Voucher program enrollment up 8.7 percent, cost soars to $302 million

Wisconsin Public Education Network graphic

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s three taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs rose 8.7 percent this year, while the cost soared 12.3 percent to $302 million, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs (Milwaukee, Racine and statewide), 39,381 students received a voucher to attend one of the 279 participating private schools. That is an increase of 3,164 students and 43 schools compared to last school year.

The cost of the three programs combined is estimated at $302 million for the 2018-19 school year, which is an increase of about $33 million (12.3 percent) from the prior year.

For the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments are $7,754 per full-time equivalent in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,400 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12. That compares to $5,001 per student on average for public school students in  Wisconsin.

Enrollments in the three programs are:

  • The Milwaukee program enrolls 28,917 students in 129 participating private schools this year.
  • The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolls 7,140 students in 213 private schools.
  • The Racine program enrolls 3,324 students in 26 participating private schools.

Read more from the Department of Public Instruction (pdf file).

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.

Voters will decide 82 school referendum questions on November 6

Voters throughout the state will decide 82 school referendum questions in 61 school districts on November 6. The referendums seek a total of $1.4 billion in school improvements, including 11 to build new schools, 24 for safety and security improvements, 40 for site and building improvements, 28 for maintaining facilities and 12 for maintaining current educational program levels, according to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

The large number of referendums continues a trend that has seen voters approve more than 1,600 referendums totaling $12 billion since 1990, a trend that has been accelerating in recent years. Voters already have approved about $648.1 million in referendums in 48 school districts this year, and approval rates have been rising since 2003, hitting 79% in 2016. Recent polls have supported the trend of citizens wanting to maintain quality public schools, with voters saying they favor tax increases over cuts to school funding.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, who is running for governor, has said voters are demonstrating their strong support for public education despite incumbent Governor Scott Walker’s record of cutting state funding for schools. In effect, he says, the referendums amount to a “Scott Walker tax” that citizens are imposing on themselves to keep their schools healthy.

The largest school district referendums on the November 6 ballot are:

  • Middleton-Cross Plains Area: $138.9 million
  • Wauwatosa: $124.9 million
  • Stevens Point: $75.9 million
  • West De Pere (2 questions): $74.7 million
  • Oak Creek–Franklin: $60.9 million
  • Waukesha: $60.0 million
  • Cedarburg: $59.8 million
  • Monona Grove: $57.0 million
  • Oregon: $44.9 million
  • Burlington: $43.7 million
  • Edgerton: $40.6 million
  • Pewaukee: $39.7 million
  • Viroqua: $36.8 million
  • Evansville: $34.0 million
  • Greendale: $33.8 million
  • Wisconsin Dells: $33.7 million
  • Poynette: $28.4 million
  • Beloit Turner: $26.5 million
  • Sevastopol: $25.1 million
  • Waterford Graded: $24.9 million
  • Holmen: $23.5 million

Find out details about all the school referendums at https://apps4.dpi.wi.gov/referendum/customreporting.aspx:

Custom Referenda Reporting

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Wisconsin school referendums seek more than $1.4 billion in borrowing on November ballots

Wisconsin taxpayers will be asked to commit more than $1 billion in additional funding for their public schools in the November election. And if they pass at the rates seen in recent years, 2018 could be the highest year on record for dollars raised by school district referendums, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

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 …

 

The teacher pay gap is growing: Teachers are now paid 18.7% less than comparable professions

The teacher pay gap is growing, according to a  new analysis, and teachers nationwide are now paid 18.7% less than people in comparable professions. That is an increase from 17% three years ago.

“The erosion of teacher pay relative to that of comparable workers in the last couple of years — and in fact since 2008 — reflects state policy decisions (mainly tax cuts) rather than the result of revenue challenges brought on by the Great Recession,” according to the analysis by the the Economic Policy Institute.

The EPI said the teacher wage penalty — how much less teachers make than comparable workers — grew from 5.5 percent in 1979 to a record 18.7 percent in 2017. The wage penalty was fairly stable from 1979 to the mid-1990s but then grew into the early 2000s. After some variability in the mid-2000s, the increasing teacher wage penalty continued to grow from 2010 through 2017, rising from 12.1 to 18.7 percent — driven by a particularly large increase in the wage penalty for female teachers.

The analysis noted that while teacher benefits are still generally higher than benefits in other professions, they are also declining and do not begin to make up for the loss in salary. The total teacher compensation penalty was a record-high 11.1 percent in 2017 (composed of an 18.7 percent wage penalty plus a 7.6 percent benefit advantage), it said.

The EPI offered two analyses. In the first, public school teacher wages were compared to wages of workers with comparable education, experience, and other characteristics, resulting in the 18.7% pay gap estimate. To break down comparisons by states, the analysis was more limited, comparing public school teachers with other college graduates by education level. In that second comparison, the national pay gap was 23.8%, and the pay gap for Wisconsin teachers was 22.2%.

“If the policy goal is to improve the quality of the entire teaching workforce, then raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining higher-quality teachers,” the EPI analysis concludes. “Policies that solely focus on changing the composition of current compensation (e.g., merit or pay-for-performance schemes) without actually increasing compensation levels are unlikely to be effective. Simply put, improving overall teacher quality, preventing turnover, and strengthening teacher retention requires eliminating the teacher pay penalty.”

Read entire analysis:

The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017

Teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Colorado have raised the profile of deteriorating teacher pay as a critical public policy issue. Teachers and parents are protesting cutbacks in education spending and a squeeze on teacher pay that persist well into the economic recovery from the Great Recession.

Read more in The Guardian:

Teacher pay drops 5% in last decade – despite better qualified staff

American teachers are getting paid less – even though they are better qualified than ever, new research has found. Teacher salaries are down by nearly 5% compared with before the Great Recession – and it’s not because teachers are younger or less educated, according to the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

 

$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.

Private school voucher backers top $7.5 million in donations to Wisconsin politicians

From One Wisconsin Now

With the latest round of state campaign finance reports in, backers of the private school voucher program have larded the campaign accounts of politicians willing to do their bidding with $7.5 million in campaign contributions since 2008. Leading the pack, and hauling in more than 1 of every 4 dollars donated, is Governor Scott Walker with a total take in excess of $2.165 million.

“The people writing these checks want to see more private school vouchers,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Scott Walker has more than delivered, draining resources away from public K-12 schools and sending them to the less accountable private voucher schools favored by the donors who’ve dumped over $2 million into his campaign coffers.”

Under Walker and the GOP controlled legislature there has been a dramatic, statewide expansion of the less accountable private school voucher program. Vouchers take resources directly away from public schools to help pay for it even though the majority of students who enrolled in the expanded program were already attending private schools.

On top of the contributions sent directly to candidates, the American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group closely associated with Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, as uncovered by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation, which was overseen by Walker’s campaign chair Michael Grebe, spent over $108 million in support of groups helping to advance the education privatization agenda Walker favors between 2005 and 2014.

Support for public education is growing ‘community by community,’ Arizona Education Association president says at Wisconsin forum

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas (center) was welcomed to Wisconsin by former Green Bay Education Association President Amanda Van Remortel and Appleton Education Association President Chris Heller.

Advocates for public education will win the fight “community by community,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said Wednesday in a session at the Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit in Appleton.

“You won’t win it at the Capitol,” Thomas said. “You will win it community by community, and it will show up at the Capitol.”

Thomas recounted the events surrounding last spring’s massive Arizona walkouts and rallies that led to a 19% increase in teacher salaries and large increases in public school funding.

The movement, Thomas said, came somewhat as a surprise in the wake of a similar uprising in West Virginia. The movement, he said, was a grassroots one. The union did not start it or organize it but helped manage it, as best it could, he said.

“It exploded in different ways,” he said, “but the piece that was most important to us and most successful to us was that we did very actionable items where people could understand what they were being asked to do, and we gave people the freedom to do it in their own way.”

The unity movement began with educators, parents and supporters wearing red T-shirts. “It became kind of the thing to do by Week 2,” he said. The union did not create the T-shirts, and there was no single design: People were creating their own Red for Ed shirts.

Over a few weeks, everyone was wearing red, and in the fifth week, Arizona Educators United – the independent grassroots group that took over leadership of the movement – created a list of five demands, based on surveys (which indicated overwhelming support for walking out if the demands were not met). The demands were:

  • Bring back $1 billion in school funding that had been cut.
  • Bring back salary schedules.
  • Provide competitive wages for education support professionals.
  • Provide 20% raises for teachers in that budget year.
  • Allow no more tax cuts until the state is 25th in the nation in per-pupil funding.

Rallies started at 5,000 people and grew to 75,000 at the State Capitol. Educators and supporters participated in pre-school walk-ins throughout the state, with 110,000 participating statewide during the second week, which Thomas called “our most powerful moment.” They also conducted massive “stand-outs” along the streets of Tucson and Phoenix.

“We needed the community to understand our story,” he said.

“Nobody wanted to have to do this. But the entire school structure was turned on its head because the school employees were saying, ‘We’re done! We’re done with the cuts. We’re done with the underfunded classrooms. We’re done with the overpopulated classrooms. We have to do this!’ ”

Thomas said the movement brought many new people into union ranks, especially young educators who had never before been involved.

“The learning we had was … we had so many young members and so many young leaders step up in the movement, and that is because they had space to do it. And that’s what we have to keep replicating.”

“We had so many people who went down who had never been to the Capitol before, or had only been at the Capitol for a field trip, that got to see how the sausage was made, who got to see legislators listen to them tell their stories about their students and schools and then completely ignore them and vote against students and schools,” Thomas said.

Thomas said these were among the key learning points:

  • Messaging is very important, and a constant focus on kids is critical. “All of this is about better schools for your kids.”
  • Work deeply with the community, including local businesses.
  • Social media is critical for organizing. In Arizona, it wasn’t the AEA that led the social media effort; it was grassroots messaging and organizing from educators, parents and supporters throughout the state that had the biggest impact.
  • “This was not only an education movement. This was a women’s movement, this was a union movement, this was an equity movement. … Everyone was there.”
  • “Trust your members,” he said. “We didn’t tell them what to do all the time. We told them what they could do, and they figured out how to do it, and they will see things you didn’t see. And we have so many people – an estimated 150,000 for the whole six days – who will never be the same.”

Watch Joe Thomas’ 21-minute presentation: