State Superintendent Tony Evers: Fair Funding lifts all public school districts

A guest editorial by State Superintendent Tony Evers (distributed to all media)

Tony Evers

Creating a system of public education is one of the most critical duties each state has. How we accomplish that goal is a source of consistent debate and discussion. A discussion that revolves around how we regulate, manage, and importantly, how we distribute dollars that improve the lives of kids through teaching and learning.

In each of my five budget proposals, I have included a provision to overhaul our school funding formula. Our current system is overly complicated, does not account for the unique challenges of our students, and short-changes too many districts. My plan, Fair Funding for our Future, guarantees a minimum dollar amount for every student ($3,000), accounts for the impact of poverty on education, and brings transparency to the system by transferring tax credits that don’t go to schools into the fund that directly pays for education.

Change inevitably invites critics. Change to a complex system, even more so. Therefore, one of the things I prioritized in building this proposal is the idea that no district would receive fewer dollars in tax credits and aid than they did in the old system. My plan greatly benefits communities in the northern parts of the state that were otherwise on the outside of the old system looking in. For example, Tomahawk would see a 24.8 percent increase in overall dollars ($769,650) from the state, Rhinelander would see a 31.7 percent increase ($2,813,572), and Hayward would see a 54.2 percent increase ($2,106,806).

So take a look at our plan, and learn how it will impact your district at https://dpi.wi.gov/budget/funding-reform.

Evers calls for restoring respect for Wisconsin’s schools and educators

Wisconsin must restore respect for Wisconsin’s public schools and educators and listen to teachers and education support professionals, who have the best interests of students at heart, State  Superintendent Tony Evers said Thursday in his annual State of Education Address.

“Our educators are on the front lines of these challenges,” he said “So when they speak up about bad education policy, deteriorating schools, or the massive teacher exodus we’re facing, they’re doing right by our kids. And we should listen. They’re reminding us that education – like democracy – doesn’t come for free. It must be nurtured, sustained, and invested in over time.”

Evers called for reinvesting in public schools, “so that every kid can thrive.”

“Together,” he said, “we can bring civility and collaboration back to public education and to public life.”

Evers said education remains – as it has always been – “the great equalizer” and the pathway to prosperity, as well as the key to a skilled workforce and a robust economy.

But, he said, Wisconsin’s priorities are out of whack.

“Today in Wisconsin we’re spending less on our public schools than we did eight years ago – putting us below the national average. We serve over 50,000 English learners – and that number is growing. We serve over 120,000 special needs students. Four in every 10 kids are economically disadvantaged. 

“A decade of disinvestment hasn’t magically solved problems, increased student performance, or improved our competitive edge. Divisive solutions from Washington and Madison haven’t made things better. These policies are failing us. But the people of Wisconsin know there’s a better way.”

Evers noted that over the past few years, more than 1.1 million residents throughout the state rallied behind public education and voted to raise their own taxes to support their schools. 

“Now is the time to adopt a transformational education budget that responds to this call,” he said. “A budget that provides educators what they deserve: the resources they need to meet the needs of our kids. A budget that increases opportunities, closes gaps, and allows for competitive compensation. 

“We must continue raising our voices until they can no longer be ignored,” Evers concluded. “Together, we can restore respect for Wisconsin schools and educators. Together, we can reinvest in our schools so that every kid can thrive. Together, we can bring civility and collaboration back to public education and to public life.”

Read more about Evers’ budget proposal:

Evers’ budget plan increases public school funding by $1.4 billion, achieves two-thirds state funding of schools

Evers’ budget plan increases public school funding by $1.4 billion, achieves two-thirds state funding of schools

State Superintendent Tony Evers on Sunday unveiled a state education budget proposal that increases state funding of public K-12 schools by $1.4 billion over the next two years and achieves two-thirds state funding of education. 

“The budget I’m submitting responds to the very real challenges our schools and educators face each and every day,” Evers said. “It changes how we fund our schools and provides resources to our educators to meet the needs of every child.”

Specifically, the budget: 

  • Makes an unprecedented $600 million investment in special education, increasing the reimbursement rate from 25 percent to 60 percent, while expanding funding for English learners and rural schools.
  • Provides nearly $64 million more for student mental health funding, a tenfold increase.
  • Funds full-day 4-year-old kindergarten for the state’s youngest learners, creates the state’s first funding stream for after-school programs, and establishes new opportunities for children in the largest urban school districts.
  • Reforms the state’s broken school finance system to help districts of all sizes, including revenue limit fairness so lower spending districts can catch up and all districts can plan for the future. 

“Our students deserve our support as they prepare to inherit this great state,” Evers said. “As parents, fellow educators, taxpayers, and citizens of Wisconsin, I ask for your support during the 2019-21 biennial budget process so that every child gets a shot at a great Wisconsin education.” 

State budget highlights:

2019-21 State Budget Information

State Superintendent Tony Evers is rolling out major budget requests for the 2019-2021 biennium. Information will be added here as it becomes ready. Topics:

Read more:

Tony Evers calls for nearly $1.7 billion hike in state funding for K-12 schools

Wisconsin’s K-12 public schools would receive a nearly $1.7 billion increase in state funding over the current budget cycle under state Superintendent Tony Evers’ two-year budget proposal released Sunday. Evers, the Democrat challenging Gov. Scott Walker in the Nov.

 

Wisconsin voters strongly support quality public schools over tax cuts, poll analysis finds

Wisconsin voters have made their priorities clear – they want quality public schools – but lawmakers are not listening. That is the analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project of last month’s statewide poll by the Marquette University Law School. In the poll, voters said in many ways that they support quality public schools in the state. In response to one question, 61 percent said they prefer more money for public schools, while just 32% said they prefer tax cuts.

“One of the remarkable aspects of the poll results,” the analysis said, “is the degree to which they show that Wisconsin voters across the entire state place a high value on education. … Wisconsin residents believe that excellent public schools are important to the state’s success, and are concerned that recent changes have harmed public schools. Cutting taxes ranks relatively low among voter concerns, the poll showed.”

According to the Wisconsin Budget Project analysis:

“Voters all across the state place a great deal of value on Wisconsin’s schools, with nearly half (49%) naming K-12 education as among the two most important issues facing the state, according to the August 2018 poll from Marquette University Law School. In contrast, only 13% of voters identified tax cuts as among the most important issues.

“When presented with a direct trade-off between increasing resource for schools and cutting taxes, a significant majority of Wisconsin voters said they favor spending more money on schools (61%) than reducing property taxes (32%).”

The analysis continued: “One of the remarkable aspects of the poll results is the degree to which they show that Wisconsin voters across the entire state place a high value on education, and that concern about the quality of Wisconsin’s public schools is not limited to voters in more liberal-leaning areas of the state. In areas like Green Bay/Appleton and the suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee, both areas with high concentrations of conservative voters, respondents indicated that that education is a much more pressing issue than tax cuts, and express concerns that schools are worse off now than in the past.”

It concluded: “The reduced funding for public school districts didn’t occur because the state lacked resources. Wisconsin has enough state revenue to overturn the past budget cuts to schools, but lawmakers have chosen instead to use that revenue to pass billions in new tax cuts, many of which wind up in the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected.”

Read entire Wisconsin Budget Project analysis:

Wisconsin Voters Choose Education Over Tax Cuts – Wisconsin Budget Project

A new poll shows that Wisconsin residents believe that excellent public schools are important to the state’s success, and are concerned that recent changes have harmed public schools. Cutting taxes ranks relatively low among voter concerns, the poll showed. Voters all across the state place a great deal of value on Wisconsin’s schools, with nearly …

 

$269 million in taxpayer money has been given to private voucher schools so far this biennium

Democrats on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee released a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau Tuesday revealing that private voucher schools in Wisconsin have received $269.6 million in state funding so far in the 2017-19 biennium, while public schools have seen a $90.6 million reduction in state aid. The memo also showed that:

  • Approximately $475 million of taxpayer dollars were paid to voucher schools over the 2015-17 biennium, during which time public schools in those districts faced a $150 million aid reduction.
  • Private school voucher programs in Wisconsin have already received over $2.5 billion [$2,576,900,000 approx.] in total state funding, and that number is only growing.

The Democrats released the figures in a news release in which they stated:

“As our children go back to school, we want the best for them and their bright futures. But Republicans have funneled millions of tax dollars to unaccountable voucher schools while our K-12 public schools continue to go to referendum just to keep the lights on,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). “Instead of funneling tax dollars to private schools, the Legislature should fairly fund our public schools so that everyone in Wisconsin has the same opportunity to learn and succeed.”

“Taxpayers have the right to know how much of their hard earned dollars are going toward voucher schools, especially since voucher schools are not required to meet the same accountability standards as public schools and have shown no significant improvements over public school performance,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

“Access to a quality education should not depend on your zip code. Unfortunately, eight years of misplaced Republican priorities have made it impossible to ensure our public schools can meet and exceed our standards for educational excellence. We must invest in our public education system so that all of our children have equal access to the best educational opportunities – it’s what they deserve,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee).

“As a mother of two children in public school and a member of the budget committee, I hear from people across our state who question why my Republican colleagues and Governor Walker are creating a second, private school system while not adequately and consistently funding the public school system where most of our Wisconsin children are educated,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “Republicans’ big campaign donors want to privatize public education to make a buck, and they are willing to destroy our public school system to do so. People should be outraged by their disregard for the 870,000 children in public schools, whose future, and our state’s future, depends on a strong public school system.”

A copy of the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo can be found here.

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.