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.

‘No-excuses’ charter schools could do more harm than good, analysis finds

“No-excuses” charter schools – which promote strict disciplinary policies, longer school days, and intensive academic tutoring at the expense of the arts and physical education – could do more harm than good, according to a new review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

“While supporters of ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say these practices improve student achievement, they fail to acknowledge the potential negative effects these practices have on students, teachers, and families,” according to the report.

The Think Twice report disputes an earlier report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute claiming that practices found in “no-excuses” charter schools could help close the achievement gap, especially in low-performing schools. Think Twice reviewers Joanne W. Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Chris Torres, an assistant professor of K-12 educational administration at Michigan State University, conclude that the original report had several flaws and should not be used to inform education policy or as a tool to expand “no-excuses” charter schools and policies.

The Think Twice report noted that several studies have demonstrated the “no-excuses” practices can negatively impact a student’s socio-emotional development and later success. “Many ‘no-excuses’ charter schools have harsh, disparate discipline policies that can result in suspensions or expulsions for violations, no matter how small,” it says.

The Think Twice report says:

  • “No-excuses” schools aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to turning around schools; and there is no solid evidence to back up claims that “no-excuses” disciplinary policies are the core reason for these schools’ success.
  • “No-excuses” schools have higher than average teacher turnover rates due to concerns about workload, long hours, and the “no-excuses” model itself.
  • Policymakers, education leaders, and other decision-makers should pause before expanding “no-excuses” schools and polices.
  • Policymakers, educators, and researchers need to work together to address and understand the impact of the “no-excuses” model before expanding it to other charters or even traditional public schools.
  • We need to embrace culturally relevant educational practices that support equitable and fair learning opportunities for all students and ensure students can learn in a safe environment.
  • Educators should focus on all aspects of student growth – including academic and emotional and personal growth – rather than only focusing on academic achievement to measure student success.

Find out more at the Great Lakes Center website.

Vouchers are far worse for student achievement than previously thought, analysis concludes

A new analysis by the Center for American Progress concludes that private school vouchers are more harmful to student achievement than previously thought and that students attending private voucher schools miss out on approximately one-third of a year of classroom learning.

“This analysis builds on a large body of voucher program evaluations in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of which show that students attending participating private schools perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools—especially in math,” according to the summary titled The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers. “A recent, rigorous evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from the U.S. Department of Education reaffirms these findings, reporting that D.C. students attending voucher schools performed significantly worse than they would have in their original public school.”

The report concludes that voucher programs have a more negative impact on students than exposure to violent crime at school, feeling unsafe in school, high teacher turnover, and teacher absenteeism.

It cited the lack of instructional time in voucher schools as a main factor: “The researchers found that private schools offer less instructional time than public schools. On average, private schools offer 65.5 minutes less per week in reading instruction and 48.3 minutes less per week in math instruction. More quality instructional time is linked to higher student achievement. Therefore, with each additional year that students are enrolled in the voucher program, they lose even more instructional time.”

Read more about the study:

The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers – Center for American Progress

How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine. Indeed, according to the analysis conducted by the authors of this report, the use of school vouchers-which provide families with public dollars to spend on private schools-is equivalent to missing out on more than one-third of a year of classroom learning.

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

At request of Janesville Education Association, school board votes to support Voucher Transparency Bill

At the request of the Janesville Education Association, the Janesville School Board this week voted, 9-0, to support the Wisconsin Taxpayer Voucher Transparency Bill. The bill, authored by state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), would require property tax bills to include information from the school district where the property is located regarding the amount of any net reduction in state aid to the district as a result of pupils enrolled in the statewide voucher program, the Racine voucher program, or the Milwaukee voucher program.

The resolution notes that, statewide, property taxes increased by over $25 million in 2016-17 due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher system. The statewide property tax impact is estimated to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19. The Janesville School District was required to levy $187,180 in taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the statewide voucher program for 2017-18, and local taxpayers are not provided with information about their tax dollars being spent on private and voucher schools.

School boards in Eau Claire, Holmen, Stevens Point, Wausau, South Milwaukee, Holmen, Baraboo and Merrill have passed similar resolutions.

Here is the entire resolution:

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Facebook founder’s attempts at school ‘reform’ fail

Privatizing, shutting out educators and parents doesn’t result in success

School “reforms” in New Jersey, funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, failed at providing meaningful change for students, a new review shows.

Read the Review

Reports stating that the so-called “reforms” helped students were called into question by academic reviewers, who cautioned against the New Jersey experiment being replicated anywhere else. Specifically, claims of success were based on reports that omitted important factors for student learning and test score outcomes and utilized crude data supported by isolated, small effect sizes.

Additional factors contributing to the failure in the Zuckerberg experiment included attempts to shut out teachers, parents and communities and expansion of privately run charter schools while shutting down community schools.

The review was commissioned by NEPC with funding from the Great Lakes Center.

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The extremist and ultraconservative views taught at some taxpayer-funded voucher schools

The Huffington Post examines what some evangelical Christian schools – some largely funded with taxpayer money through vouchers – are teaching. It starts with an interview with a former student who attended multiple evangelical Christian schools where she was taught that to dance was to sin, that gay people were child molesters and that mental illness was a function of satanic influence. Teachers at her schools talked about slavery as black immigration, and instructors called environmentalists “hippie witches” and taught that Islam is a violent religion and evolution has “no real scientific basis.”

Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach What They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.

PORTLAND, Ore. ― It was late morning in an artsy cafe, the smell of coffee and baked goods sweetening the air, and Ashley Bishop sat at a table, recalling a time when she was taught that most of secular American society was worthy of contempt.

Charter schools contribute to segregation, lack accountability and are failing students, new studies find

Charter schools contribute to segregation, lack accountability and are failing students, according to two new studies out this week.

In one study, the Network for Public Education calls charter schools a “fiscal and educational disaster.”

“Charter schools can and have closed at will, leaving families stranded. Profiteers with no educational expertise have seized the opportunity to open charter schools and use those schools for self-enrichment. States with weak charter laws encourage nepotism, profiteering by politicians, and worse,” according to the NPE report titled Charters and Consequences. (Read summary at EducationVotes.org.)

The 48-page report details the consequences of loosely regulated charter policy and the effects that charters are having on public schools. Whatever the benefits charter schools offers to the few, the overall negative consequences must be addressed, stated the report.

In the second study, the Associated Press says charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated — “an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools.”

AP says its analysis of charter schools in 42 states found that charters promote “extreme racial isolation.” As of school year 2014-2015, AP says, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.

AP quotes Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney, as saying: “Desegregation works. Nothing else does. There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

Read the EducationVotes.org summary of the NPE study:

Charter school experiment has “failed,” concludes national investigation – Education Votes

The charter school industry’s unregulated, taxpayer-funded business model of education is a “fiscal and educational disaster,” concluded a report that is the result of investigations, visits and interviews over the course of a year. Get the latest information on the issues that matter to students, educators, and public schools.

 

Read the Associated Press analysis:

US charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Charter schools are among the nation’s most segregated, an Associated Press analysis finds – an outcome at odds, critics say, with their goal of offering a better alternative to failing traditional public schools. National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation.

 

Email your Members of Congress and tell them to VOTE NO on the GOP leadership’s disastrous tax plan!

Senate tax plan hands huge tax giveaways to the rich paid for by students and working families

Funding for 250,000 education jobs at risk if Congress eliminates state and local tax deduction

Click Here to Take Action!

Over the weekend, the Senate approved along party lines a massive tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for by students and working families. In addition to adding $1.5 trillion to the national deficit, the Senate voted to partially repeal the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which would leave 13 million Americans uninsured and result in drastic spikes in insurance premiums for millions more. The bill also expands an education tax loophole that would further benefit the wealthy and allow them to set aside money for private school expenses—essentially a voucher program for wealthy families.

Also, as the Washington Post reported, the bill could jeopardize the ability of states and local communities to adequately fund public education, potentially risking state funding for hundreds of thousands of education jobs. The Senate approved the measure even as the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in a new report titled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” found that public investment in K-12 schools has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.

“Hypocrisy is at the heart of the tax bill approved by Senate Republicans,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It reveals the ill-conceived and misguided priorities of Republican leaders in Washington. Instead of providing tax cuts to those who need it most — the middle class and working families — their plan hands massive tax giveaways to corporate special interests and the wealthy. Expanding education tax loopholes in order for wealthy families to stash away money for private school will hurt neighborhood public schools and students.”

Eskelsen García said the Senate bill will:

  • Eliminate the state and local deductions for working people but keep it for wealthy corporations. Millions of hard working people will see their taxes increase.
  • Take away health care coverage for 13 million Americans and cause premiums to spike for millions more.
  • Possibly trigger $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare in 2018 alone.

“In the end,” she said, “this disastrous bill will push crushing debt and tax increases onto the middle class while Medicare, Medicaid, and education will take the brunt of the cuts.”

“Public schools have not fully recovered from the Great Recession. Now, by eliminating the state and local tax deduction, the Senate just voted to blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education, potentially risking the jobs of hundreds of thousands of educators, exposing public school students to serious and potentially damaging consequences — ballooning class sizes and overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention,” Eskelsen García said.

“It is outrageous to hand massive tax giveaways for the wealthy and corporate special interests paid for by students and working families. This is a terrible bill for the American people and we need more courage from members of Congress to stop this runaway train.”

Voucher schools lack accountability and put students with disabilities at risk, federal study finds

Private schools funded through the taxpayer-financed voucher program generally fail to notify parents of students with disabilities that they are forfeiting rights and protections when they transfer from public schools, according a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report says vouchers schools lack accountability and transparency, and put students with disabilities – whose parents often don’t know they are giving up federal protections by enrolling in private schools – at greater risk.

Their recommendation: “Congress should consider requiring states to notify parents/guardians about changes in federal special education rights when a parent moves a child from public to private school.”

“The new report from GAO shows the outrageously low standards to which many school voucher programs are held,” said U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who requested the GAO review.

“As Secretary DeVos continues her assault on public education and efforts to privatize schools, it is more important than ever to ensure that these programs are held accountable,” Pocan said. “Every student deserves the opportunity to go to a school that meets their needs and every parent should have the guarantee that their child is in a safe, equitable, and successful environment. The U.S. Department of Education must address the concerns in this report and should immediately institute the GAO’s recommendations. Our students deserve nothing less.”

Findings from the GAO report include:

  • Only about half of the private schools participating in voucher programs provided special education or disability related information on their websites, creating a significant problem for families making a decision about where to send their children.
  • Private school voucher programs are inconsistently providing information on changes in key protections and rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when parents move a child with a disability from a public to a private school.
  • 83% of students who were enrolled in a program specifically designed for students with disabilities were enrolled in one that either provided no information or inaccurate information regarding the changes in IDEA rights.
  • One third of the 27 programs operating in school year 2016-17 had no academic testing requirements and officials in two of the programs interviewed indicated that some private schools were unfamiliar or unequipped to administer standardized tests.
  • Only one third of the programs require schools to publicly report test results.
  • Only four programs provided information on the graduation rates at participating schools.
  • Only an estimated 13% of all private schools participating in voucher programs provide student and school performance data on their websites.
  • Just seventeen of the programs required background checks on all employees or on employees with direct and unsupervised contact with children.

Read a summary of the GAO report by the National Coalition for Public Education:

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Read the full GAO report HERE:

Private School Choice: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities

GAO found private school choice programs inconsistently provide information on changes in rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when parents move a child with a disability from public to private school. In 2001, the U.S.