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.”

 

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.

95 percent of public school districts now offer 4K

From the Department of Public Instruction

Statewide 95 percent of public school districts that provide elementary education offer 4-year-old kindergarten (4K), an increase of five school districts from the previous school year.

“Wisconsin is approaching universal 4K, driven by communities that want to meet the early learning needs of children and their families,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.

4KgrowthFor the 2014-15 school year, 391 public school districts are offering 4K to 47,844 students. About 100 of those programs use a community approach to 4K in which the school district, private child care centers, and Head Start centers collaborate to provide services. Benefits of the community approach to 4K are many and include the common effort to meet the emotional, educational, societal, and physical well-being of children in the community; fewer transitions for young children; and better information sharing among 4K teachers, early childhood staff members, and public schools. Wisconsin is considered a national leader in implementing 4K through the community approach.

Characteristics of quality 4K programs 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 follow the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which are aligned with the academic standards students will encounter as they progress through school.

“A growing body of research shows that investing in high-quality 4K is good for kids and taxpayers. Whether through traditional programming or Wisconsin’s innovative community approach, 4K works,” Evers said.

Evidence on the short-term and long-term value of high quality pre-school programming for children, schools, and communities is strong. The national Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort shows that students who attended a pre-kindergarten program scored higher on reading and math tests than children who had not been in a pre-kindergarten program. In Oklahoma, a state with voluntary 4K for all students, children who enrolled in 4K have significant academic gains across all income and racial groups. Participation in 4K was a more powerful predictor of children’s pre-reading and pre-writing scores than demographic variables such as race, family income, and mother’s education level.

Long-term benefits focus on the often cited Perry Preschool Project, Chicago Parent Centers, and the Abecedarian Project. All show demonstrably positive effects of quality early learning programs on the future lives of young children. Overall, participants were less likely to need special education services, have lower retention rates, and were more likely to graduate from high school, gain employment, and avoid incarceration and dependency on public assistance. The estimated long-term payback of voluntary, universal preschool programs range from $2 to $4 for every dollar spent.

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 of the state’s independent charter schools in Racine and Milwaukee that provide elementary education offer 4K, enrolling 891 students. For the 2014-15 school year, 1,994 students are enrolled in 4K at 84 participating Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools. The Racine Parental Choice Program has 120 students enrolled in seven schools. Eleven of the schools in the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolled 31 students in 4K programs for the 2014-15 school year.

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