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January 20, 2013

Questions abound Wisconsin Governor Walker's education agenda

Alan Borsuk

So let's ask some detailed questions as a way of getting a glimpse of the education decisions that will be made between now and June. Walker has spoken only in generalities so far, including in his "state of the state" address last week. It's clear that supporters of charter, voucher and virtual schools are going to be a lot happier than a lot of folks involved in public schools. And Walker has talked a lot about creating ways to include the success (or lack thereof) of a school in decisions about how much money it gets. But talking points aren't policy.

So here are a dozen policy questions:

1: What will the governor propose for the revenue cap on public school students? Two years ago, the cap was cut by 5.5%, or $550 per student, in the first year of the budget, with most schools getting a $100 increase in the second year. That was dramatic after years in which the cap went up $200-plus each year. Walker appears on track to increase the cap this time. Will he go along with the $200 per year figure some, including some Republicans, are suggesting?

2: How much will state aid to schools go up? The revenue cap covers generally money that comes from the state and local property taxes combined. The more state aid, the less pressure on property taxes. Again, Walker has indicated he will support increasing state education spending. How much? And what portion will be in general aid increases and what portion in special funds such as money to reward high performing schools?

3: Walker said in the "state of the state" address, "We will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools." What does he mean by that? There's not much evidence nationally on what is really effective on this front. And Walker has been urged by people such as influential Republican Sen. Luther Olsen not to count on the new state report cards on schools as a basis for decisions. Olsen is among those saying it may be several years until the grades will be useful that way. Will Walker use the grades anyway as the basis for rewards and punishments?

4: What will Walker propose for the per-student payment for voucher and charter school students? The voucher payments have been held flat for four years at $6,442, while independent charter schools get $7,775 per student. (Depending on how you figure it, Milwaukee Public School gets something around $13,000 per student overall.) Charter and voucher leaders are pushing hard for sizable increases in the payments, and for high school vouchers to be worth more than grade school vouchers, just because high school is more expensive. Walker is clearly sympathetic.

Related: Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools' Per Student Spending. I'm glad Mr. Borsuk compared per student spending.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at January 20, 2013 3:33 AM
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