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:

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.”

 

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:

No Title

No Description

WEAC and AFT-Wisconsin presidents join Democrats in blasting Walker’s latest TV ad and DeVos’ visit to state

WEAC President Ron Martin joined the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Tuesday in a media call in response to visits from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the state. In discussing education policies, several speakers blasted Walker’s latest TV ad.

“I’m an eighth grade social studies teacher who has a long career dedicated to students,” Martin said. “It’s unbelievable that Betsy DeVos, who has dedicated her life to dismantling public schools, would show up in Wisconsin for a photo op.

“In Wisconsin, we believe all children have a right to a top-notch public education. Betsy DeVos doesn’t share that vision with us.

“Secretary DeVos, President Trump, Scott Walker – they’re all politicians who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Photo stunts and millions of dollars of slick ads won’t change that fact.”

Kim Kohlhaas, president of the American Federation of Teachers – Wisconsin, echoed those sentiments:

“Betsy DeVos is the worst education secretary of our lifetime,” Kohlhaas said. “Unfortunately, Scott Walker is also the worst education governor of our lifetime. This is more than a funding issue, this is a values issues.

“You cannot claim to be the ‘education governor’ when 40 other states are investing in public education at a stronger pace than Wisconsin,” Kohlhaas said. “You cannot claim to be ‘education governor’ when classroom sizes have gone up, programs have been cut and positions cannot be filled.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairwoman Martha Laning said: “It isn’t surprising that Secretary DeVos is here in Wisconsin today, because she and Scott Walker have the exact same approach to education funding. They both support policies that have diverted taxpayer dollars to private, unaccountable schools while starving our public schools.”

“Today Scott Walker introduced a 60 second ad focusing on the Three Lakes School District, which due to lack of state funding nearly closed last year,” Laning said. “Their community passed a $15 million school referendum to keep the school open. So it is tough to see Scott Walker taking credit for a program that his state funding decisions nearly destroyed.

“Wisconsin can’t afford any more of Walker’s disastrous policies, and that’s why voters are ready for a new governor who will have a positive vision to expand healthcare and educational opportunity. Democrats are ready to lead Wisconsin to a better future for all.”

From One Wisconsin Now:

Worst Governor on Public Education Hosts Worst Secretary of Dept. of Education

MADISON, Wis. – The worst governor for public education in state history, Scott Walker, is hosting the worst Secretary of the Department of Education in American history, Betsy DeVos, today as she visits a technical college and a public middle school in Wisconsin. “These two deserve each other,” commented One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross.

This is an 11.0101(10)(b)(1) communication with WEAC members.

‘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.

Article focusing on Arena, Wisconsin, examines the deep challenges and heartbreak faced by rural schools and communities

A New York Times article focusing on the closing this week of Arena Community Elementary School in the River Valley School District examines the heartbreak felt by students, parents and the community as they lose not only their school but the centerpiece of their community.

“After classes let out last Monday, the school was shuttered permanently by the River Valley School District, whose administrators say that unforgiving budgets, a dearth of students and an aging population have made it impossible to keep the school open. For the first time since the 1800s, the village of Arena has no school,” the article states.

It is a scene being played out in rural Wisconsin and small towns throughout the nation.

“Officials in aging communities with stretched budgets are closing small schools and busing children to larger towns. People worry about losing not just their schools but their town’s future — that the closing will prompt the remaining residents and businesses to drift away and leave the place a ghost town.”

Read the entire article:

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever.

ARENA, Wis. – Ten-year-old Lola Roske grabbed her backpack and headed to elementary school for the last day of class, the final check on her to-do list before the unstructured bliss of summer. At drop-off, her mother, Kellie Roske, was determined not to linger. All around her, parents were hugging their children.

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.