ALEC conference continues group’s focus on undermining public schools, Rep. Chris Taylor says

State Representative Chris Taylor

State Representative Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Madison, just got back from another American Legislative Exchange Council conference, and concluded: “The issue of the moment for ALEC is public education — that is, undermining it.”

It’s unusual for a Democrat to attend an ALEC conference, but Taylor has been doing so for years, “to see for myself how this right-wing group crafts model legislation to advance the interests of its corporate and ideological funders,” she writes in a Progressive Magazine column.

“ALEC members are foaming at the mouth for the now-endless opportunities to further privatize public schools, long a central goal,” she writes, noting that the keynote speaker was U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who focused her remarks on expanding school privatization efforts.

Taylor concludes:

“For ALEC, it is all about tearing down our public-school infrastructure so corporate privatization efforts can move in and make a buck.

“What you never hear at ALEC is any discussion about improving public education. There is never a mention of smaller class sizes, community schools, or recruiting and retaining a diverse pool of the best and brightest teachers.”

Read her entire column in The Progressive:

ALEC’s Attack on Public Education: A Report from the Frontlines

I arrived earlier this month to the forty-fourth annual conference of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Denver to the best possible greeting-scores of protesters marching around the host hotel. Yellow tape and police barricades blocked all visible entrances. I joined the protesters for a while before I ducked under some yellow tape and entered the hotel.

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NAACP calls for elimination of for-profit charter schools

In a highly anticipated report, the NAACP Wednesday called for elimination of for-profit charter schools and more equitable funding for all schools serving students of color.

“No federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies,” the organization says in its report titled Quality Education for All: One School at a Time. “The widespread findings of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools demand the elimination of these schools. Moreover, allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest.”

The Task Force also recommends:

  • More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color. Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. The United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. Resources are highly unequal across states, across districts, and across schools, and they have declined in many communities over the last decade. In 36 states, public school funding has not yet returned to pre-2008 levels – before the great recession, and in many states, inner city schools have experienced the deepest cuts. Federal funds have also declined in real dollar terms for both Title I and for special education expenditures over the last decade.
  • School finance reform. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs. States should undertake the kinds of weighted student formula reforms that Massachusetts and California have pursued, and the federal government should fully enforce the funding-equity provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Investing in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap. Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared, caring adults. Participants in every hearing stressed the importance of the type of classroom investments that have consistently been shown to raise student achievement. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in:
    • (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators,
    • (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and
    • (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.
  • Mandate a rigorous authoring and renewal process for charters. One way that states and districts can maintain accountability for charter schools is through their regulation of the organizations that authorize charter schools. States with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes. To do this, states should allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.

Read more at educationvotes.org:

NAACP seeks to ban for-profit charter schools and increase local control – Education Votes

Tell lawmakers it’s time for tougher standards and more oversight and accountability for charter schools. Click here › The NAACP, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights groups, released a major report on charter schools today.

Read more at politico.com:

NAACP report finds ‘wide range of problems’ with charter schools

NAACP REPORT FINDS ‘WIDE RANGE OF PROBLEMS’ WITH CHARTER SCHOOLS: After calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion last year, the NAACP today is releasing a highly anticipated report that calls for the elimination of for-profit charter school operators.

Legislative Update – July 27

WEAC Legislative Update

An Assembly bill (AB-452) referred to the education committee would terminate Wisconsin’s voucher program, including special needs vouchers, and repeal the achievement gap reduction program. Instead, the bill calls for expanding the student achievement guarantee program (SAGE).

Foxconn and the budget

The Foxconn deal was unveiled Wednesday by the U.S. president and Wisconsin governor. Wisconsin Dems urged caution, demanding that the corporation adhere to promises it makes about the number and quality of jobs and workplace safety. Here are the brass tacks about the tax credits totaling up to $3 billion over 15 years, provided by the WI Economic Development Corp.

  • The Foxconn investment is the state’s largest economic development project.
  • The factory floor area will be 20 million square feet.
  • The average salary will be $53,875 plus benefits.
  • The project requires an estimated $10 billion of capital investment to construct the facility.
  • Of the $10 billion, $5.7 billion will be sourced from Wisconsin businesses.
  • The project is estimated to include 13,000 jobs directly at Foxconn and 22,000 indirect and induced jobs.
  • The project is estimated to generate $181 million in state and local tax revenues annually, including $60 million in local property taxes.
  • Foxconn plans to be operational in 2020.
  • There will be a memorandum of understanding that will outline terms of the incentives based on expected job creation and capital investment.
  • The contract will contain clawbacks that will require the company to pay back tax credits if the jobs and investment are not kept in Wisconsin.
  • The Tax Incremental Financing District tools available to the municipality where this is located will be expanded to ensure the capital available for local infrastructure.

A special session will be called to pass an incentive package.  The WEDC document says:

  • Tax incentives will be tied to actual performance.
  • Foxconn will be eligible to earn incentives based on its actual job creation and capital investment.
  • Foxconn will be eligible for a sales tax holiday for the purchase of construction materials.
  • Incentives are projected to cost between $200 million and $250 million a year.
  • Once fully staffed, Foxconn’s payroll will be estimated at $700 million a year.
  • The maximum amount of credits Foxconn will be eligible to earn is $3 billion over 15 years:
    • Up to $1.5 billion in state income tax credits for job creation.
    • Up to $1.35 billion in state income tax credits for capital investment.
    • Up to $150 million for the sales and use tax exemption (sales tax holiday).

Public schools, taxpayers would pay greater share of voucher costs under new state budget plan

Legislative Update – July 26

Taxpayers would see the price tag for school vouchers triple under the Senate budget plan, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has discovered. Senate Democrats called out the proposed shift of the costs of the unaccountable voucher program onto local taxpayers.

For the Racine and statewide school choice programs in the 2015-17 biennium, state aid to public schools was reduced by $43.1 million. Under the Senate Republican plan for the 2017-19 biennium, aid is estimated to be reduced by $120.3 million, nearly three times the amount over the last budget. But according to the Department of Public Instruction, districts are given a non-recurring revenue limit exemption, allowing them to make up the aid reductions through a combination of property taxes and school aid. In part, that’s caused by the Senate proposal to increase the income limits for receiving a taxpayer-funded private school tuition subsidy. Under their plan, families at 220 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify – including far more students than those in poverty.

Under Governor Scott Walker’s education budget, vouchers would siphon $101.5 million from public schools. Neither option is best for Wisconsin students, WEAC President Ron Martin said. Instead, that funding should be restored to the public schools serving all children, no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.

School districts would pay for large share of vouchers under plan, fiscal bureau says

A budget plan proposed by Senate Republicans would increase funding for the state’s three main private school voucher programs by nearly $60 million over the next two years, according to an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau made public on Tuesday.

Legislative Update – July 25

A provision in the Senate Republicans’ budget plan announced last week has public school advocates sounding the alarm on how it would harm districts in areas of the state with low property values.

As we reported in the July 18 WEAC Legislative Update, referendum restrictions included in the Senate GOP plan would exclude from ‘shared cost’ any amount levied by a district in a prior year for either operating or debt service costs that were authorized by a referendum if doing so would not increase the district’s equalization aid entitlement. That means that districts with low property wealth wouldn’t see any state equalized aid increases if they pass a referendum for additional spending.

The Department of Public Instruction has created this map showing in green the districts that would potentially be adversely impacted by this provision.

Guns and Schools

The Assembly Education Committee is holding a public hearing on AB427, requiring a firearm education curriculum be established for high schools to offer as an elective course.

The Budget and Foxconn

According to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, reported by the Wall Street JournalFoxconn will be making an announcement on Thursday that the corporation will choose Wisconsin for a production center. The potential of the international company coming to Wisconsin has fueled budget speculation over the past few weeks, including the deadlock on transportation funding. Read related Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

Insiders are watching to see what kind of deal the state makes with the corporation, as they say there have been instances in other cases of corporate tax breaks and investments only for the firm to fall short on its end of the deal. And, while the jobs and infrastructure that may come could benefit one part of the state, northern rural communities may wonder if the tax breaks are helping them at all, if in fact the firm does open a center in the state. That all remains to be seen.

Voucher Expansion

When it comes to education, nothing’s a done deal in the long-overdue budget debate. While the Assembly has its own ideas, and the Senate Republicans introduced their own plan last week. The Joint Finance Committee does not plan any meetings this week. The bottom line is this: GOP lawmakers want to expand voucher eligibility, but disagree on how much.

Comparison of Three Different Education Budgets

As part of those negotiations, the Assembly and the Senate have each put forth their own version of an education budget. The Wisconsin Budget Project has released a summary highlighting the major areas of difference in the two budget proposals, and comparing them to the Governor’s proposal. The summary also includes notes on the reaction of education advocates to various provisions in the different versions of the budget. Read summary here: Competing Proposals for Wisconsin’s Schools: A Comparison of Three Different Education Budgets.

Legislative Update – July 20

Latest in the Legislature
More on the Senate Republicans’ budget proposal unveiled earlier this week has been unpacked, including provisions that would impact voucher schools. Reactions are everywhere, with Democrats telling the GOP to “get it together,” while the governor says “we’re a lot closer than we think.” In fact, by Thursday afternoon, Assembly Republican leaders said they will accept the governor’s offer to redirect $203.5 million in income tax cuts he had proposed, using funds instead to fund transportation in the budget.

Additionally, the Senate proposal does not include the governor’s idea to move to lifetime licenses for teachers and administrators (page 487, #16), but instead calls on the DPI to ease the process in a few ways. By January 1, 2018, the DPI would have to submit a rule revising PI 34. The new rule must maintain a high standard of quality for teachers and simplify the licensure system as much as practicable, including the following: (a) simplify the grade levels licensees can teach and adopt broadfield subject licenses; (b) enable school districts to increase the number of teachers by offering internships and residency opportunities; (c) simplify out-of-state licensure reciprocity; and (d) expand pathways for existing licensees to fill high needs or shortage areas. The State Superintendent would also be required, by rule, to create a permit that allows a person enrolled in an educator preparation program to work in a school district as part of an internship, residency program, or equivalent program.

The Senate proposal also increases the score needed on a civics exam to graduate and changes parameters of Teach for America grants to increase funding and shift responsibility to the Department of Workforce Development, among other things (page 643).

By the Issue
More Campus Speech Legislation.
AB 440 would create requirements and prohibitions regarding free speech at the University of Wisconsin and technical college systems. The bill declares that it is not the role of a UW institution or technical college to shield individuals from speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The bill imposes requirements throughout both systems, including the campuses are open to any speaker who is invited by students or faculty and that administrators must remain neutral on public policy controversies. It was referred to the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.

Voucher Accountability Bill, Including Requiring Background Checks for First Time, Signed.
SB293 was signed by the governor today. The bill, supported by State Superintendent Tony Evers, expands accountability provisions for voucher schools and makes technical changes. The bill expands the DPI’s authority to remove schools from the program, for the first time requires background checks for voucher school staff, and fixes the special needs voucher funding flaw that unfairly hurt public school students. It also removes the ineffective law allowing voucher schools to monitor their own accountability standard. Current enrollment and income caps are maintained in the bill – although there’s talk that a budget bill may tinker with one or both of them.

Sequanna Taylor of Milwaukee elected to ESP seat on the NEA Board

Sequanna Taylor with WEAC President Ron Martin at the NEA Convention.

WEAC member Sequanna Taylor, from Milwaukee, has been elected to an Education Support Professional At-Large seat on the National Education Association Board. Sequanna, who is president of the Milwaukee Educational Assistants’ Association and sits on the Executive Board of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, was elected by an overwhelming vote of delegates to the NEA Convention in Boston. The Convention concluded over the weekend.

Sequanna is a longtime activist and advocate for public education and specifically for the children in Milwaukee Public Schools. She also serves on the Milwaukee County Board.

A Milwaukee native, she attended South Division High School and has an associate’s degree in criminal justice and bachelor’s degree in human services. She is also a graduate of an eight-month leadership-training program sponsored by Emerge Wisconsin, a national organization active in 14 states that prepares women to run for political office. She also is an active WEAC ESP leader and, nationally, Sequanna networks with ESPs at NEA ESP conferences.

“You get to know ESPs from all over and create relationships for a lifetime,” she said in a recent NEA article. “I like how NEA gears leadership training, education tips, seminars and workshops to the specific needs and responsibilities of ESPs.”

WEAC delegation to the NEA Representative Assembly:

Below is a summary of the Convention, provided by the NEA:

Vigorous debates and discussions over social justice, the dangers posed by the Trump-DeVos education agenda, and ending the proliferation of unaccountable charter schools dominated the 96th NEA Representative Assembly (RA) held July 2 – 5 at the Boston Convention Center. Despite addressing these serious challenges, the spirits of delegates were lifted by emotional presentations from student poets that kicked off each day’s activities and a rapturously received appearance by actor and reading advocate LeVar Burton.

In her keynote address on Day 1, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García didn’t sugarcoat the dire challenges facing public education in the Trump era. But “we can win. We have the power, and they know it,” she said.

Eskelsen García assured the 7,000 delegates that NEA would not try to find common ground with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is pursuing an aggressive school privatization agenda, while refusing to protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination.

“I will not allow the National Education Association to be used by Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos,” Eskelsen García told the delegates to resounding applause. “I do not trust their motives. I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. There will be no photo-op!”

Giving the close of Day 1 the feel of an organizing rally, NEA Executive Director John Stocks celebrated the student advocacy, member solidarity, and recent victories by NEA state affiliates.

“All across the country, you are demonstrating that we have the resolve to fight for what’s right for our students and educators, the resilience to take a hit and bounce back, the audacity to demand respect, and the relentless will to win,” Stocks said. “In school after school, campus after campus, local after local, state after state, it is you who are giving voice to the needs of our students, educators, and public education.”

Day Two turned the spotlight on professional practice and two outstanding educators, 2017 NEA Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year Saul Ramos, and 2017 National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee.

In his speech to the assembly, Ramos, a paraeducator in Worchester, Mass., urged the delegates to live up to the promise of the RA’s theme: “Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Professionals, Successful Students.”

“It is more important than ever for all of us to unite and support public education,” Ramos said. “ESP members, NEA-retired members, teachers, higher education and student members, and parents— we must all stand strong together, and let our elected leaders know what we need as educators to nurture successful students.”

Sydney Chaffee, a humanities teacher at Codman Academy in Boston, recalled her evolution as an educator. Her first year in the classroom was spent figuring out how to maintain control over her students and how they learned, but she quickly realized that empowering her students was more important—and effective—than a tightly controlled classroom.

“All educators should listen to student voices and be architects of ‘school communities,’” Chaffee told the assembly. “Let’s keep our ears and hearts open to our students’ brilliance, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Let’s envision education as a time machine that helps our students travel to worlds we have only imagined—ones that are built on ideals of justice and equity and collaboration.”

One of the indisputable highlights of the 2017 RA for the delegates was the appearance of LeVar Burton, this year’s recipient of NEA’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award. In his speech, Burton, host of the long-running PBS children’s series, “Reading Rainbow,” fired on all cylinders, taking down Betsy DeVos, saluting the impact his mother (a teacher) had on his life, and passionately calling for adequate funding of public education and greater respect for educators.

“I believe that what you have to offer is essential to this nation,” Burton said. “And our desire to lead the world in any meaningful manner depends on you…Without you, we go nowhere.”

On Day 3, delegates overwhelmingly approved a new policy statement in response to the rapid expansion of unaccountable, privately managed charter schools.

“We oppose any charter schools that do not meet the criteria because they fall short of our nation’s responsibility to provide great public schools for every student in America,” said NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, who led the 21-member task force charged with writing the new policy statement.

The statement draws a sharp new line between charter schools that have a positive effect on public education and those unaccountable, privately managed charter schools that hurt public schools and students. NEA will forcefully support state and local efforts to limit charter growth and increase charter accountability, and slow the diversion of resources from neighborhood public schools to charters.

As always, RA delegates got down to important business of electing NEA leaders. President Eskelsen García, Vice President Pringle and Secretary Treasurer Moss were all re-elected to serve another three-year term, which they will begin on September 1.

Also re-elected was California educator George Sheridan, who has served on the nine-member NEA Executive Committee since 2014. The committee, which consists of three executive officers and six members elected at-large by the Representative Assembly, is responsible for general policy and interests of NEA and acts for the NEA Board of Directors in between its four regularly scheduled meetings each year.

The Executive Committee will have a new face starting September 1, as former Oregon Education Association President Johanna “Hanna” Vaandering was elected to a first term.

“I am honored and thrilled to have this role to advocate for great public schools now at a national level,” said Vaandering. “I am committed to continuing my efforts in ensuring great public schools for all students, fighting for the rights of each and every educator, and advocating for stable and adequate school funding for schools across our country.”

Eau Claire School Board passes resolutions opposing referendum restrictions and supporting voucher transparency

The Eau Claire Area School Board, under the leadership of WEAC member and School Board President Chris Hambuch-Boyle, has passed resolutions asking state legislators and the governor to oppose measures that would restrict the ability of school boards to raise money through referendums and to support the Wisconsin Voucher Taxpayer Transparency Bill.

The referendum resolution notes that due to state-imposed revenue limits, school districts often must rely on referendums to “stay viable.”  The proposed referendum restrictions would disproportionately affect declining-enrollment districts and poorer districts, especially rural districts, the school board says.

“Many of these districts have come to rely on periodic referenda to maintain programming and, in some cases, to continue to exist,” it notes.

It asks legislators and the governor “to oppose these pieces of legislation that would further curtail the already very limited set of revenue options available to Wisconsin school boards.”

The Eau Claire School Board resolution supporting the Voucher Taxpayer Transparency Bill notes that the measure would require that property tax bills include information about any reductions in state aid resulting in pupils enrolling in the private school voucher programs. It notes that the increase in statewide property taxes due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher program was more than $25 million in 2016-17 and is expected to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19.

Read the Eau Claire School Board resolution on school referendums:

Resolution Opposing Anti Local Control School Referendum Restriction Bills.pdf

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Read the Eau Claire School Board resolution on voucher accountability:

Resolution Support of Voucher Transparency Bill.pdf

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Report says virtual schools need to be improved before expanding

Students in virtual schools are, overall, not performing well, and policymakers should focus on analyzing and improving virtual education before allowing expansion of these schools, according to a new report.

The report by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute is based on in-depth analysis of virtual education in five states, including Wisconsin. It found, for example, that in 2015-16 Wisconsin had 26 virtual schools enrolling 6,424 students, and two-thirds of the virtual schools that were rated received unacceptable performance ratings according to state standards.

The analysis also found that Wisconsin virtual schools had far more students per teacher (31.9 on average) compared with state norms (14.9 students per teacher) and national norms (16.1 students per teacher). Connections Academy reported having 42 students per teacher.

The report concluded that:

  • Policymakers need to slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed. They should prioritize understanding why virtual schools perform poorly under a college- and career-ready accountability system and how their performance can be improved prior to expansion.
  • Policymakers need to create long-term programs to support independent research on and evaluation of virtual and blended schooling.
  • Policymakers need to develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools and new accountability structures for virtual schools, including guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure that virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance. Further policymakers need to assess the contributions of various providers to student achievement, and close virtual schools and programs that do not contribute to student growth.
  • Policymakers need to define certification training and relevant teacher licensure requirements specific to teaching responsibilities in virtual schools, require research-based professional development to promote effective online teaching models, and work with emerging research to develop valid and comprehensive teacher evaluation rubrics that are specific to online teaching.

Read the entire report (the Wisconsin section begins on Page 14):

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Supreme Court ruling a disappointment for voucher school proponents, NEA president says

From the National Education Association

The court’s refusal to rule broadly will surely be a disappointment to school voucher proponents who had sought to use the dispute over playground resurfacing grants to undermine state constitutional protections for public education.

In a narrowly written decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that Missouri could not refuse a playground grant to a church solely due to the fact that the church is a religious institution. In so holding, the court noted that the case involved express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to such a grant, and that the court was not “address[ing] religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.” The court’s refusal to rule broadly will surely be a disappointment to school voucher proponents who had sought to use the dispute over playground resurfacing grants to undermine state constitutional protections for public education.

The 7-2 decision both leaves intact the Missouri constitutional provision at issue in the case insofar as it prohibits state funding of religious actions and leaves undisturbed the similar provisions of 38 other states. These “no aid” provisions were enacted to protect the common schools and have been applied for decades to ensure that resources for those schools were not diverted to private religious institutions. The National Education Association filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that these state constitutional provisions should not be swept aside and that a state’s independent interpretation of their constitutional provisions regarding church-state separation should be respected.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García:

“We applaud the Supreme Court’s refusal to accept the invitation of voucher proponents to issue a broad ruling that could place in jeopardy the ability of states to protect their public education system by refusing to divert public school funding to private religious schools. NEA’s 3 million educators are deeply committed to ensuring every student has opportunity and access to a great public school. Vouchers are a misguided policy that hampers student success by taking funding from public schools to give to private schools.

“State constitutional provisions and decades of precedent protect our public education system from voucher programs. The court’s ruling is a big setback for those who want to push voucher programs that take taxpayer dollars out of public schools to divert them to private religious schools.

“Today’s ruling means that those state constitutional provisions remain as safeguards against such voucher proposals and returns to the legislative branches the question of whether vouchers make any sense given the harm to public education and the serious state constitutional issues such programs raise. Rather than continue the flawed policy of vouchers, let’s focus on what works to provide students with the great public schools they deserve.”