Yes, it’s true: Class size matters

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There is a “clear and positive consensus by an overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed papers that smaller classes are beneficial,” according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Great Lakes Center for Education Policy and Research.

“Parents and teachers regularly extol the virtues of smaller class sizes,” writes researcher William J. Mathis from the University of Colorado Boulder. “Despite this, because school budgets are tied to class size, teacher pay, and benefits, class size often becomes a costly and contentious issue for local school districts.”

Yet there is no doubt, he concludes, that smaller class sizes improve student outcomes, especially for low-income and minority children.

Based on his review, Mathis finds:

  1. All else being equal, lowering class size will improve student outcomes;
  2. The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children;
  3. Money saved by increasing class sizes will likely result in additional costs in the future; and
  4. Class sizes between 15 and 18 are recommended, but with variations indicated.

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UW students throughout state feeling heavy impact of state budget cuts

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Students throughout the University of Wisconsin System are feeling the heavy impact of the Legislature’s ongoing attacks on education. The Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday reported on summaries prepared by chancellors throughout the system detailing how they have dealt with a $250 million system-wide budget cut imposed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Governor Walker. The summaries were to be publicly presented to a UW System Board of Regents meeting last week but those plans were scrapped at the last minute. However, the State Journal got hold of the documents, which describe reductions in class offerings, increases in class sizes, reduced counseling services, and many job cuts “accomplished by closing vacant positions, buying out employees, not renewing contracts or laying off workers.”

Read more:

Across UW System, campuses reduce courses, advising and jobs as budget cuts take hold

Institutions across the University of Wisconsin System have laid off employees, consolidated administration, reduced advising services and cut course offerings over the past year, according to documents released Monday summarizing the impact of state cuts to higher education funding.

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How did public K-12 schools and higher education fare in the recent legislative session?

The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families compiled these summaries of how public education and higher education fared in the recently completed legislative session. These summaries are reprinted here with the permission of the WCCF.

A SUMMARY OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE ACTION ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS:

WCFC_legislative_wrapup_graphicWisconsin state lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session this month, after passing several bills affecting education. Several proposals that received a significant amount of media coverage did not pass.

The legislature is scheduled to be out of session for the rest of the year. Occasionally lawmakers call for a special session of the legislature that is not on the regular schedule, but assuming they do not do that, they will not meet again until January 2017. Bills that did not pass during this session can be brought up again at that time, but will have to start the process over.

Budget cuts for school districts with students participating in the voucher program

Wisconsin lawmakers made a change that would require some school districts to cut their budgets. The budget cuts will affect school districts in which some students receive publicly-funded vouchers to attend private schools. The cuts will be small for most districts at first, but could grow as caps on the number of students participating in the voucher program are lifted. This bill continues the recent trend of limiting the resources available for public education.

Lawmakers required districts with voucher students to reduce their budgets by reducing the amount of money districts are allowed to raise through the property tax. If this change had been in effect for the 2015-16 school year, school districts would have had their ability to levy property taxes reduced by $5.3 million.

By far the biggest effect of this change will be felt in the Racine school district, which will be required to cut its budget by $1.4 million. Other school districts with the largest budget cuts include:

  • Green Bay, with an estimated cut of $315,000;
  • Kenosha, with a cut of $263,000; and
  • Appleton, with a cut of $219,000.

This change will not affect the Milwaukee school district or districts that do not have any students receiving vouchers to attend private schools. The actual size of the budget cuts would depend on the number of students in each district who receive vouchers. (Assembly Bill 751/Senate Bill 615)

Overhauling a program that kept class sizes small

Lawmakers significantly revised a program (SAGE) that gives participating schools additional funding to keep class sizes small for low-income, elementary-age students. The new version of the program loosens the requirements for keeping class sizes small, and allows districts to use other methods to meet requirements for improving student achievement, including tutoring and instructional coaching. (2015 Wisconsin Act 53).

Proposals that did not pass

Lawmakers did not hold votes on several high-profile proposals, including several that would have limited the ability of local school officials to make decisions affecting students in their districts. The proposals that did not receive floor votes include:

  • Banning school districts from sending a referendum to voters for a set period after an earlier referendum, if the first referendum was rejected by voters. This bill would have made it harder for voters to approve additional resources for children in public schools. (Assembly Bill 481/Senate Bill 355)
  • Eliminating a provision that allows school districts to exceed budget limits set by the state in order to make changes that improve energy efficiency. (AB 49/SB 337)
  • Requiring school districts to designate restrooms and locker rooms for use by students of one gender only. Currently, decisions about how to designate school facilities are made at the local level. If passed, the proposal would have potentially put Wisconsin schools in conflict with federal requirements for accommodating transgender students. (AB 469/SB 582)
  • Allowing holders of concealed carry permits to carry guns on school grounds. Currently, it is a felony to do so in most cases. (AB 846/SB 589)

 

A SUMMARY OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE ACTION ON HIGHER EDUCATION:

WCFC_HigherEdGraphicThis month Wisconsin state lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session that began in January 2015. In this session, they passed several minor bills to expand opportunity for college students, but did not address the issue of helping students who graduate with a large amount of student loan debt.

The legislature is scheduled to be out of session for the rest of the year. Occasionally lawmakers call for a special session of the legislature that is not on the regular schedule, but assuming they do not do that, they will next meet in January 2017. Bills that did not pass during this session can be brought up again at that time, but will have to start the process over.

Small increases in assistance for college students

Bills that passed this session had the following effect:

  • Increasing need-based grants for technical college students by $500,000 per year. (Assembly Bill 470/Senate Bill 540)
  • Creating small grants for college students in emergency financial need. Students who have a emergency that could cause them to drop out of school are eligible to receive a $500 grant to help them cover costs. The total cost for this proposal is $450,000 per year. (AB741/SB592)
  • Helping students get internships. Legislators approved $200,000 to create two positions at the Department of Workforce Development that will work with employers and educational institutions to place students in internships. (AB 742/SB594)
  • Requiring colleges and universities to provide a letter to students with information about the loans and financial aid that student receives, the expected cost of attending the institution, and other resources to learn more about student loans and financial literacy. (AB744/SB595).

These bills were part of a package proposed by Governor Walker aimed at making higher education more affordable.

No action on student loan debt

Legislators declined to pass the only part of the Governor’s package that had more than a minimal cost: an elimination of the cap on the tax deduction for student loan interest. This proposal would have reduced taxes for 32,000 student loan payers in Wisconsin by a total of $5.2 million a year. Taxpayers with higher incomes would not have received a tax break. (AB739/SB622)

The legislature did not take action on a bill called “Higher Ed, Lower Debt” put forth by Democratic lawmakers that would have reduced the cost of repaying student loans. The proposal would reduce income taxes for student loan borrowers by $109 million a year by allowing borrowers to deduct more of their repayments and by changing income eligibility requirements. The bill also would have established a student loan refinancing authority through which borrowers could refinance their loans at lower rates. (AB 272/SB194)

Lawmakers did not take action on a bill that would have allowed individuals to set up tax-exempt savings accounts to pay for higher education and other expenses for people with disabilities. That proposal would have reduced state income tax collections by $5.9 million annually. (AB 236/SB165)

No concealed weapons in college buildings

Legislators did not approve a bill that would have allowed individuals to carry concealed weapons inside public university and college buildings. University officials strongly opposed this bill. (AB480/SB363)

Milwaukee community tells school board: Class Size Matters!

A huge outpouring of support from educators, parents, students and community advocates of quality public schools convinced the Milwaukee school board Tuesday night to demand more information before acting on an administration proposal that would threaten the district’s class size reduction efforts.

Among those testifying was Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association Vice President Amy Mizialko, who said: “Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs for our children in their futures.”

MTEA took to Facebook to post a series of photos, memes, videos and recaps of testimony from Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Below is a collection of some of those posts, with photos by Joe Brusky (click HERE if the images do not appear below):

Read more about the district’s plan:

Plan to reassign teachers raises class size concerns in MPS

By of the More than 100 teachers could be reassigned, pushing up classroom sizes in some early grades at dozens of Milwaukee Public Schools next year as MPS phases out of the state’s soon-to-be-defunct class size reduction program known as SAGE.