Stanford Taylor said the two-year education spending package is an “equity budget” meant to target Wisconsin’s achievement gaps between races, children with or without disabilities, low-income students and limited-English learners.
“We have to be very intentional about how we’re going to go about making sure that we’re lifting all of those students up, so that there’s a playing field they can compete on,” she said.
Evers is seeking a $606 million boost for special education, $64 million more for mental health programs and $16 million for a new “Urban Excellence Initiative” targeting Wisconsin’s five largest school district, along with changes to the school funding formula that would account for poverty.
Art Rainwater, a former Madison School District superintendent and current UW-Madison professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, said the biggest challenge for a state superintendent, regardless of who is in the position, is financing education, coupled with a large increase in the proportion of low-income students since the start of the millennium. In 2001, 21 percent of Wisconsin school children lived in poverty, according to the Department of Public Instruction. That figure now stands at 41 percent after peaking at 43 percent in 2012.
“Those are the biggest challenges,” Rainwater said. “How do you deal with a changing population, how do you deal with the issues of rural schools and urban schools, and trying to do what’s best for the children.”
On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.
According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.