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.

 

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.

Legislative Update – April 19

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will again take up a case about the independent authority of the elected state superintendent. The Court is responding to a lawsuit from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) over the DPI’s independent rule-making authority. State Superintendent Tony Evers won a case affirming his independent authority in a 5-2 ruling back in 2016, with conservatives in the majority on the bench. “Educators are scratching their heads at this latest move by the far-right to play by different rules than our Constitution calls for,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher. Read more.

School Funding Commission Public Hearing is Monday in Oshkosh
Details for the next public hearing for a school funding commission created by the Legislature have been announced:

  • Monday, April 23, 2-6 p.m., CESA 6, 2300 Highway 44, Oshkosh. Invited testimony will be heard, and then the public may make comment. The time limit for comments is five minutes each.

Other hearings are set:

  • Monday, May 7 – Tomahawk
  • Monday, May 21 – Turtle Lake
  • Monday, June 4 – Madison

Bills signed into law
The governor has signed a slew of bills, including the child tax rebate and sales tax holiday. Check out the status of the bills we are watching at www.weac.org/bills.

Here’s a list of recently-signed bills:

School board elections. Changes the signature requirement for nomination of candidates to school board in school districts that contain territory lying within a second class city, allowing a reduction in the number of signatures required on nomination papers submitted by school board candidates. Act 321

Supplemental aid. Provides for supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. Act 300

Availability of state practice tests. Requires the Department of Public Instruction to make available, upon request, practice examinations or sample items related to knowledge and concept examinations required to be administered under state law. The bill also would repeal the chapter of the administrative code that DPI promulgated to implement current law. Act 335

Usurp local control on workplace standards. Preempts a local municipality from enacting a local living wage, fair scheduling standard, and a host of other measures that would improve the lives of working people. Act 327

Merit Scholarships. Provides merit scholarships for UW-Stevens Point students. Act 314

College Credit in High School. Excludes certain college credit in high school programs from the Early College Credit Program. Act 307

Career and Tech Ed Grants. Provides career and technical education incentive grants for school districts and completion awards for pupils and makes an appropriation. Act 336

Robotics League Grants. Extends robotics league participation grants to middle schools. Act 315

Funding-Related Bills That Passed This Session
It’s hard to keep track of everything that passed in the long Legislative session that has just concluded. That’s why WEAC is providing a wrap-up of various bills that passed, and didn’t, in various areas impacting public education. Here’s a round-up on funding-related bills:

PASSED

Sparsity Aid. An increase in sparsity aid per student will begin in 2019, raising sparsity aid per pupil amount from $300 to $400 — an increase in sparsity aid appropriation of $6.5 million in 2019. Sparsity aid was vetoed by the governor in the 2017-19 state budget, but he changed course at the end of the Legislative session.

Supplemental aid. Provides for supplemental aid for school districts with a large area. Act 300

DID NOT PASS

Common School Funds. This bill would have eliminated the authority of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to make state trust fund loans, broaden the authority of the BCPL to delegate its authority to invest state trust fund moneys, and remove certain restrictions on the use of common school fund income moneys. As educators working in schools with shoestring budgets, we know the Common School Funds are often the only monies available to keep our school libraries running. Voters soundly rejected eliminating the role of state treasurer in the April election, which oversees the Common School Funds for libraries.

Excluding capital improvements from shared cost. This bill would have excluded expenditures from either a school district’s general fund or debt service fund that are authorized by a capital referendum from the school district’s shared cost if the school district is a negative tertiary school district. In other words, a negative tertiary school district would not lose equalization aid for capital expenditures that exceed the tertiary guarantee and are funded by referenda. The bill included protections for some school districts in areas with high property wealth and per-pupil spending from seeing general aid deductions in the school funding formula in cases where voters approved capital projects.

Revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements. This would have created a school district revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements to support vocational or technical education. Any school board that received a petition and adopts a resolution to initiate workforce development improvements would be allowed to increase its revenue limit by the amount the school district spends on the improvements in a school year, including amounts spent for a 20-year-max debt service on a bond, note, or state trust fund loan used to finance the improvements. The petition would be filed jointly by the president of a local chamber of commerce or a chamber of commerce and a regional workforce development board.

Special Education Funding. This called for state funding of special education at 33 percent.

WEAC Election Update – Who’s not running again?

Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, is the latest Wisconsin legislator indicating he won’t seek re-election this fall. Kleefisch has served in the Legislature since 2004. Here’s an overview:

Assembly

  1. Joel Kleefisch (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-32
  2. Tom Weatherston (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-62
  3. Andre Jacque (R) – Not seeking re-election to the AD-2, running for SD-1.
  4. Dale Kooyenga (R) – Not seeking re-election to the AD-14, running for SD-5
  5. Adam Jarchow (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-28
  6. Jesse Kremer (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-59
  7. Tom Weatherston (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-62.
  8. Kathy Bernier (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-68, running for SD-23.
  9. Terese Berceau (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-77
  10. Eric Genrich (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-90, running for Mayor of Green Bay
  11. Dana Wachs (D) – Not seeking re-election to AD-91, running for Governor
  12. Lee Nerison (R) – Not seeking re-election to AD-96

Senate

  1. Leah Vukmir (R) – Not seeing re-election to SD-5, running for U.S. Senate
  2. Terry Moulton (R) – Not seeking re-election to SD-23
  3. Kathleen Vinehout (D) – Not seeking re-election to SD-31, running for Governor

U.S Congress

  1. Paul Ryan (R) – Not seeing re-election to CD-1.

Supreme Court to consider DPI’s independent authority again

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will again take up a case about the independent authority of the elected state superintendent.

The Court is responding to a lawsuit from the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) over the DPI’s independent rule-making authority. State Superintendent Tony Evers won a case affirming his independent authority in a 5-2 ruling back in 2016, with conservatives in the majority on the bench.

“Educators are scratching their heads at this latest move by the far-right to play by different rules than our Constitution calls for,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher.

In fact, the court’s conservative majority gave no explanation for why it is taking the case. The decision puts the case on a fast track, bypassing the court of appeals. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson disagreed with taking up the case again, saying the issue had been addressed in Coyne v. Walker. Madison Teachers Inc. and WEAC were successful in asserting the state constitution gives the state superintendent authority to set education policy for the state. Back in 2016, Justices Bradley, Abrahamson, David Prosser and Michael Gableman agreed.

Gableman, who is retiring, will be replaced this summer by Rebecca Dallet. Meanwhile Prosser has been replaced by Governor Walker appointee Dan Kelly.

Oral arguments are set for May 15, and the Court said it would initially take up only the narrow issue of who will represent Evers in the case – whether it has to be the governor’s pick, Attorney General Brad Schimel, or if Evers can use a DPI attorney who is not tied to the governor.

Schimel is closely aligned with the governor, and Evers is one of several Democrats running for the seat this fall.