5 thoughts on “State Rep. Lassee on Madison Schools”

  1. I do wish that legislators would take the time to actually try and understand what these numbers mean when they analyze them. I would venture a guess that Green Bay and Madison have a high number of ESL and/or special ed students in comparison to DePere. Anyone who has a rudimentary understanding of school budgets knows that comparing per pupil spending across districts is totally meaningless unless you also consider the demographic factors that may be affecting that spending.

  2. To be honest, I posted Lassee’s column because it says something about how Madison is perceived by the legislators who ultimately make decisions about things like revenue caps and QEOs. We need to read what they are saying to begin thinking about how to approach them on finding a reasonable way to fund public K-12 education.
    Beyond that, I tend to agree with you. On the other hand, we still don’t have clear numberes on the portion of the MMSD budget that actually pays for ESL and special needs staff and programming. I hear the argument, but would like to see the numbers and categories of spending. I don’t doubt that the programs are more expensive, on the other hand, I also know that the schools wiped out a good portion of the speech/language folks around 8 years ago, have been cutting ESL folks, etc. The big questions in my mind are:
    1) what are the populations that we need to serve (and not just lumps of ‘special needs’ kids – there is a big range in service needs here)?
    2) what services should we provide?
    3) what services are we providing? (again, I wonder how our reading scores would look if more speech and language folks were in the schools – they are imperative for kids with dyslexia and like disorders)
    4) what budgets go to administrators, teachers, aides, and how are those positions used.

  3. Yes, DePere has a very low percentage of high cost students, comparable to some of the Dane County suburban districts like McFarland or Waunakee. WINSS at the DPI website, http://data.dpi.state.wi.us/data/selschool.asp, is a good basic source for this type of information.
    As for how much additional funding is necessary to provide an adequate education for disadvantaged students, that is not a settled question and it may vary some based on local/regional factors. However, Yinger and Duncombe produced a paper (http://www-cpr.maxwell.syr.edu/cprwps/wps60abs.htm) last year that I think is pretty solid. How you specify the model affects the final ratio, but they seem to be telling us at least double the cost of a non-disadvantaged student.

  4. Thanks, Tim. We’ll try to get that posted to the blog.
    Again, I don’t dispute that it costs more to educate disadvantaged students. I just would like to see the numbers for what MMSD has actually spent and for what vs. the vague categories that we get in the “budget projections” each year. At this point, the only information that we have is some very general statements about changing demographics requiring more expendituers.

  5. I agree it would be be very desirable to track allocations by program more closely, but it is difficult given how school accounting systems are designed. It is not a Madison specific problem, it’s a general problem.
    It is difficult to associate the cost of an aide, who might support students with different kinds of programming needs during the day, with each of the programs they might be involved with. A special software package might appear in an instructional software account, not the program budget. Professional development training might be in a federal grant, not the regular program budget. Historically, tracking school level expenditures down to the program has been difficult and it is something, nationally, we need to get much better at doing.
    I do know that MMSD has invested substantially in a new financial accounting system, but not being affiliated with the district I cannot say if it was designed to better present resource allocation by program.

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