Republicans for over 40 years. Frostman will replace Republican Frank Lasee who resigned to take a job in the Walker administration. Frostman’s victory reduces the Republican majority in the Senate to 18-15. In recommending Frostman, of Sturgeon Bay, WEAC noted that he:

  • Supports investments in our public schools and technical colleges.
  • Advocates for affordable healthcare and childcare for Wisconsin workers.
  • Is a product of Wisconsin’s public schools and universities.
  • Is former Executive Director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation, with experience in commercial real estate finance.

WEAC-recommended candidate Ann Groves Lloyd of Lodi lost in her bid for the Assembly District 42 seat in the June 12 special election. Because both these were special elections, the seats will be up for election again in November.

Public school supporters call for results at final School Funding Commission hearing

From the Wisconsin Public Education Network

Wisconsin public education supporters united at the Capitol Monday to send a final message to members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, which is holding the last of its statewide tour of public hearings in Madison.

“We have attended every single one of these hearings,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director of Wisconsin Public Education Network. “And we have heard superintendents, board members, parents, and teachers say the same thing from one end of the state to the other: Our system of school funding is not working and is not fair.

“We believe every student in every public school in Wisconsin deserves equal access and equal opportunity to receive an equally excellent public education.  The state is not currently meeting this obligation. To do so, our public school districts and community members have made clear their needs for a funding formula that is predictable, sustainable, transparent, and adequate to meet student needs.”

These advocates called on members of the Blue Ribbon Commission to take what they have heard and use it to develop a comprehensive plan — including policy and budget recommendations, and future legislation — to address the funding inequities in the current system.

“We heard so many unique stories around the state,” DuBois Bourenane said, “but clear patterns emerged. We took careful notes and compiled a summary of the main categories of concerns. The bottom line is that the state is not meeting its moral, legal, or constitutional obligation to our children.”

The bulk of public testimony at Blue Ribbon hearings has revealed five main issues of concern for school leaders and community members:

  1. Revenue limits, which vary widely and do not correspond to financial need, are unfair and widen the gaps between “have” and “have not” districts.
  2. The funding formula is broken, overly complicated, and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It should be overhauled to adequately meet  the most pressing needs of our students (particularly to address poverty, needs of English language learners and students with special needs, mental health issues, and challenges facing rural schools).
  3. Special education funding is inadequate and must be sufficiently restored. Public schools have a mandate to meet the needs of every child, and local communities should not be responsible for paying the lion’s share of these increasing costs.
  4. Wisconsin’s teacher crisis creates tensions within and between districts, and has resulted in winners and losers as many (and especially rural) districts cannot afford to “compete” with others.
  5. The growing costs of privatization and the lack of taxpayer transparency for publicly funded private schools is problematic and costly for urban and rural schools alike.

Commission member Dr. Julie Underwood, the Susan Engeleiter Prof. of Education Law, Policy & Practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hopes the Commission’s findings will lead to a system where children are treated equitably: “We have heard from the public. We have heard from fiscal experts. We have heard from Wisconsin school administrators. The message is clear; we are falling short on our responsibilities to our children. They deserve better.”

“In the 2011 Budget Repair Bill, schools were cut $1.6 billion.  That cut continues to harm Wisconsin’s children today. The few increases to funding that we have had, have come nowhere near making up for the damage done,” Underwood said.

“In spite of Wisconsin’s history of open and transparent public policy making, school finance is not open and transparent,” Underwood added. “Transparency is threatened by a complexity that makes it difficult — if not impossible — to understand certain programs. For example, the school levy credit looks like a funding path for public education, when in fact it is a program for property tax relief. Another example is when local school districts have to levy additional taxes if they want to make up for the funds which are sent to the private schools under the state’s various voucher programs. We need truth in budgeting.”

“Wisconsin schools are facing dire levels of unmet needs for students with mental health and behavioral health challenges,” said Joanne Juhnke, policy director for Wisconsin Family Ties. “Ten years of frozen special education funding is ten years too many, and our staffing ratios for school social workers and counselors and psychologists are sadly inadequate. Wisconsin will continue to struggle to build the kinds of school-based relationships that lift our children up when the funding is stretched this thin.”

Pecatonica School District Superintendent Jill Underly shared these concerns, and said she worries that rural schools are impacted disproportionately by the current system. “I hope that the Blue Ribbon Commission looks at the innate funding inequities that smaller, rural schools in particular face compared to larger more populated school districts with much higher property values that are able to raise revenue without much taxpayer impact,” Underly said.

“Our students deserve the same quality of instruction, facilities, and programming — the same opportunities — that their peers receive in higher populated areas. On the other end of that, I sympathize a bit with the faster growing districts that cannot fully plan for growth and are cash-strapped. I also empathize with Green Bay and Milwaukee that have a lower value per student member but have higher needs like poverty and English language learners.”

Like many others who have testified at public hearings, Madison teacher Andrew Waity said he worries the combined impact of under-resourcing our public schools while expanding private school tuition subsidies stretches resources to the limit.

“The dysfunctional funding system we have creates inequities across our state and puts unnecessary financial strains on local school budgets and taxpayers,” said Waity, President of Madison Teachers, Inc. “This is compounded by policies and budgets on the state level that have cut funding for schools and diverted substantial amounts of money to non-instrumentality charter schools and private school vouchers.”

“People who understand best the challenges facing our schools have spent the past six months sharing their concerns, and have called on the members of this Commission to produce results. We’re here today to let them know we expect them to deliver,” said DuBois Bourenane. “There is no mystery surrounding what our schools need to succeed; the mystery is why we haven’t provided the resources for them to do so.

Watch the Wisconsin Public Education Network news conference:

See more on the Wisconsin Public Education Network Facebook page.

 

Election Watch: WEAC PAC recommends Josh Kaul for Attorney General

The WEAC Political Action Committee is recommending Josh Kaul for Wisconsin Attorney General, and now it’s members’ turn to weigh in on whether they support that. Members can weigh in using WEAC’s online feedback form. The deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 13.

More Election News:

Friday filing deadline for gubernatorial candidates. Friday is the filing deadline for gubernatorial candidates, and this weekend is the Democratic Convention in Oshkosh. At the same time, Governor Walker dropped the fourth TV ad of his re-election campaign. He’s getting an extra push from the state GOP, which started a digital ad campaign and website called www.dangerousraceleft.com. The candidates who have met requirements to speak at the Democratic Convention are:

  • State schools Superintendent Tony Evers
  • Attorney Matt Flynn
  • Businessman Andy Gronik
  • State firefighters union President Mahlon Mitchell
  • Activist Mike McCabe
  • Former State Representative Kelda Roys
  • Madison Mayor Paul Soglin
  • State Senator Kathleen Vinehout
  • State Representative Dan Wachs
  • Kenosha attorney and activist Josh Pade

While the big 10 are gearing up, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced he will not run for governor, putting to rest six weeks of public speculation on whether he would make another bid for the governor’s office.

Special elections June 12 in SD 1 and AD 42. WEAC is recommending Caleb Frostman in the former, and Ann Groves Lloyd in the latter.

Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson won’t run again. The longtime justice announced Wednesday she’ll pass on another election bid (but fill out her term). A respected Justice and human being who was appointed in 1976 and then rose to chief justice, Abrahamson reflected the promise of separate and equal branches of government in her decisions – never wavering to corporate influence even as those around her crumbled. Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn, who was appointed to the bench by Governor Scott Walker, has indicated interest, along with Court of Appeals Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer.

Banks looks to replace Young. Milwaukee’s Assembly District 16 is up-for-grabs now that Representative Leon Young announced he’s not seeking re-election, and community organizer Rick Banks has filed to run as a Democrat. Supreme Moore Omokunde, son of U.S. Representative Gwen Moore, is also considering a run. Candidates have until next Monday to turn in signatures.

Brooks backs Kurtz. After Ed Brooks announced he’s not running again in AD 50, he decided to be treasurer for Republican Tony Kurtz’s campaign to replace him.

Related Reading:
Democratic candidates jockeying for position ahead of state convention
Campaign Cash: WMC Brags About Legislative Victories
Kind’s GOP challenger Toft accuses Facebook of censorship
Mike McCabe Turns in 4,000 Nomination Signatures on Birthday
The State of Politics: Six Questions for Democratic Convention
Dems determined to be ready for WI governor nominee
In WI, do too many Democrats want to be governor?
Senator Baldwin’s new ad
Democratic AG candidate Josh Kaul: Department of Justice needs “new leadership”
Western WI voters have Walker’s attention, but does he have their votes?
WI lawmakers got $164K in travel and perks last year from outside groups
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’s payday loan London junket travel buddy’s home raided by FBI
John Nichols: Wisconsin Democrats must go bold
Editorial: A fix-the-roads Republican should mount an anti-Scottholes challenge to Walker

This is an 11.0101(10)(b)(1) communication with WEAC members.

Legislative Update – May 29 – What’s next for the School Funding Commission?

WEAC members for the past half-year spoke up at a series of legislative public hearings about the resources we need to adequately teach our students, and now leaders of the panel holding the forums are talking about what may come next. The final hearing is set Monday, June 4, in Madison.

The co-chairs of the commission say they may address critical issues such as declining enrollment and special education reimbursements. Particularly telling was that Republicans Senator Luther Olsen and Representative Joel Kitchens don’t anticipate they’ll touch school vouchers or open enrollment – both topics they said were in the scope of their work when the commission formed in December.

WEAC President Ron Martin said it was disappointing that the commission may back away from voucher transparency and fixing the damage vouchers cause to neighborhood public schools. Much of the testimony the panel received from public school advocates centered on how private school vouchers take vital funding from neighborhood public schools, without accountability to taxpayers. To make up for lost state aid tied to the voucher system, school districts throughout Wisconsin had to levy an additional $37 million in property taxes in 2017-18, and will have to levy an anticipated $47 million in 2018-19.

The commission also looks like it might not get to the root of adequate school funding so districts can hire and retain qualified educators for the long haul. Instead, one co-chair said we might see bills encouraging retired educators to substitute as a solution to the state’s teacher shortage.

The co-chairs, speaking to Capitol insiders at WisPolitics, said they were looking at changes to the school funding formula but weren’t in agreement what that could look like. Kitchens left the door open to “completely overhauling it,” saying it’s “pretty clear there will be some fundamental changes we will recommend, but the extent of that is up in the air,” while Olsen said he doesn’t see an overhaul on the horizon and instead emphasized the need to provide more funding to declining enrollment districts.

Other items that may be recommended include combined services like grade sharing, more K-8 districts, and consolidation. The governor in 2017 vetoed a provision promoting grade sharing between districts.

Olsen mentioned tweaking components of the equalization aid formula, which most education advocates say doesn’t go far enough. Neither lawmaker embraced going beyond the new plan to boost the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts, saying that was solved with the recent legislation.

While the co-chairs signaled the possibility of recommending an increase in the state’s special education reimbursements, WEAC President Martin noted that a similar proposal did not make it into the last few state budgets and instead only a high-cost special education reimbursement rate received a boost.

It’s uncertain whether recommendations will come forward in the next state budget, as stand-alone bills, or a mixture of both.

Listen to a recording of the interview with Senator Luther Olsen

Listen to a recording of the interview with Representative Joel Kitchens

Next Steps: After the final public hearing June 4, the co-chairs will sit down individually with each of the 16 commission members and representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see what legislation they’d like to come out of the body.

Democrats propose $100 billion for schools and to boost educator salaries while safeguarding bargaining rights

In the wake of teacher unrest throughout the nation, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a plan to direct $100 billion toward public schools and educators’ salaries while safeguarding their right to bargain collectively through their unions on salaries, benefits and working conditions.

Democrats said their plan would be paid for by revisiting the Trump tax cuts for the top 1%. “Instead of allowing millionaires, billionaires and massive corporations to keep their tax breaks and special-interest loopholes, Democrats would invest in teachers and students,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

“That teacher pay has fallen so far behind matters a great deal, and not just to teachers themselves but to all of us,” they said. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García participated in a news conference to announce the plan.

 

 

Read more:

Dems want to scrap tax cut for rich to fund teachers’ raises

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats want to give a big salary bump to teachers and pay for it by canceling the tax cut for the nation’s top 1 percent of earners. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday are expected to propose giving states and school districts $50 billion over a decade for teacher raises and recruitment.

Democrats Just Rolled Out A School Funding Plan To Address Teacher Walkouts

As more and more teachers protest their states’ funding cuts, Democrats in Congress say they have a plan to restore school spending and boost teacher pay. On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, party leaders joined teachers’ union officials to promote a slate of policies aimed at addressing the growing number of teacher walkouts that have shaken up statehouses across the country.

Democrats have a better deal for teachers and our kids, too: Chuck Schumer & Nancy Pelosi

CLOSE Democrats would invest in teacher pay, modern classrooms, special ed and low-income schools, and pay for it all. We’d also protect collective bargaining. For the better part of the 20th century, being a teacher in America meant being a part of the middle class.