K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Rural Wisconsin is red and angry

Steven Walters: The UW-Madison political science professor, an Ozaukee County native, was stunned by what northern Wisconsin residents told her in diners, coffee shops, back rooms and barns between 2007 and 2012. “I did not expect to hear it, but many of the people I listened to in rural areas exhibited a multifaceted resentment toward … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Rural Wisconsin is red and angry

Commentary on Wisconsin’s K-12 Governance Model

Chris Rickert: The case heard by the state Supreme Court on Tuesday pits Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration against Evers and public education backers who object to the 2011 Act 21. That law gave the governor power to approve or reject the administrative rules state agencies create to implement statutes. A court blocked the law … Continue reading Commentary on Wisconsin’s K-12 Governance Model

Wisconsin DPI’s Ongoing Assessment Process (those Who Brought Us The WKCE)

Molly Beck: State education officials have tapped a former state lawmaker’s company to create a new exam for Wisconsin elementary and middle school students, replacing the problematic Badger Exam that students took for the first and last time this spring. The state is negotiating a contract with Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corporation to build a test … Continue reading Wisconsin DPI’s Ongoing Assessment Process (those Who Brought Us The WKCE)

Commentary on 1.8% of Wisconsin’s $14,000,000,000 in K-12 Spending

Molly Beck: The number of students using vouchers to attend private schools grew from 22,439 during the 2011-12 school year to 29,609 last school year, according to the DPI. At the same time, 870,650 students attended public schools last year — which is about the same number that did in the 2011-12 school year. Enrollment … Continue reading Commentary on 1.8% of Wisconsin’s $14,000,000,000 in K-12 Spending

College Tenure Has Reached Its Sell-By Date

JOHN O. MCGINNIS And MAX SCHANZENBACH: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has come under fire from academics nationwide for calling on his state’s Board of Regents to reconsider the scope of tenure in its university system. Evaluations of faculty members “should be based on performance,” he said this summer, “they should be based on merit.” With … Continue reading College Tenure Has Reached Its Sell-By Date

Chris Abele gears up for role as overseer of troubled Milwaukee schools (and, run for Governor?)

Erin Richards The state budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker last month gave Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele broad authority to oversee a special district in Milwaukee for the city’s most troubled public schools. So, what happens now? Abele must soon appoint a commissioner to oversee the Milwaukee schools selected for new management. But there’s … Continue reading Chris Abele gears up for role as overseer of troubled Milwaukee schools (and, run for Governor?)

UW professor under fire for tweeting at incoming freshmen

Karen Herzog: An outspoken University Wisconsin-Madison professor has tweeted herself into a world of controversy. Sara Goldrick-Rab is under fire for finding future Badgers on Twitter and essentially encouraging them to take their money elsewhere — as well as for comparing Gov. Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler. College Republicans blasted her on Wednesday, and on … Continue reading UW professor under fire for tweeting at incoming freshmen

Law seeks answers on Wisconsin high school grads who need remedial classes

What can or should be done? Jagler is a Republican member of the state Assembly from Watertown. He said he got interested in this when he heard about students who graduated from high school in good standing, enrolled at a UW campus, took placement tests and were assigned to remedial courses. He said one parent … Continue reading Law seeks answers on Wisconsin high school grads who need remedial classes

Tenure at UW System now seen as bellwether by educators across U.S.

Karen Herzog: Last week, two conservative educators — both University of Wisconsin-Madison professors — echoed much of what many of their liberal-leaning colleagues have been saying for weeks, albeit with a twist. Changing tenure rules would put their viewpoints at risk, too, Donald Downs and John Sharpless wrote in a Politico piece. “As far as … Continue reading Tenure at UW System now seen as bellwether by educators across U.S.

In schools, the adults need supervision

Christian Schneider: It’s not nearly as funny, however, when real-world students demand a substandard education. Last week, students from South Division High School walked out of class to protest a legislative plan that would allow private school operators to take over five of the worst-performing schools in Milwaukee Public Schools. The protest combined two of … Continue reading In schools, the adults need supervision

Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Standards

Erin Richards: The proposal comes amid continuing discussion over the rigor and selectivity of university teacher education programs. Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, said there are issues in Wisconsin around the recruitment of would-be teachers and the quality of their preparation. But he said the provision championed by … Continue reading Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Standards

Grafton educator goes all out for kids with disabilities

Alan Borsuk: Recently, Pledl, who has the title of “school to life coordinator” at Grafton High, also has put a lot of that energy and enthusiasm into an idea that could lead to more kids with substantial disabilities statewide having opportunities for transitioning from school to positive situations in life, particularly involving work. In the … Continue reading Grafton educator goes all out for kids with disabilities

To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

Alan Borsuk: Not long ago, some people on the left and some on the right hated tests, but they weren’t much of a force. Now, everyone hates tests — there are too many, they waste time, they don’t prove anything, they stress everyone out, they’re of low quality, they distort education, they’re being used for … Continue reading To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

Teacher Union Lobbying: “We’re saying, ‘OK. We used to have sway top down and the only way we get back there again is to educate people at the local level.’”

Molly Beck: Either way, membership is down more than 50 percent from the union’s 98,000-member levels before Gov. Scott Walker signed his signature legislation in 2011 that significantly diminished collective bargaining rights for most public employees. WEAC’s lobbying dollars have dropped dramatically, too. A decade ago, WEAC spent $1.5 million on lobbying during the 2005-2006 … Continue reading Teacher Union Lobbying: “We’re saying, ‘OK. We used to have sway top down and the only way we get back there again is to educate people at the local level.’”

Going Rogue on Monolithic Education Administrative Costs

Chris Rickert: Talk about putting your best foot forward only to get it stomped on. Last week, in response to an open records request from this newspaper, the UW System released internal emails that showed System President Ray Cross throwing UW-Eau Claire chancellor James Schmidt under the bus for sending him “candid” ideas for how … Continue reading Going Rogue on Monolithic Education Administrative Costs

Governance Diversity: Measure would allow tech colleges to run charter high schools

Erin Richards: Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges could establish independent charter high schools staffed by college instructors, under a proposal being circulated by two Republican lawmakers that aims to better prepare students for the workforce. Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Racine) says charter high schools focused on occupational education or technology could attract students who would not otherwise … Continue reading Governance Diversity: Measure would allow tech colleges to run charter high schools

Madison School District’s Employee Benefit Discussion

Molly Beck: Madison school officials are weighing property tax increases, significant program cuts and requiring employees to pay a portion of health insurance premiums to help close a huge budget deficit. About $6 million could be saved by making aggressive changes to employees’ health care costs, including requiring staff to contribute toward health insurance premiums, … Continue reading Madison School District’s Employee Benefit Discussion

Madison School Board: Mary Burke Seeks Re-Election, Arlene Silveira Will Not

Molly Beck Mary Burke, the incumbent Madison School Board member who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Scott Walker last month, confirmed Friday she will seek re-election in April. But Arlene Silveira, the longest serving board member and in her second stint as president, will not seek another term. And Anna Moffit, who has served on the district’s … Continue reading Madison School Board: Mary Burke Seeks Re-Election, Arlene Silveira Will Not

Wisconsin superintendent seeks an Increase in Redistributed State Tax Dollars to $12,800,000,000

Erin Richards & Kelly Meyerhoffer: State Superintendent Tony Evers wants to boost funding for Wisconsin’s K-12 schools by $613 million in the next biennial budget, combined with increases to the amount of money schools can raise in local taxes, and a new way of funding the Milwaukee voucher program. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s … Continue reading Wisconsin superintendent seeks an Increase in Redistributed State Tax Dollars to $12,800,000,000

Once Sleepy Campaign Issue, Education Gains Clout

Philip Elliott: Middle school art teacher Cynthia Bliss laced up her sneakers, grabbed a jacket and spent most of a recent Saturday asking strangers to help her oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office. “We’re teachers in the area and this election is very important to us,” Bliss told one voter on the front steps … Continue reading Once Sleepy Campaign Issue, Education Gains Clout

Elections, Rhetoric & Madison’s Planned $454,000,000 2014-2015 Budget That Features a 4.2% Property Tax Increase

Molly Beck: Mary Burke faces a key vote on the Madison School Board on Monday a week before the gubernatorial election: whether or not to back a $454 million budget that raises taxes and delivers a 1 percent base pay raise to teachers. Burke, challenging incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in a tight race, declined Tuesday … Continue reading Elections, Rhetoric & Madison’s Planned $454,000,000 2014-2015 Budget That Features a 4.2% Property Tax Increase

Madison school officials, MTI say claims regarding union dues, teachers’ rights don’t belong in Act 10 lawsuit

Pat Schneider: The conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has brought suit against Madison’s public schools through a plaintiff who does not have standing to bring the “scandalous” allegations of violations of teachers’ rights included in its complaint, school district officials claim in a court filing. Plaintiff David Blaska, a conservative blogger, … Continue reading Madison school officials, MTI say claims regarding union dues, teachers’ rights don’t belong in Act 10 lawsuit

Commentary on 0.0015% of Wisconsin K-12 spending over the past 10 years

Molly Beck: Over the past 10 years, Wisconsin taxpayers have paid about $139 million to private schools that were subsequently barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet requirements related to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing, a State Journal review has found. More than two-thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the … Continue reading Commentary on 0.0015% of Wisconsin K-12 spending over the past 10 years

Act 10 was no mistake; in fact, it should be expanded

Edmund Henschel & Russell Knetzger In its Sept. 17 editorial about Gov. Scott Walker’s second term agenda, the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board said, “Act 10 was a mistake” (“Gov. Scott Walker’s second term? Same as the first,” Our View). Act 10 virtually ended collective bargaining for many, but not all, state and local public employees. … Continue reading Act 10 was no mistake; in fact, it should be expanded

Gubernatorial Candidate Burke’s Voucher & Status Quo Governance Commentary

Patrick Marley: Democrat Mary Burke told education officials Friday she would fight as governor to stop the expansion of voucher schools but would leave alone the long-standing program in Milwaukee. “This is something that may sound like a good political sound bite, but it is bad public policy,” she said of expanding the voucher program. … Continue reading Gubernatorial Candidate Burke’s Voucher & Status Quo Governance Commentary

Election Grist: Madison Teachers Inc. has been a bad corporate citizen for too long

David Blaska: Teachers are some of our most dedicated public servants. Many inspiring educators have changed lives for the better in Madison’s public schools. But their union is a horror. Madison Teachers Inc. has been a bad corporate citizen for decades. Selfish, arrogant, and bullying, it has fostered an angry, us-versus-them hostility toward parents, taxpayers, … Continue reading Election Grist: Madison Teachers Inc. has been a bad corporate citizen for too long

Madison’s Lengthy K-12 Challenges Become Election Grist; Spends 22% more per student than Milwaukee

Madison 2005 (reflecting 1998): When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before 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 … Continue reading Madison’s Lengthy K-12 Challenges Become Election Grist; Spends 22% more per student than Milwaukee

Commentary on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Recent Act 10 Decision

Janesville Gazette: Is it good policy? Perhaps Act 10 was an overreach with its union-busting provisions, but it addressed a fiscal need in Wisconsin and the school districts and municipalities that receive state aid. Public employee benefits had become overly generous and burdensome on employers, and Act 10 addressed that by requiring employees to contribute … Continue reading Commentary on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Recent Act 10 Decision

Wisconsin Court Upholds Law Curbing Unions’ Rights

Mark Peters & Caroline Porter: Wisconsin’s highest court upheld a law ending most collective-bargaining rights for government employees in the state, a blow for public-sector unions that have been stymied in their efforts to reverse the controversial measure championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The law, passed in 2011, rocked the state, leading to mass … Continue reading Wisconsin Court Upholds Law Curbing Unions’ Rights

Politics, Wisconsin & The Common Core, Part 34

Alan Borsuk: Here’s a suggestion for something to include in Wisconsin-specific education standards for Wisconsin children: By the end of first grade, children will know that two Badgers plus two Badgers equals four Badgers. You want Indiana-specific standards for Indiana kids? By the end of first grade, children will know that two Hoosiers plus two … Continue reading Politics, Wisconsin & The Common Core, Part 34

Politics, Wisconsin & the Common Core

Erin Richards & Patrick Marley: Gov. Scott Walker’s call to drop the Common Core State Standards in Wisconsin threw a new dart at the beleaguered academic expectations this week. But his plan to have lawmakers pass a bill in January that repeals and replaces the standards might be easier said than done, especially because the … Continue reading Politics, Wisconsin & the Common Core

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America’s Public Sector Union Dilemma

Lee Ohanian: There is much less competition in the public sector than the private sector, and that has made all the difference. Since the Great Recession began in 2008, there has been a growing criticism of public sector unions, reflecting taxpayer concerns about union compensation and unfunded pension liabilities. These concerns have led to proposals … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America’s Public Sector Union Dilemma

Will the Madison School Board Prove Mary Burke Wrong (or Right)?

James Wigderson, via a kind reader: We should not have been surprised when Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke voted with the rest of the Madison school board to negotiate a contract extension with the teachers union. After all, it was just a month ago that Burke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a video … Continue reading Will the Madison School Board Prove Mary Burke Wrong (or Right)?

25.62% of Madison’s $402,464,374 2014/2015 budget to be spent on benefits; District’s Day of Teacher Union Collective Bargaining; WPS déjà vu

The Madison School Board Act 10 duckduckgo google wikipedia Madison Teachers, Inc. Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (PDF), via a kind Jeannie Kamholtz email:: School Board Decisions on Employee Health Insurance Contributions Could Further Reduce Wages Under MTI’s various Collective Bargaining Agreements, the District currently pays 100% of the health insurance premiums for both single … Continue reading 25.62% of Madison’s $402,464,374 2014/2015 budget to be spent on benefits; District’s Day of Teacher Union Collective Bargaining; WPS déjà vu

Since 2004, UW-Madison tuition increased at a greater rate for Wisconsin residents

Pat Schneider: Tuition at UW-Madison is the topic of much scrutiny and debate, as the news of a second year of $1 billion fund reserves prompted Gov. Scott Walker to call for a second tuition freeze. How high is tuition at UW-Madison? Higher than it was — especially for Wisconsin residents — and lower than … Continue reading Since 2004, UW-Madison tuition increased at a greater rate for Wisconsin residents

Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents

WisPolitics Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped … Continue reading Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents

Local, National & Global School Voucher Perspectives

Matthew DeFour on Madison School Board Member and Gubernatorial Candidate Mary Burke: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Tuesday that if elected, she would eliminate the new statewide voucher program and private school tax deduction in the next budget. Burke, a Madison School Board member, previously said she didn’t support the statewide voucher program. In … Continue reading Local, National & Global School Voucher Perspectives

Voucher students post gain in math, reading; still lag public schools

Erin Richards & Kevin Crowe: Reading and math proficiency for students attending private, mostly religious schools in Milwaukee with the help of taxpayer-funded vouchers ticked up in 2013 from 2012, according to the latest state standardized test score results. On average, students in Milwaukee’s private-school voucher program still performed lower than students in the city’s … Continue reading Voucher students post gain in math, reading; still lag public schools

Proposed Wisconsin Academic Standards Bills (Replacing the “Common Core”)

The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

The following links provide a lot of additional details on the legislation that would replace the Common Core State Standards within 12 months with model academic standards created in Wisconsin. Please stay informed and contact your legislators with your thoughts.

2013 Senate Bill 619.
Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 617 (ASA1/AB617)
Video message from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
Governor Scott Walker staff drafted bill aimed at Common Core State Standards.
A Critique of the Wisconsin DPI and Proposed School Choice Changes.

Test every school getting public money

Wisconsin State Journal:

The school accountability bill still boils down to what Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said last fall:
“If you get a check, you get a checkup,” the chairman of the Senate Education Committee succinctly stated.
It’s taken awhile, but consensus on this point has emerged at the state Capitol.
Gov. Scott Walker has expressed similar sentiments for a long time. So did Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, last week during a meeting with the State Journal editorial board.
So let’s get it done.
Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, appears to have the simplest idea that’s easiest to pass. He plans to introduce a bill this week to ensure all traditional public, charter and private voucher schools are reporting student information to the state, including results of a new state test in spring 2015.
Farrow is willing to add consequences for low-performing schools through subsequent legislation next session. That would be in time for state report cards in 2015, which seems reasonable.

‘Our Schools!’ slogan reflects rejuvenated Milwaukee teachers union

Alan Borsuk:

“Our Schools! Our Solutions!”
In eye-catching orange and white, banners and buttons proclaiming that slogan have been showing up in the last several weeks, generally in the hands or on the clothes of members and allies of the Milwaukee teachers union.
It is their four-word proclamation of opposition to plans floated (but so far, not going forward) in Milwaukee and Madison that would make it likely that some low-performing schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system would be turned over to non-MPS charter school operators.
I find the slogan intriguing on several levels.
Level One: It is part of the energetic work leaders of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which has been involved in the campaign, are doing to try to remain relevant. Act 10, the 2011 legislation spurred by Gov. Scott Walker, stripped public employee unions of almost all their power over money and benefits, work conditions and school policies.
What’s left? That’s a challenging question for union leaders. Membership has fallen, political influence has fallen. Leaders of many school districts statewide are working with what remains of unions in more cooperative ways than I expected three years ago, but it is clear who has the upper hand.
In Milwaukee, the MTEA has reduced its staff and spending, but remains visible, active, and, in some cases, influential. The majority of the School Board is generally inclined toward the union.

12 thoughts on a fractious week for Wisconsin’s education scene

Alan Borsuk:

Whatever appeared to be coming together a week ago seemed to be reduced to splinters in the last few days when it came to pursuit of ideas for low performing schools in Milwaukee.
I think it’s contagious and my brain has splintered into thoughts about the fairly tumultuous recent developments. So instead of a single column, I offer fragments.
Fragment 1: Last week was a good one for fans of the status quo. Plans for Republicans in the Legislature to push through new and fairly dramatic steps came to a halt when the lead author said he couldn’t get enough votes.
Milwaukee School Board members went through much rhetoric on what to do in meetings two weeks in a row — and sent the whole issue back to committee. Maybe doing nothing is better than doing the things being suggested. In any case, “doing nothing” is ahead at the moment.
Fragment 2: It’s all about counting to 17. There’s a big roster of education ideas up for action in the Legislature — school accountability, including public and voucher schools; charter school expansion statewide; dealing with the future of the Common Core initiative.
But if 17 of the 18 Republican state senators don’t agree to get behind any of these, nothing will result, at least this year. So far, no one has counted to 17 on any of these fronts. What could change that? Maybe concerted involvement by Gov. Scott Walker. Maybe not. The Senate Republicans are not easy to unite.
Fragment 3: The hostility was strong in the large audiences at the two recent meetings of Milwaukee School Board members focused on low performing schools.
Much of it was aimed at anything to do with charter schools. At one point, mention by Superintendent Gregory Thornton of Teach for America, City Year and especially Schools That Can Milwaukee drew audible rumbling from the crowd.
These organizations are controversial to some folks, but I think they each are bringing positive, good energy and commitment to helping kids in Milwaukee. It’s one thing to disagree on approaches. It’s another to add so much anger to the environment.

Major changes to school report card proposed, including closing poorly performing schools; Teachers union official calls bill ‘armageddon’

Erin Richards:

Starting in 2015’16, every school that receives taxpayer money would receive an A-F rating based on their performance in the following areas:
Achievement on state tests.
Achievement growth on state tests, based on a statistical analysis called value-added that estimates the impact schools and teachers have on student progress.
The progress in closing achievement gaps between white students and subgroups of students who are poor, of minority races or who have disabilities.
Graduation and attendance rate status and improvement.
The current school report card system went into effect two years ago and took the place of the widely disliked sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Gov. Scott Walker once pushed for using A through F grades, but a task force on school accountability had opted for a five-tiered system placing schools in categories from “significantly exceeds expectations” to “fails to meet expectations.”
The 2012-’13 report cards placed 58 schools statewide into the “fails” category. That included 49 in MPS — one is closed, so now there’s 48 — two independent charter schools authorized by the City of Milwaukee, four public schools in Racine and three public schools in Green Bay.

Matthew DeFour & Molly Beck:

Wisconsin’s lowest-performing public schools would be forced to close or reopen as charter schools and the state’s 2-year-old accountability report card would be revamped under a bill unveiled Monday.
The proposal also would require testing for taxpayer-subsidized students at private voucher schools while barring the lowest-performing schools from enrolling new voucher students. Participating private schools also could test all students for accountability purposes.
“We’re going to start holding anybody who gets public money accountable for getting results. That is the bottom line,” said Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which plans to vote on the amended bill Thursday.
The bill makes several changes to the state’s K-12 school accountability system — including assigning schools letter grades — which itself recently replaced a decade-old system under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

New voucher plan for Wisconsin special-needs students revives dispute

Erin Richards

A proposal to allow special-needs students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense is being revived, the latest effort by Republicans in the Legislature to give parents more options outside traditional public schools.
The proposal is a revamped version of a measure that failed in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-’15 budget.
That measure would have allowed 5% of students with disabilities to attend schools outside their home districts with the help of a taxpayer-funded voucher. As part of a broader compromise, the portion on students with disabilities was dropped in favor of a limited expansion of private school vouchers statewide.
The revived Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship bill is scheduled to be introduced Tuesday by State Sens. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and Reps. John Jagler (R-Watertown) and Dean Knudson (R-Hudson).
The primary concern of those who oppose special-needs vouchers is that private schools are not obligated to follow federal disability laws. They point to examples in other states where — in their eyes — underqualified operators have declared themselves experts, opened schools and started tapping taxpayer money.

The year in education: Wins, losses and unsung heroes

Alan Borsuk:

Did not much happen? Consider the waves of flat data on how kids are doing.
It may take a while to sort out this year. But that won’t stop me from offering a few awards for, um, distinguished something or other.
Most jaw-dropping moment of the year: Adding into the state budget a statewide private school voucher program. Literally in the middle of the night, with no public hearings or advance word, this emerged from a backroom deal by key Republicans and voucher lobbyists. It is limited to a small number of students now. But if Gov. Scott Walker wins re-election in November and Republicans keep control of the Assembly and Senate, there is a strong possibility vouchers will become available widely in Wisconsin.
Education person of the year: Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton. In his fourth year, Thornton and his powerful behind-the-scenes chief of staff, Naomi Gubernick, are at the center of so much. Thornton is both tough and a nice guy, each an asset in his work. He is good at spreading optimism. He’s got plans and goals that sound good and, in many ways, are. And he’s politically adept. But he is a perplexing figure who seems eager not to be challenged by subordinates or pesky people like reporters. A “gotcha” style of management by bosses seems to be pretty common in MPS, undermining morale.
The Same Old Same Old Award: Waves of test data and a second round of the new statewide school report cards told us that the Have kids are doing OK in Wisconsin and the Have Not kids are not. As for the Haves, they’re not doing so well that we shouldn’t be talking about how to give their schools a fresh burst of energy, and that seems to be happening in some places. As for the Have Nots, so little has changed, despite so much effort. There are a few bright spots on the scene, and we need to do more to grow them. Overall, we’ve got to find paths that are better than the ones we’ve been on.
The Gone-At-Last Award (Hopefully To Stay): Dr. Brenda Noach Choice School. This was one of a handful of voucher schools that was a model of what’s wrong with oversight of Milwaukee’s nationally important program to pay for children in private schools. The school was “an abomination,” as one strongly pro-voucher leader told me recently. But for years, it fended off attempts to cut off its funding. Finally, this year, after receiving $7,299,749 in public money over a dozen years, the Brenda Noach school ran out of options — it couldn’t find anyone to accredit it. But that doesn’t mean the school leaders aren’t shopping for accreditation to re-open for next year.

School board races matter, and there’s still time to run

The Capital Times:

Candidates who lose a race for public office face a choice. They can give up on campaigning and step back to the sidelines of the American experiment. Or they can wade back into the competition — better prepared and more determined to prevail.
Gaylord Nelson lost his first race for the state Legislature.
So did Scott Walker.
Robert M. La Follette lost and lost before he won the governorship.
Bill Proxmire lost statewide race after statewide race before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Paul Soglin lost his first race for mayor of Madison.
And Madison firefighter and paramedic Michael Flores lost his first race for the Madison School Board in 2012.

Much more on the 2014 Madison School Board election, here.

Mary Burke’s campaign to revise website after initially not mentioning her Madison School Board role

Matthew DeFour:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke launched a new, more detailed website Tuesday with one notable omission: her only experience in elective office, as a Madison School Board member.
But after the State Journal inquired about it, the campaign said it would update the site to include her role on the board.
A campaign spokesman called the omission an “oversight.” However, the website in several places downplays Burke’s ties to the city where she lives.
The website focuses on Burke’s experience as a top executive at Waterloo-based Trek Bicycle, which her father founded, and her time as Commerce secretary in the Gov. Jim Doyle administration.
Burke, the only Democrat so far who announced plans to run against Gov. Scott Walker next fall, launched burkeforwisconsin.com in October with a video announcement and ways for supporters to provide an email and donate to the campaign.

Madison schools’ academic challenges and above average spending & taxes will likely receive greater scrutiny during the upcoming gubernatorial election.
That said, a healthy debate on Madison’s long time, agrarian era governance model vs the more dynamic school choices available in most urban areas would be welcome.
– Phil Hands

Mary Burke shares views on voucher schools

Tom Kertscher:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke shared some of her views on school vouchers in a lengthy interview she did over the weekend with blogger Heather DuBois Bourenane, a prominent critic of Gov. Scott Walker.
Some of Burke’s remarks, based on a transcript:
Q. “What do you really think you can you do to move past this sort of toxic and divisive rhetoric without seeming like you’re not willing to take a stand on the issues that really matter the most to preserving Wisconsin values and to standing up for Wisconsin workers and students and educators?”
“I talk about jobs a lot because I do believe that there are a lot of people who are unemployed and really struggling to get by and we do have to emphasize what’s going to get jobs growing here in Wisconsin. But also I think that the direction that we’re headed in terms of education is really frightening to me. The statewide voucher expansion we’re talking about, I actively fought against and I think that I am very worried about what will happen in the next four years with regards to taking the caps off and funding them through a continued siphoning of funds that should be going to public education.”
Q.”If you don’t support a full repeal of the voucher system, how exactly do you plan to improve their performance and accountability without draining more taxpayer funds from the public school budget?”
“Sure. Well, first, in the interview I gave regarding the voucher, statewide voucher expansion, the emphasis I definitely placed is in not taking off the caps or letting the voucher expand. Then in terms of rolling back that statewide voucher expansion, you know, as governor I would have to work with the Legislature and certainly would do that, but it would be obviously only in conjunction with the Legislature that could happen.

Vouchers & Politics: Commentary

Chris Rickert:

Despite all this, Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers seem paralyzed in the face of potential bipartisan agreement.
Walker has said as far back as August that he’s open to changing the voucher program to give preference to public school students. The Republican chairmen of the Senate and Assembly education committees have made similar noises. Yet none responded to messages from me saying essentially: Well, OK, so are you introducing legislation to do that?
Similarly, Gillian Drummond, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, said “I have not heard of anything” on possible Democratic legislation on the issue in the Senate.
Speaking on background, a staffer for Rep. Sondy Pope, who has been outspoken in her criticism of underwriting private school tuition with vouchers, said “our caucus as a whole is looking” to do something even more stringent than in Racine, but was less than optimistic about Republicans going along.

Madison School Board Grows Taxes & Spending: 6-1 vote

Molly Beck:

Property taxes in the Madison School District will increase by about $67 for the average homeowner as part of the final $392 million 2013-14 budget approved by the school board on Monday.
The board voted 6-1 to approve this year’s amended budget and also to set the levy at $257.7 million, a 3.38 percent increase over last year.
That increase is about 1 percentage point less than originally projected in July, before Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his two-year $100 million property tax relief bill that sent an additional $2.5 million in state aid to Madison schools.
Total property taxes will increase by $66.74 on average. That’s $39.24 less of an increase than originally expected earlier this year, according to district budget documents. A property tax bill for the average $231,000 Madison home is now estimated to be $2,739.66 for school purposes.
School board member Mary Burke, a candidate for governor, cast the lone votes against the final amended budget and against the levy, citing the desire to see a better balance between the needs of the district and the needs of taxpayers.
“Next year, as we look at this, we really need to look at how many people are struggling to make ends meet,” Burke said about the levy increase, noting the district and board should consider whether salary increases among district families are not keeping pace with property tax increases.

Much more on the 2013-2014 budget, here.
The City of Madison’s portion of local property tax will grow 2.2%.
Middleton’s property taxes are 16% less than Madison’s on a comparable home.

Teachers sue to force Wisconsin school district recertification votes

Jason Stein:

Seeking to counter a recent trial judge’s ruling in a public labor lawsuit, a Milwaukee teacher and four others from Wisconsin are suing to force the union elections called for under Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation.
With teachers from La Crosse, Waukesha, Brookfield and Racine, Nicholas Johnson of Milwaukee Public Schools filed the lawsuit in Waukesha County Circuit Court with legal help from union opponents at the National Right to Work Foundation and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The lawsuit seeks to force the state Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to hold recertification elections to determine whether the unions in their districts can officially represent school employees. The rules for the recertification elections make them difficult for unions to win, and many labor groups faced with them have chosen not even to hold them.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colás last year found Act 10 was unconstitutional for teachers and local government workers, saying it violated their guarantee of equal protection under the law and infringed on their freedom-of-association rights.

Pushing back against Republican lawlessness over Act 10

Ruth Conniff:

When Dane Country Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas held officials in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration in contempt this week, he was pushing back against a level of unchecked lawlessness by this administration that is “practically seditious,” says attorney Lester Pines.
Colas had already ruled a year ago that parts of Act 10 — the law that ended most collective bargaining rights for most public employees — were unconstitutional. This included Act 10’s requirement that unions hold annual recertification elections. But commissioners at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission decided to ignore that decision. They went ahead and prepared for recertification elections for more than 400 school district and worker unions in November.
“The commissioners knew full well” they were flouting the court, Colas said, despite their cute argument that the word “unconstitutional” applied only to the specific plaintiffs in the case — teachers in Madison and city workers in Milwaukee.
As John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., put it, Colas’ decision “is one of the most important decisions not only in public-sector labor history, but also in democracy.”
The principle here is simple. If a law is unconstitutional on its face, it’s unconstitutional in every case. That has always been understood in Wisconsin courts. And, Judge Colas pointed out, the Walker officials understood it, too.

Wisconsin School District Redistributed State Tax Dollar Receipts

Matthew DeFour:

Public schools will receive $4.26 billion in general state aid this school year, up $87.5 million or 2.1 percent from last year, the Department of Public Instruction announced Wednesday.
The aid figures are a revision from those released Oct. 15. Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Sunday to increase aid by $100 million over two years. The bill did not include an increase in state-imposed limits on school district revenues, so school boards are expected to use the additional aid to lower property taxes.
The aid figures were marginally different than estimates released by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau last week as part of the discussion of the property tax relief bill. The Madison School District, for example, will receive $12,680 less than reported last week, a change of 0.02 percent.
Over all, Madison will get $52.2 million in state aid, a 10.7 percent decrease.

Madison received an increase of $11,800,000 in redistributed state tax dollars last year…

Madison Schools’ 2013-2014 Budget Charts, Documents, Links, Background & Missing Numbers.

Comments & Links on Madison’s Latest Teacher Union Agreement

Andrea Anderson:

Under the new contracts clerical and technical employees will be able to work 40-hour work weeks compared to the current 38.75, and based on the recommendation of principals, employees who serve on school-based leadership teams will be paid $20 per hour.
Additionally, six joint committees will be created to give employees a say in workplace issues and address topics such as planning time, professional collaboration and the design of parent-teacher conferences.
Kerry Motoviloff, a district instructional resource teacher and MTI member, spoke at the beginning of the meeting thanking School Board members for their collective bargaining and work in creating the committees that are “getting the right people at the right table to do the right work.”
Cheatham described the negotiations with the union as “both respectful and enormously productive,” adding that based on conversations with district employees the contract negotiations “accomplished the goal they set out to accomplish.”

Pat Schneider:

“Madison is in the minority. Very few teachers are still under contract,” said Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Fewer than 10 of 424 school districts in the state have labor contracts with teachers for the current school year, she said Wednesday.
And while Brey said WEAC’s significance is not undermined by the slashed number of teacher contracts, at least one state legislator believes the state teacher’s union is much less effective as a resource than it once was.
Many school districts in the state extended teacher contracts through the 2011-2012 school year after Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s law gutting collective bargaining powers of most public employees, was implemented in 2011. The Madison Metropolitan School District extended its teacher contract for two years — through the 2013-2014 school year — after Dane County Judge Juan Colas struck down key provisions of Act 10 in September 2012.
The contract ratified by the members Monday will be in effect until June 30, 2015.

Andrea Anderson:

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty emailed a letter to Cheatham and the School Board warning that a contract extension could be in violation of Act 10.
Richard Esenberg, WILL president, said he sent the letter because “we think there are people who believe, in Wisconsin, that there is somehow a window of opportunity to pass collective bargaining agreements in violation of Act 10, and we don’t think that.”
If the Supreme Court rules Act 10 is constitutional all contracts signed will be in violation of the law, according to Esenberg.
Esenberg said he has not read the contract and does not know if the district and union contracts have violated collective bargaining agreements. But, he said, “I suspect this agreement does.”

Pat Schneider:

The contract does not “take back” any benefits, Matthews says. However, it calls for a comprehensive analysis of benefits that could include a provision to require employees to pay some or more toward health insurance premiums if they do not get health care check-ups or participate in a wellness program.
Ed Hughes, president of the Madison School Board, said that entering into labor contracts while the legal issues surrounding Act 10 play out in the courts was “the responsible thing to do. It provides some stability to do the important work we need to do in terms of getting better results for our students.”
Hughes pointed out that the contract establishes a half-dozen joint committees of union and school district representatives that will take up issues including teacher evaluations, planning time and assignments. The contract calls for mediation on several of the issues if the joint committees cannot reach agreement.
“Hopefully this will be a precursor of the way we will work together in years to come, whatever the legal framework is,” Hughes said.
Matthews, too, was positive about the potential of the joint committees.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty:

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg warns, “The Madison School Board is entering a legally-gray area. Judge Colas’ decision has no effect on anyone outside of the parties involved. The Madison School Board and Superintendent Cheatham – in addition to the many teachers in the district – were not parties to the lawsuit. As we have continued to say, circuit court cases have no precedential value, and Judge Colas never ordered anyone to do anything.”
He continued, “If the Madison School District were to collectively bargain in a way that violates Act 10, it could be exposed to litigation by taxpayers or teachers who do not wish to be bound to an illegal contract or to be forced to contribute to an organization that they do not support.” The risk is not theoretical. Last spring, WILL filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Area Technical College alleging such a violation.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s letter to Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham (PDF).
The essential question, how does Madison’s non-diverse K-12 governance model perform academically? Presumably, student achievement is job one for our $15k/student district.
Worth a re-read: Then Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Common Core’s enemies are another reason to support it

Chris Rickert

There’s a pretty good chance Scott Walker doesn’t know much about Common Core, the new set of education standards for kindergarten through high school being adopted by states and school districts across the country.
It’s not surprising, then, that when his spokesman was asked Tuesday to explain what his boss meant when he said the standards might be too weak, this newspaper got no response. It’s likely that Walker doesn’t know what he meant.
He’s not alone — a poll recently found that two-thirds of Americans hadn’t even heard of Common Core — and that’s unfortunate because it leaves the door open for those at the extreme ends of the political spectrum to step into the vacuum.
In May, state tea party groups sent a letter to Walker and the Legislature accusing the Common Core of being all sorts of bad things, including an “educational fraud” and something of a federal takeover of education.

Drawing conclusions: Politics of art class appear to come with different consequences

Ryan Ekvall:

A controversial art lesson in the Madison Metropolitan School District draws similarities from a 2012 incident in which a Louisiana middle school teacher was fired after displaying his student’s anti-President Obama drawings.
Kati Walsh, an elementary art teacher in Madison, published anti-Gov. Scott Walker political cartoons drawn by her kindergarten, first- and second-grade students. One drawing depicts Walker in jail, and another in which he appears to be in jail and engulfed in flames. Walsh said the orange in that drawing actually represented a prison jumpsuit.
Robert Duncan, a former Slidell, La., middle school social studies teacher at St. Tammany Parish School District, was fired after an internal investigation found he acted incompetently in displaying several student drawings depicting harm to Obama. The incident was first brought to light after a parent leaked photos of the drawings to WDSU, a local TV news outlet.

After learning to read well, critical thinking would certainly be a useful topic for all students.

This Year’s SAT Scores Are Out, and They’re Grim

Pat Schneider:

isconsin State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Evers used the platform of his annual State of Education speech Thursday to respond to skeptics of Common Core standards, whose ranks Republican Gov. Scott Walker joined just a few days earlier.
“We cannot go back to a time when our standards were a mile wide and an inch deep, leaving too many kids ill prepared for the demands of college and a career. We cannot pull the rug out from under thousands of kids, parents and educators who have spent the past three years working to reach these new, higher expectations that we have set for them. To do so would have deep and far reaching consequences for our kids, and for our state,” Evers said in remarks at the State Capitol that also touched on accountability for voucher schools. “We must put our kids above our politics. And we owe it to them to stay the course.”
Evers signed on to national Common Core curriculum standards for reading and math in 2010, making Wisconsin one of the first states to adopt them. School districts across the state, including Madison Metropolitan School District, are in the process of implementing them. Madison schools Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham has called Common Core standards “pretty wonderful,” and says they are about critical thinking and applying skills to practical tasks.
Walker had been pretty low-key about Common Core until a few days ago, when he issued a statement calling for separate, more rigorous state standards. Republican leaders of both houses of the state Legislature quickly announced special committees to weigh the Common Core standards, and public hearings on not-yet-adopted science and social studies standards will be held, according to one report.

Related: Wisconsin’s oft-criticized WKCE assessment and wisconsin2.org

A bachelor’s degree could cost $10,000 — total. Here’s how.

Dylan Matthews:

A couple years ago, Rutgers historian David Greenberg noticed a defect endemic to books about social, political and economic problems: The last chapter always sucks. “Practically every example of that genre, no matter how shrewd or rich its survey of the question at hand, finishes with an obligatory prescription that is utopian, banal, unhelpful or out of tune with the rest of the book,” Greenberg noted.
And it’s not just books. I’ll be the first to admit that the possible fixes with which I finished off my series on the alarming rise in college tuition were pretty vague and utopian. But helpfully, the good folks at Third Way have noticed that the conversation about how to reign in tuition has gotten a little too small-minded. “For both parties, in particular Democrats, our solution to the problem of rising cost of college has been to subsidize the rising cost,” the think tank’s president, Jonathan Cowan, says. “That’s been our official policy, to subsidize the rising cost, and that has to be seen as a fairly intellectually bankrupt approach. We need a dramatically different approach that is about driving down the rising price.”
To that end, Third Way is publishing a new report by Anya Kamenetz, one of the most interesting writers on higher ed innovation in the game, that lays out a detailed plan for pushing the total cost of a public bachelor’s degree down to $10,000. Not $10,000 a year, mind you: $10,000 total. She’s not the first to have this idea, as Govs. Rick Perry (R-Tex.), Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have all proposed $10,000 degrees.

Madison elementary art teacher posts students’ anti-Walker cartoons

Ryan Ekvall, via a kind reader email:

Some kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in Madison public schools are apparently preparing for futures in either political cartooning or time on a psychiatrist’s couch.
Kati Walsh, an elementary art teacher at the Madison Metropolitan School District in July posted some of her students’ drawings of Gov. Scott Walker in jail. Walsh suggests her young Rembrandts’ ideas for their sketches popped up out of thin air.
“One student said something to the effect of ‘Scott Walker wants to close all the public schools’… So the rest of the class started drawing their own cartoons and they turned very political. They have very strong feelings about Scott Walker,” the teacher wrote on her blog.

Remarkable. I am in favor of a wide ranging, free thinking education for our future generations, after they have mastered reading….. Some teachers deal with ideology very well, others not so much.

New Governance Model for the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Alan Borsuk

A recovery school district for low-performing schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system? The news that a group of civic leaders convened last week at the initiative of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to consider such an idea gave me an instant trip to the land of MPS Structural Reform Ideas Past.
Start with the 1970s, when then-State Rep. Dennis Conta and others proposed redoing school districts in the Milwaukee area so there would be a small number of districts shaped like slices of pie, each including parts of the central city and parts of the suburbs. Caused a big stir, but, of course, it didn’t happen. (I wonder what would have resulted if it had come to pass.)
Jump to the late 1990s: Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson announced he was setting several goals for Milwaukee Public Schools, including test score and attendance improvement, and if they weren’t met, he was going to have the state take over MPS. My assumption is that he thought about it a little more, asking himself, why would I want to take on that mountainous headache? MPS, of course, didn’t meet the goals, but Thompson didn’t pursue the idea.
In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle said he wanted to put MPS under the control of a board appointed by the mayor of Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett kind of seemed to go along. But Doyle and Barrett didn’t do a good job of making the case, community opposition was effective and the idea came to nothing.
In 2010, then-candidate for governor Scott Walker said he thought MPS should be broken up into a set of smaller districts the size of, oh, say, Wauwatosa, where his kids went to school. Never heard any more about that idea, perhaps because Walker realized it was not doable.

Bill would place new standards and ratings on public and voucher schools

Jason Stein:

All schools funded by state taxpayers — including private voucher schools — would be held to new standards and Milwaukee’s public schools would still face state intervention, under long-expected legislation offered Wednesday by two key GOP lawmakers.
Work has been under way for two years on the measure, which would establish the first-ever rating for private voucher schools based on their student performance data. It comes a month and a half after lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker expanded Wisconsin’s voucher program for private schools statewide.
The measure would not change the status of Milwaukee Public Schools, which under the state’s current accountability system is the only district in Wisconsin so far to face corrective action.
The new standards were proposed Wednesday by the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly education committees, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake).
“We want parents to have the best information possible while at the same time making sure all of their choices are quality options,” Kestell said in a statement.
The bill would cover all schools receiving tax dollars, from traditional public schools to public charter schools and voucher schools. Work on it began two years ago with a task force chaired by Walker and state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, an ally to Democrats, along with Olsen and Kestell.
But passage of the complex measure through the Republican-held Legislature is by no means guaranteed. Both Olsen and Kestell have sometimes taken more aggressive postures on overseeing vouchers than some other Republican colleagues, particularly those in the Assembly.

WEAC: An advocate for students as well as teachers WEAC has worked with Republicans and Democrats for the benefit of children.

By Morris Andrews former Executive Secretary Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) 1972-1992
Lost in the two-month maelstrom at the state Capitol is the role of teachers and their union, WEAC, as the chief advocates for school quality in Wisconsin. Scott Walker and the Fitzgeraids paint WEAC as a destroyer. They say eradicate WEAC, an organization they know almost nothing about except that it opposes their antisteacher agenda. Should they succeed in killing the voice of organized teachers, the real loser wilt be our public schools.
Teachers have fought hard to make schools better over the past four decades. And it was Republican and Democratic votes in support of WEAC issues that resulted in the passage of pro-education bills. Such bipartisanship is but one casualty of today’s polarized politics.
Beginning in the 1970s WEAC became a political force, mainly by deciding to start backing legislative candidates. To receive WE/C’s endorsement, a candidate had to support a list of education-related issues. Many Republicans did support these school improvement issues. And WEAC members consequently worked to help them win election or reelection. One Republican who received a WEAC endorsement was Tommy Thompson when he was in the Assembly.
Today it seems unbelievable that the 1977 collective bargaining bill now reviled by the governor passed with Republican support. At the time, there were 11 Republicans in the Senate; five of them supported the bill. When the law’s three-year trial period was about to expire, a group of Senate Republicans voted to extend it–despite a veto by Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus. Notably, Mike Ellis (then in the Assembly) was among a group of Republicans who jumped party lines on procedural votes that saved it.
Our members then also reflected views across the spectrum. They identified themselves this way: Independents, 37%; Democrats, 35%; and Republicans, 27%. This spectrum was reflected at the annual WEAC convention, held a few days before the 1976 presidential election, when Gerald Ford and Walter Mondale both spoke to the huge assembly. Today, these numbers have changed as the Republicans shift further and further to the extremes.
Did WEAC work to improve teacher pay and benefits? Yes, of course. But we were also committed to changing the wide variation in school quality from district to district.
At the top of WEAC’s school improvement list was getting a set of minimum educational standards that applied to every school district. In 1974, with Republican support, we succeeded. Today these standards are taken for granted. Among the many changes were requirements that every district must:
establish a remedial reading program for underachieving Ke3 student
offer music art, health, and physical education.
have a kindergarten for five-year olds.
ensure that school facilities are safe. (Many aging buildings were crumbling)
provide emergency nursing services.
require teachers in Wisconsin to go through continuing education and to have their licenses renewed once every five years. (Prior to enactment of minimum standards. districts were empbying unlicensed teachers for whom they secured an emergency license that they would hold year after year).
On this foundation of programs Wisconsin students rose to the top of the national ACT scores for decades.
The state Department of Public instruction (DPI), headed by State Superintendent Barbara Thompson, was charged with implementing the minimum standards. She accepted most of WEAC’s recommendations. WEAC backed Thompson, a Republican with strong GOP support for her reelection in 1977.
We sought common ground with Republicans. When Democratic Governer Pat Lucey proposed strict cost controls on school budgets in 1975, it was Republicans and Democrats in the Senate 110 coalesced with WEAC and school boards against Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee to ease the restrictions. Years later, when Republican Governor lee Dreyfus vetoed a measure to raise the cost control ceiling, the WEAC-supported override succeeded with the votes of 23 Assembly Republicans and eight Senate Republicans against the Republican governor.
As late as 1984, Wisconsin had no uniform high school graduation requirements. WEAC supported Gov. Tony Earl’s efforts requiring graduates to have a specified number of credits in English, maths science, social studies, physical education, health, and computer science.
To curb underage drinking, WEAC Joined with a coalition of organizations on a bill that gave teachers and administrators legal protection to remove students suspected of drinking from school premises and events. All Assembly Democrats and all but three Republicans voted for the bill. In the Senate all Republicans voted for it and all but two Democrats voted for it.
WEAC allied with Republicans and Democrats to repeal a longestanding provision that gave city councils in 41 of our largest cities veto power over their school boards’ budgets.
The fate of students with special needs also concerned WEAC in 1973, four years before Congress passed the federal special education law, WEAC successfully lobbied the Wisconsin Legislature for a state special education law that required every district to have a special education program. The chief sponsor was James Devitt, a Republican state senator.
In 1976, the Legislature approved WEAC-backed bills to require tests of newborns for signs of mental retardation, and require children under age five to undergo a test for visual impairment. During this time WEAC successfully supported a bill that required teachers to report suspected child abuse, which has helped protect children across the state from life-altering harm.
In the 1970s, sex discrimination in school athletics was a major issue. In most school districts many sports were for boys only. This changed after WEAC joined with women’s groups to ensure that girls who wanted to play in sports have the same opportunity as boys. There were less than half as many WIAA-sponsored statewide tournaments for girls as there were for boys 14 for boys, six for girls. WEAC filed sex discrimination lawsuits against both the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) and the DPI that helped correct this inequality. WEAC also convinced the Legislature to budget the additional state funding needed to add programs for girls.
Working with the Great Lakes lnter-Tribal Council, which represents Native Americans on ten reservations, WEAC successfully lobbied for a bill that provided state aid to districts that employed home/school coordinators for Native American students. And for passage of a law allowing Native Americans without certification to teach native culture and endangered native languages.
Citizens who wanted to add new or replace old school buildings asked WEAC to help them pass local bond referendums. Monroe was one district where WEAC’s help resulted in passage of a school bond for a much needed elementary school. The measure had failed in four previous elections. With WEAC help it won by a huge margin on the fifth attempt.
Property taxes are a major source of school funding. VVEAC recognized that tax increases place a burden on low income homeowners, especially retirees on fixed incomes. To help these people, we backed an expanded homestead tax-relief program. Another action in support of low income citizens was creation of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB). CUB fights for affordable electricity and telephone service on behalf of Wisconsin customers before regulatory agencies, the Legislature, and the courts. Two organizations that fought hardest for CUB were WEAC and the United Auto Workers. All Wisconsin utilities opposed it.
The key to these achievements in the 1970s and ’80s was the cooperative spirit between WEAC and politicians of both parties. People from different sides of the aisle respected and listened to one another. We socialized outside of the Capitol. We grew to like each other, even if we disagreed on political issues.
Today there is no middle ground. Compromise is deemed “caving in.” Winning is not enough for the extremists. The “enemy must be completely destroyed. But if teacher unions are silenced, who will replace them as effective advocates for students?

Spending by Wisconsin unions on lobbyists plummets, records show

Jason Stein:

In just two years, spending by the state’s public employee unions on lobbyists has plummeted from the summit of Wisconsin politics, leaving business interests uncontested at the pinnacle of Capitol lobbying, a new report shows.
The figures show the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teacher union, spent nearly $2.1 million in the first six months of 2011 and $1 million in the first half of 2009, but a mere $84,000 in the first six months of this year. The union is spending less than one-tenth of what it once did.
The preliminary lobbying figures from the Government Accountability Board released this week are just the latest sign of the deep impact of Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 law repealing most collective bargaining for most public employees. The new figures on who’s lobbying state lawmakers follow a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report showing that this same law had crushed the membership and finances of government labor unions as well as eliminating most of their former duties.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council was first or second in spending on lobbying in legislative sessions over the past four years and reached the height of its lobbying efforts in the first six months of 2011, as labor leaders tried feverishly but unsuccessfully to block Walker’s legislation.
But for the first six months of 2013, a critical period in which Republicans sharply expanded taxpayer-financed private voucher schools, WEAC’s lobbying spending was nothing special when compared with the other groups that have filed their lobbying reports with state officials. The once heavyweight contender now ranks 40th in the total spending at the Capitol, with its lobbying so far this year almost exactly matching the spending by two other middleweight interests: Marquette University and a conservation group.

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Wisconsin school staffing holds steady after years of decline

Bill Lueders:

Newly released data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show that staffing levels at state public schools held steady last year, despite fears that changes initiated by Gov. Scott Walker would prompt additional losses.
The number of employees did drop in some program areas and in some districts, according to the DPI’s summary report. And overall staffing remains significantly lower than five years ago.
“District job losses as the result of budget cuts have stabilized, and in some cases become one-year positive readjusts,” DPI spokesman John Johnson said. Despite this rebound, he said, many districts are still hurting for staff, “and student services programs have been cut dramatically.”
The data, released this week, tally staff levels for the 2012-13 school year as they existed on the third Friday in September.
They show that the state’s 424 school districts had 99,265 full-time equivalent positions in 2012-13. That’s up 25 positions from 2011-12, but down a total of 5,200 FTE positions since 2008-09.

GOP complaint: Poll tests possible gubernatorial run by Madison School Board Member Mary Burke

Matthew DeFour

A Democratic poll testing gubernatorial candidates asks respondents their opinions about Madison School Board member Mary Burke, a complaint with state regulators says.
In one of the strongest signs yet that Madison School Board member Mary Burke is considering a run against Gov. Scott Walker in November 2014, a polling firm is apparently testing her favorability rating among potential voters.
The poll came to light Tuesday after the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board regarding a telephone poll that included questions about the former Trek Bicycle executive and Commerce Secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
The Associated Press also reported Tuesday that online records show that on June 12, the day before the poll was conducted, six Internet domain names that point toward a Burke candidacy were registered anonymously, including: Burkeforwisconsin.org, Burkeforwisconsin.com, Maryburke.org, Burkeforgovernor.com, and Burkeforgovernor.org.
Burke did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The GOP complaint, filed against Burke and the state Democratic Party, alleges a telephone pollster asked questions about Burke and whether certain statements would influence the respondent’s vote.

The PDF complaint (1.2MB).
Not much, if anything has changed within our public schools over the past year that Mary has been on the Board. There is plenty to do, starting with the District’s long-term, disastrous reading scores.

Education winners, losers in Wisconsin budget talks

Alan Borsuk:

I usually give awards for special distinction for work on kindergarten through 12th-grade matters only at year’s end. But we’re having bonus presentations now to mark completion of the work of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on the state budget for the next two years.
The budget still has to go to the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Scott Walker, but Republican leaders are determined to kibosh any substantial changes, so it’s a strong bet this is basically the final version. Without further ado, the awards:
The Surprise! Surprise! Award:
Intense competition for this, given all that happened after a 10-hour, closed-door session of Republicans led to an all-nighter for the committee. The prize goes to tax credits for private school tuition. Never put forth earlier as a proposal, never subject to public input, it was introduced and approved around dawn Wednesday. Starting in 2014, taxpayers could deduct as much as $10,000 from their income for state tax purposes to offset private school tuition. That translates into as much as $600-plus in actual money for some families and probably somewhat of a boost to the appeal of private schools.

Why aren’t voucher schools subject to open records law?

Jack Craver:

Last week, Sarah Karon of the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a Cap Times column that voucher schools should be held to the same standard of public scrutiny to which public schools are currently subjected.
She noted that many private schools that participate in the Milwaukee School Choice Program receive the great majority of their money from taxpayer-financed vouchers.
Open records advocates, such as the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, agree. If voucher schools are receiving taxpayer dollars, then shouldn’t the fourth estate be allowed to shine a light on them?
“We feel that because there’s a significant amount of money from taxpayers and because there is intense public interest in the metrics (for evaluating schools), they should provide a comparable level of transparency that public schools provide,” says Bill Lueders, president of the WFIC.
Among Republicans, there appears to be a divide over just how much accountability taxpayers can demand from vouchers. Whereas the GOP leadership and Gov. Scott Walker are pushing measures that will subject vouchers to the Common Core academic standards and include voucher student test scores in the statewide Student Information System, conservative stalwart Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, one of the loudest advocates of voucher schools, believes those measures pervert the entire idea behind school choice.

Vouchers: First He Came for the Teachers; then He Came for the Kids; School Calendar 2013-14; Ready, Set, Goal Conferences; Parent-Teacher Conferences

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (PDF), via a kind Jeannie Bettner email:

As he described it in February, 2011, Governor Scott Walker “dropped a bomb” on Wisconsin’s public employees, attempting to strip them of their rights to collectively bargain. Now he’s aiming at our kids. Walker’s 2013 biennial budget goes a long way in his plan to crush public education in Wisconsin; a move to privatize via VOUCHERS (i.e. providing funding from the area public school to enable parents to pay tuition to send their children to private or religious schools).
In its press conference on May 17, the Forward Institute released their study of the impact of school funding on educational opportunity. The study found that schools with higher poverty levels have experienced greater loss in funding when compared to more affluent schools across the state. The number of students in Wisconsin living in poverty has doubled since 2007, and since 2007 state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in 17 years. Walker’s biennial budget proposes to further exacerbate the situation by expanding voucher schools into nine additional areas, including Madison.
Expanding voucher schools will take away funding from our public schools. Not only are school districts required to pay 38.4% of the cost of each voucher; they lose the ability to count the student attending private/parochial schools in the state aid formula on which the amount of revenue is based. In Madison, a person would receive $6,442 from the MMSD to send their child to a private or parochial school. Yet Madison would receive no additional state aid to offset that cost, so payments come directly from money that would have supported education in Madison public schools. It is projected that in the first five years of vouchers, Madison schools could lose nearly $27 million to vouchers.


MTI has received several concerns regarding the calendar, as recently released by the District, for the 2013-14 school year. Among the demands by the District, enabled by Governor Walker’s Act 10, in last year’s negotiations, was that one of the Voluntary Days, August 28, be converted to a mandatory attendance “development day”. It is specifically designated as “development”, not “staff development”. The latter is designated for August 29. Since the 1970’s the Contract provided returning teachers three Voluntary Days, days for which they are paid, but did not have to be at their assigned work site. The new Contract, effective July 1, 2013, reduces that to two days. “All Staff Day” is August 30.
Secondly, an agreement provides that the District has full
discretion as to whether to enable Ready, Set, Goal Conferences. The agreement provides teachers compensation or flex time for engaging parents in such conferences. Because of the proposed cut in State aid under Governor Walker’s Budget, MMSD may not authorize RSG Conferences this fall. They ask that teachers prepare letters inviting parents for such conferences, should funding enable them.
Third, is the issue of Parent-Teacher conferences. The Contract provides that there will be two evenings for conferences and that the day following conferences will also be for conferences with no students present to enable conferences which were not held on the prior evening. The District has failed to list November 13 as being with no students, while they scheduled evening conferences on November 12. The District has proposed to MTI changing the day following each conference to be with students, and having the only “no student” day be November 27, the day before Thanksgiving.

Vouchers are not an existential threat to our local public school structure. Long-term disastrous reading scores are, and merit everyone’s full attention.

Wisconsin Charter schools, voucher plan hit snags

Matthew DeFour

Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to create a statewide charter school board has hit a roadblock as lawmakers are considering removing it from the next two-year budget.
Republicans are also backing away from using new school report cards to expand the state’s voucher program, though a broader agreement on the voucher expansion remained elusive Wednesday.
Republicans said they might introduce separate legislation to establish a statewide board to authorize nonprofits to open charter schools in certain school districts, including Madison.
“We think that’s highly popular around the state and we need to talk about it a little more,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance Committee, which is rewriting Walker’s 2013-15 spending plan.

Public school advocates make final push as education debate looms

Matthew DeFour:

(Wisconsin) Public school advocates have intensified their efforts to sway Republican lawmakers on the biggest K-12 education issues in the state budget, which are scheduled for debate Wednesday.
Heading into the holiday weekend, Republicans hadn’t reached an agreement about the most controversial proposal in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 budget proposal — the expansion of private school vouchers to Madison and other school districts around the state.
But Walker told reporters Friday he was optimistic.
“I think we’re down that path,” he said. “We haven’t got it out there to announce yet, but I think we’re going to get that into the next week.”
At least three Republican senators have said they oppose Walker’s voucher expansion, while three others say they won’t vote for the budget unless a voucher expansion is included.
Republican leaders didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.
John Forester, a lobbyist for the School Administrators Alliance, sent a message Friday to school officials across the state to contact Republican leadership. He called the message the most urgent in his 12 years lobbying for school districts.
“The feedback I’m receiving inside the Capitol clearly indicates that our pressure is having an impact on this budget process,” Forester said.
At a news conference last week, Democrats announced that they had collected more than 16,000 signatures on a petition to remove the voucher expansion from the budget.
Madison School Board members sent out appeals to constituents asking them to contact members of the Joint Finance Committee, the lawmakers revising Walker’s budget proposal before it goes to the full Senate and Assembly.

Voucher Expansion Unneeded And Unwise Proposal is especially harmful to Madison.

Neil Heinen:

The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee continues its review of Governor Scott Walker’s budget with varying degrees of success. There are some baffling policy proposals in the budget that need a lot of work. But the proposal that would unquestionably do the most damage to Madison is the one to expand the school voucher program. In fact, if the $73 Million expansion is approved, and public school spending is frozen, one could argue it would damage the entire state.
Even worse, passage of a voucher expansion to include Madison would come at a time when Madison is poised to support the broadest, most inclusive and thoughtful dialogue about public schools and the achievement gap in decades. Vouchers and not only completely unnecessary, they inject unneeded politics into an important education conversation. We ask lawmakers to please reject this proposal so the people of Madison can go about this critical work.

Vouchers are not a existential threat to our local schools. Rather, ongoing disastrous reading scores merit endless attention and action.

Local Political Commentary on Vouchers

Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, represents District 48 in the Assembly:

By now, most people have heard about Scott Walker’s proposal to expand the voucher school system to new districts, including Madison, yet many people aren’t clear as to what this means for our students as well as the administrators, teachers and parents. I’ve been asked by numerous constituents to give an explanation of how this would apply, in real terms, to our public education system.
The best way to break this down is in three parts: the fiscal effect on taxpayers and our public schools; a comparison between public school and private school accountability; and a comparison of the performance of students in voucher schools and public schools.
FINANCES: Madison currently has 4,202 private school students. Based on a conservative assessment of income levels, 1,387 of these students would be eligible for the voucher program. So what does this mean for Madison taxpayers?
If 1,387 private school students become voucher students, Madison taxpayers would subsidize private schools for about $3.8 million and see a reduction in state aid of that amount. The Madison district’s taxpayers would have to pay more to replace the $3.8 million, or the district would have to make $3.8 million worth of cuts in services for public school students. One thing that has been made abundantly clear to me by my constituents and other community members is Wisconsinites don’t like the idea of their taxpayer dollars going toward private education.

State Senator Fred Risser, Representative Jon Erpenbach, Representative Mark Miller:

As legislators, we hear about many important issues that will impact our state’s future. No issue we face has an impact as far reaching as the education of Wisconsin children. Providing future generations with the skills to be productive and successful must be a top priority.
Unfortunately, in the proposed state budget, corporate special interests won out over Wisconsin children.
In the proposed budget, the governor has chosen to increase voucher program funding by $94 million. The proposal also expands the voucher program to school districts with two or more “failing schools.”
Based on this language, the Madison School District would as failing, and therefore open to voucher expansion. As a result, Madison tax dollars would be invested in private, unaccountable schools, rather than its public schools.
We believe that just isn’t right. Every time a student leaves the public school and enters the voucher program, the state withholds $2,200 in funding from the public school. While it may mean one fewer student to educate, the school’s fixed costs remain the same, and the district is forced to raise property taxes to cover the difference.

Much more on vouchers, here. Madison’s long-term, disastrous reading scores.

Rural Republicans want more money for Wisconsin public schools

Jack Craver:

It’s been clear for weeks that Gov. Scott Walker’s budget faced major challenges in getting through the state Senate, where a small group of veteran, moderate Republicans has advocated for higher funding of public education and protested loudly a budget provision that would expand private voucher schools in nine cities across the state.
The state Assembly, where Republicans hold a 20-seat majority and which is dominated by conservatives swept into office in the tea party wave of 2010, has largely been dismissed as a rubber stamp for Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
On Tuesday, however, 13 Assembly Republicans made clear that they have serious concerns about the Walker budget’s funding for public education.
In an open letter to Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the co-chairs of the budget-crafting Joint Finance Committee, the group implored the committee leaders to provide more money to local schools:
“Collectively, we have heard from parents and schools in our districts that the budget proposal should provide more funding for public schools. We’re sure you have heard similar comments. We all know that Wisconsin has a strong history of quality education for our youth. To keep that tradition, we agree that the public schools in our districts would benefit from an increase in K-12 funding and an increase in revenue limits.”

Wisconsin Kindergarten Reading Readiness Results

Matthew DeFour:

About 10 percent of Wisconsin kindergartners weren’t prepared for classroom reading instruction, according to the results of a test administered for the first time statewide last fall.
The main purpose of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, or PALS test, is to identify students who struggle with certain literacy fundamentals and need intervention, said Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction.
Teachers can use the results to tailor their reading instruction, he said.
“A child not meeting the benchmark could be (a sign of) inadequate experience with literacy, a special education need, or it could be general slow development,” said Beth Graue, a UW-Madison education professor and expert on early childhood education.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed $2.8 million in his biennial budget to add the test in grades 1 and 2 and 4-year-old kindergarten starting in fall 2014.
The State Journal obtained the results under the state’s Open Records Law. DPI doesn’t plan to publish the information because the test is a tool for classroom instruction and not meant to compare students, schools and districts, Gasper said.

In the Madison area, 92% of Middleton’s Kindergarten students met the benchmark while Verona students scored 87%, Madison 84%, Waunakee 97%, Monona Grove 98%, Oregon 97%, McFarland 93%, DeForest 92% and Sun Prairie 88%.
Related: Madison’s disastrous reading results.

Feds’ voucher requirements could cut both ways

Chris Rickert:

If Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed expansion of the state’s school voucher program wasn’t dead already, a letter from the feds calling into question the program’s legality could be the final nail in the coffin.
Among other things, the April 9 letter requires the Department of Public Instruction to monitor voucher schools to make sure they are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to report complaints they get from parents who allege the voucher program discriminated against their disabled children.
For the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin, whose complaint led to the letter, “this is a big win,” said Julie Mead, a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison.
And a big loss for voucher proponents, who detest the kind of government oversight and bureaucracy the feds are requiring. Even worse for them is that the feds’ criticism is just one more reason for Republicans who were already iffy on Walker’s expansion to oppose it.
Now the question is whether the state’s existing voucher program — which has proven popular with parents, or at least with parents of non-disabled students — can survive the federal order.

Voucher advocates, opponents fight to win over public, key Senators

Matthew DeFour:

At a recent rally in a Latino community center in Waukesha, Gov. Scott Walker urged a group of mostly private school parents, students and administrators to advocate for his proposal to expand vouchers beyond Milwaukee and Racine.
“I need your help,” Walker told a crowd of about 350 people, the majority of them children, on April 25. “We need you to help us spread that message to other lawmakers in our state Capitol, because they need to understand this is not a political statement; this is not a political campaign. … This is about children.”
A week earlier at First United Methodist Church in Downtown Madison, representatives from the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards laid out the arguments against voucher expansion to a group organized by Grandparents United for Madison Public Schools.
“This is a Waterloo moment for public education,” WASB lobbyist Joe Quick told about 60 people.
“You’ve got good schools here,” concurred DPI financial adviser Jeff Pertl. “We’ve got to fight to protect them.”
In recent months, in gymnasiums, libraries, churches and offices across Wisconsin, both sides in the voucher debate have ramped up their efforts to sway public opinion, especially in the districts of a handful of key Republican senators.

Evidence doesn’t support choice program expansion, Comparing Per Student Spending

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Legislators should be skeptical of a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker to sharply expand the school voucher program. There isn’t much evidence that students in voucher schools are better educated; in fact, they seem to perform at about the same level as their peers in mainline public schools.
We also remain deeply skeptical of the move by the Legislature two years ago to open up the program to lower middle-income families. If there is any justification for the voucher schools, it’s to give impoverished families a “choice.” We have long supported choice for the poor and believe the program should be limited to those families. Republicans essentially are advocating a shadow school system. Why not work harder to adequately fund and hold accountable the system we have?
Walker’s plan would expand private voucher programs to at least nine other districts outside Milwaukee and Racine. Families with income of to about $70,000 a year would be eligible.
Before they act, legislators should take a close look at outcomes.
In a report released last month, the state Department of Public Instruction found that students attending voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine scored lower than public school students in Milwaukee Public Schools and the Racine Unified School District on the state standardized achievement test.

Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending

I find discussions of the per-pupil funding level of different types of Milwaukee schools usually turns into a debate on how to make a true apples-to-apples comparison of per-pupil support for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). While basic differences in MPS and MPCP schools and their cost-drivers make any comparison imperfect, the following is what you might call a green apples to red apples comparison.
DISCLAIMER: if you not interested in school funding, prepare to be bored.
Per-pupil support for MPS
Note I am not trying to calculate per-pupil education funding or suggest that this is the amount of money that actually reaches a school or classroom; it is a simple global picture of how much public revenue exists per-pupil in MPS. Below are the relevant numbers for 2012, from MPS documents:
Though not perfect, I think $13,063 (MPS) and $7,126 (MPCP) are reasonably comparative per-pupil public support numbers for MPS and the MPCP.

PolitiFact sorts only some of the “truth” on voucher schools, leaves out key objections to program’s expansion

Jay Bullock:

Back when I used to blog about politics, I was a constant critic of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact operation. Or, as I called it, Politi”Fact,” with the emphasis on the sarcasm quotes.
Why? Because PolitiFact Wisconsin, as the local franchise is known, tries to set itself up as a neutral arbiter, and so it usually plays the “both sides do it” card. It can’t be too critical of one side, even if that one side plays far more fast and loose with the facts than the other side does. (Also: there are only two sides, so the truth must lie in the middle!)
This kind of faux-neutrality is the hallmark not of fact-checkers but of a distant, entitled media, hoping to maintain an “above it all” reputation and the good graces of the folks who generously douse the state’s largest media operation with significant political ad buys every couple of years.
In Monday’s paper, the PolitiFact crew examines some claims made about school vouchers by groups both favoring the program’s expansion (including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) and opposing it, claiming it is “sorting out the truth” about voucher schools. It should be no surprise that I oppose expansion, though I am not personally involved in the anti-voucher groups cited in this story.

Private school voucher expansion: A growing taxpayer-funded entitlement

Tom Beebe:

Many observers have called Gov.Scott Walker’s proposal to expand private school vouchers bad education policy. I agree. Today I would like to address voucher expansion from the perspective of fiscal policy.
If voucher advocates are successful in expanding private school vouchers in this budget, vouchers will eventually become one of the largest taxpayer-funded entitlements in Wisconsin.
I realize this is a strong statement. I also understand that voucher proponents argue the Governor’s proposal increases voucher eligibility to just nine new school districts in 2013-14. If you let the nose of the camel inside the tent, however, it won’t be long before the rest of the camel is inside the tent as well.
The ultimate objective of private school voucher advocates is a statewide system of private school vouchers for all Wisconsin school children. Voucher advocates, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have repeatedly voiced their support for statewide vouchers. This objective became crystal-clear in a recent news interview when School Choice Wisconsin Vice-President Terry Brown identified the goal of voucher proponents as “a voucher in every backpack.”
So, how much could this entitlement end up costing Wisconsin taxpayers?

University of Wisconsin tuition and reserves are soaring, but the same is true elsewhere

Mike Ivey: If Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature move forward with a vow to freeze tuition at the University of Wisconsin for the next two years, they have some numbers to stand on. Wisconsin has seen the largest percentage tuition increase of Midwestern state universities over the past five years, according to The College … Continue reading University of Wisconsin tuition and reserves are soaring, but the same is true elsewhere

Madison School Board members split on proposed 7.4% property tax hike

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board’s two newest members are voicing the strongest support for a potential 7.4 percent property tax increase, but others worry the amount may be too high.
The property tax increase was included in a preliminary $393 million budget proposal put together by school district administrators.
The amount reflects the maximum amount the district could raise property taxes under Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal.
T.J. Mertz and Dean Loumos, who were sworn in Monday, said they don’t oppose taxing the maximum amount allowed under state revenue limits, which as proposed would add about $182 to the average $230,831 Madison home’s property tax bill.
Mertz plans to advocate for taxing the maximum amount, though he questioned some of the proposed new spending, such as whether a community partnership coordinator needed to be an administrative position costing $128,000.

Related: 2010: Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget Update: $5,100,000 Fund Balance Increase since June, 2009; Property Taxes to Increase 9+%.
Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months.

2012-13 MMSD WKCE Results

Tap or click to view a larger version.

Higher bar for WKCE results paints different picture of student achievement
Matt DeFour
Wisconsin student test scores released Tuesday look very different than they did a year ago, though not because of any major shift in student performance.
Similar to recent years, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results show gains in math and reading over the past five years, a persistent and growing performance gap between black and white students, and Milwaukee and Racine public school students outperforming their peers in the private school voucher program.
But the biggest difference is the scores reflect a higher bar for what students in each grade level should know and be able to do.
Only 36.2 percent of students who took the reading test last October met the new proficiency bar. Fewer than half, 48.1 percent, of students were proficient in math. When 2011-12 results were released last spring, those figures were both closer to 80 percent.
The change doesn’t reflect a precipitous drop in student test scores. The average scores in reading and math are about the same as last year for each grade level.
Instead, the change reflects a more rigorous standard for proficiency similar to what is used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is administered to a sample of students in each state every other year and is referred to as “the nation’s report card.”
The state agreed to raise the proficiency benchmark in math and reading last year in order to qualify for a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The benchmark did not rise for the language arts, science and social studies tests.
“Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said. “But these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready and link with work being done throughout the state to implement new standards.”
Evers also called on the Legislature to include private voucher schools in the state’s new accountability system.
He highlighted that test scores for all Milwaukee and Racine students need to improve. Among Milwaukee voucher students, 10.8 percent in reading and 11.9 percent in math scored proficient or better. Among Milwaukee public school students, it was 14.2 percent in reading and 19.7 percent in math.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed expanding the state’s voucher program, including to such districts as Madison.
Changes in Dane County
The state previously announced how the changing bar would affect scores statewide and parents have seen their own students’ results in recent weeks, but the new figures for the first time show the impact on entire schools and districts.
In Dane County school districts, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the test dropped on average by 42 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math.
Madison schools had one of the smallest drops compared to its neighboring districts.
Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham noted schools with a higher number of students scoring in the “advanced” category experienced less of a drop. Madison’s smaller drop could reflect a higher proportion of students scoring in the top tier.
At the same time, Madison didn’t narrow the gap between minority and white student test results. Only 9 percent of black sixth-graders and only 2 percent of sixth-grade English language learners scored proficient in reading.
“It reinforces the importance of our work in the years ahead,” Cheatham said. “We’re going to work on accelerating student outcomes.”
Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she hasn’t heard many complaints from parents whose students suddenly dropped a tier on the test. Like Madison and other districts across the state, Middleton-Cross Plains sent home letters bracing parents for the change.
But Lindgren fears the changing standards come at the worst time for public schools, which have faced tougher scrutiny and reduced state support.
“I’m glad that the standards have been raised by the state, because they were low, but this interim year, hopefully people won’t panic too much,” Lindgren said. “The public has been sold on the idea that we’re failing in our education system, and I just don’t believe that’s true.”
Next fall will be the last year students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the paper-and-pencil WKCE math and reading tests. Wisconsin is part of a coalition of states planning to administer a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year.
The proposed state budget also provides for students in grades 9-11 to take the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT college and career readiness tests in future years.

Superintendent Cheatham is to be commended for her informed, intelligent and honest reaction to the MMSD’s results when compared to those of neighboring districts.
View a WKCE summary here (PDF).

Controversy over the University of Wisconsin’s “Surplus” & Ongoing Tuition Increases

Karen Herzog & Patrick Marley

Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature called for freezing tuition for two years Friday after a state review revealed that the University of Wisconsin System had cash reserves of nearly $650 million at the end of the last fiscal year.
While the UW System said the amount of uncommitted cash was much less than that, the disclosure infuriated Republican lawmakers just as they begin deliberations on the next two-year budget.
Republicans questioned whether Kevin Reilly should remain as president of the UW System, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he was unsure the system should get any of the $181 million increase in taxpayer funds Walker had previously recommended, including $20 million for new initiatives.
Reilly could not be reached for comment, nor could UW System Regents President Brent Smith.
Vos said it was too early to say whether Reilly should remain as the head of the UW System, but said he saw a pattern of financial mismanagement during Reilly’s tenure.
“I have serious concerns about whether the credibility of the UW System can recover with the current leadership in place,” Vos said.
In the past, Vos has supported giving UW-Madison more flexibility, but that has changed because of Friday’s disclosure, he said.
“They have now pushed me entirely in the opposite direction,” Voss said of UW System leaders.

Many links:

  • Gov. Scott Walker, state leaders call for tuition freeze following news of UW System surplus by CHeyenne Langkamp

    Many state legislators reacted with outrage to Friday morning’s announcement the University of Wisconsin System currently holds over $1 billion in surplus in its reserves, prompting some to advocate for a tuition freeze over the next two years.
    According to a document from Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang sent to members of the Joint Committee on Finance, the UW System has accrued $1,045,200,572 in its program revenue reserves from the 2011-’13 funding cycle.
    The Legislative Fiscal Bureau and Legislative Audit Bureau discovered the surplus through an audit that began after information regarding $33 million in Human Resources overpayments surfaced in February.

  • Dan Simmons:

    The System has always maintained a cash balance, Giroux added, and its finances have always been public as the Legislative Audit Bureau audits it yearly. The cash balances have grown in recent years because of rapid enrollment growth and the System’s increased reliance on non-state revenues, he said, calling them “an essential safety net.”
    System leaders told the fiscal bureau that about $441 million of the reserve was allocated for future projects and expenses. With that spending included, it left a $207 million balance from the end of 2012. Vos said lawmakers should have been notified of the surplus in recent times of tight state budgets and maximum tuition increases for System students.
    Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, chairman of the Assembly’s committee on higher education, also criticized the System over the reported surplus.
    “At a minimum, on behalf of students and their families, I am asking legislative leaders to freeze tuition increases for two years for the entire UW System during their deliberations on the budget,” Walker said in a statement.
    The news about the surplus broke shortly after System President Kevin Reilly released details of his budget proposals, which include tuition increases of 2 percent each of the next two years and a $30 million boost in financial aid awards.

  • UW-Madison Student Fees Could Use a Review.
  • Republicans learn of UW System surplus, call for tuition freeze by Polo Rocha:

    United Council of UW Students has been pushing legislators to include a tuition cap of 3 or 4 percent. Dylan Jambrek, the group’s government relations director, said he was pleased students can now “have the comfort of a tuition freeze” but expressed concerns over the memo’s findings.
    “Whatever the money was going towards, it’s concerning that they were raising tuition to stick it in the bank account,” Jambrek said.
    Jambrek said he does not want legislators to overreact and do something that ends up harming students, such as cutting Walker’s proposed investments.
    Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, is the ranking Democrat on the Legislature’s budget committee, which has 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats.
    Mason called for a potential tuition reduction because he said UW System students are already graduating with $27,000 in student debt on average.
    “Not only should we be freezing tuition given the news of the UW’s surplus, but the state budget deliberations should include a serious conversation about reducing student debt by lowering the cost of tuition, increasing student financial aid or both,” Mason said in a statement.

  • Massive University of Wisconsin Slush Fund Discovered by Brian Fraley.
  • Marge Pitrof.
  • Sara Goldrick-Rab:

    The University of Wisconsin System just ceded to the demands of students across the State and agreed to cap a tuition increase at no more than 2% for the coming year and eliminate the waiting list for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant. This is a stunning reversal, as President Kevin Reilly had been lobbying against students, insisting that no cap was necessary.
    What happened? Well, as I have long insisted, the issue is not entirely about a lack of state funding being provided to higher education but how administrators are spending it. When the incentives for administrators cause they to advance the interests of institutions over the needs of students, accountability measures are required to prevent that. UW System just got called out, as an audit just revealed that a $404 million balance from tuition payments in 2011-2012 was leftover, unspent, while tuition was hiked by 5.5%. SERIOUSLY??? Those cash reserves were being held for “specific planned future activities,” according to the System. Sorry Charlie, no way. That is something you do with appropriations, not tuition. If you aim to help future students and promote stability, that’s a public good, and should be on the public dime. This is an outgrowth of the same mindset that’s diminished tuition and pushed students into debt– the same old public / private benefits nonsense. Honestly, the students should demand NO increase and hold firm on doing it for 2 or more years!
    So, here we are– they said it couldn’t be done– the net price of attending UW System schools will likely stay flat or decline over the next year. HURRAH!

Madison’s Sherman Middle School to drop French 1 class

Pat Schneider:

The way Principal Michael Hernandez tells it, something had to go.
Hernandez decided that at Sherman Middle School, it will be French class.
With a renewed emphasis on curriculum basics in the Madison School District, the need at Sherman to double-down on math skills, and a scheduled expansion there of the AVID program that prepares low-income minority kids for college, Hernandez figures the north-side middle school will need to drop its second “world language” offering next year.
French 2 will continue for seventh-graders who took French 1 this year. The school’s Spanish-language program — including three sections of dual-language instruction — also will continue.
“Unfortunately, there are tough decisions we have to make,” Hernandez told me. “With budget cuts, I can’t have a class with only approximately seven students, when I could use that (staff) allocation for a math intervention class.”
Principals will be developing these kinds of adjustments around the margins to prepare for the 2013-2014 school year as district officials begin work on the budget and schools get projections on how many staff members they will have.
School Board members on Monday will receive a “budget briefing” instead of fleshed-out budget proposal. Penciled in is $392,807,993 in district-wide spending next school year, down a fraction from this year.
The scaled-down budget proposal is due to the uncertain prospects of a controversial proposal in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget to shift aid and expand vouchers to Madison and eight other school districts — at a projected cost of more than $800,000 to the Madison public schools. In addition, new Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham just came on the job three weeks ago and is not prepared yet to present a detailed budget.

Related: Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months.

Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months

The Madison School District Administration (217 page 7.41MB PDF)

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s proposed 2013-2014 balanced budget provides resources for a sound education for the district’s children.
The proposed 2013-2014 balanced budget continues to put resources where they are most needed in the classrooms.
Total spending under the balanced budget is $392,807,993 which is a decrease of $70,235 or (0.02%) less than the 2012-13 Revised Budget. The change to the revenue limit plus other fund increases or decreases comprises the entire proposed budget. The property tax levy would increase by $18,385,847 or 7.38% to $267,675,929.
The total MMSD 2013-14 balanced budget includes many funds. A fund is a separate set of accounting records, segregated for the purpose of carrying on specific activities. A fund is established for accountability purposes to demonstrate that financial resources are being used only for permitted purposes. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction specifies the various funds required to be used by Wisconsin school districts.

A few useful links:
The January, 2012 budget document mentioned “District spending remains largely flat at $369,394,753” (2012-2013), yet the “baseline” for 2013-2014 mentions planned spending of $392,807,993 “a decrease of $70,235 or (0.02%) less than the 2012-13 Revised Budget” (around $15k/student). The District’s budget generally increases throughout the school year, growing 6.3% from January, 2012 to April, 2013. Follow the District’s budget changes for the past year, here.
Meanwhile, via a kind reader, Wages for Dane County and Wisconsin workers fell, latest federal figures say

The average weekly wage for workers in Dane County fell by 4.1 percent between September 2011 and September 2012, the first decrease for the third quarter in at least a decade and a touch greater than the state average, according to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Dane County workers made an average of $842 weekly in the third quarter of 2012, down $36 from the same time period a year earlier. It was the 12th-biggest drop in terms of percentage among Wisconsin’s counties.
Statewide, wages fell 2.65 percent to an average of $770 per week. That was the fourth-biggest loss among states by percentage. Nationally, Wisconsin ranked 35th among the states for wages, down from 33rd for the third quarter in 2011.
The data also show that Wisconsin ranked 44th nationwide in job creation for the private sector, but while job creation has dominated news coverage here owing largely to Gov. Scott Walker’s pledge to create 250,000 new jobs during his term, stagnant wages have been a longstanding concern.

Finally, should Madison, Wisconsin and federal taxpayers spend more for ongoing disastrous reading results?
The defunct “citizen’s budget” was an effort to create an easily comparable annual two page document, rather than the present 217 pager.
“Censorship through complexity” – Assange

Madison’s thriving private schools buck national trend

Matthew DeFour:

Private school enrollment has steadily declined across Wisconsin over the past 15 years, but that’s not the case in Madison and Dane County.
St. Ambrose Academy, a West Side Catholic middle and high school, has been rapidly expanding and is discussing the addition of an elementary school. EAGLE School is planning a $3 million expansion at its Fitchburg campus with the goal of increasing its student body by a third. And High Point Christian School on Madison’s Far West Side is full, so some students board a bus there and travel across town to its sister campus on the Far East Side.
“The Madison metropolitan area is definitely bucking the national trend,” said Michael Lancaster, superintendent of Madison Catholic Schools. “I wouldn’t say we’re growing at any kind of geometric or exponential rate. But we’re very solid in the Madison area.”
The vitality of local private schools could help explain the muted level of interest in Madison for the publicly funded voucher expansion proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget. Vouchers also face intense opposition from Dane County political and public school leaders.
Voucher expansion
Walker has proposed expanding the state’s voucher program from Milwaukee and Racine to school districts with more than 4,000 students and at least two schools with low ratings on the state’s new school report card. Based on the first report cards released last fall, students in Madison and eight other districts would qualify for vouchers.
On March 4, the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools held the first public voucher meeting in Madison at St. James Catholic School on the Near West Side. Fewer than 10 parents and private school administrators attended.
A similar meeting last week in Beloit, a smaller city with far fewer private schools, drew about 40 people, WCRIS executive director Matt Kussow said.

The largest challenge to Madison’s $392,000,000 public schools is not the threat of vouchers. Rather, it is the District’s long time disastrous reading results that undermine its prospects and reputation.
Suburban district growth and open enrollment leavers are also worth contemplation and action.

Madison’s New Superintendent on Madison, Politics & Distractions

Pat Schneider:

You’ll find Jennifer Cheatham, new superintendent of the Madison School District, at the Capitol Wednesday when local education officials talk about how Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would hurt Dane County schools.
But don’t expect her to be spending much time making political statements, Cheatham told me and other staff members of the Cap Times Tuesday. Too much focus on politics would distract her from her work in the Madison schools, she said.
“I think my major role is to work on improving schools in Madison. That’s why I was hired and I need to remain focused on that,” Cheatham said. “But I do think there are times it is important for me to voice my opinion on behalf of the school district on state issues.”
That includes the Walker education budget.
Cheatham is scheduled to be on hand at noon Wednesday when School Board members, superintendents, parents and other advocates from around Dane County talk about the impact of Walker’s education proposals in Room 411, the large Senate meeting room.
The Madison School Board has already actively lobbied against the Walker budget, urging local legislators not to support a plan that is “bad for our students, our taxpayers and the future of public education.”
Board members say expanding vouchers into Madison, as Walker has proposed, is a particularly bad idea. They note there’s no consistent evidence that kids using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools do better academically, and they say that funding vouchers is likely to raise local property taxes.
It’s not just school officials who are weighing in on the highly politicized issue of school vouchers. The Madison City Council passed a resolution last month, sponsored by all 20 members, opposing expansion of vouchers to Madison. The Dane County Board is considering a similar resolution.

Reading has been job one for quite some time, unfortunately.
Right to read lawsuit filed in Michigan.

New Madison superintendent plans community meetings: “Pledging To Be All-Inclusive On Plans For District”


Jen Cheatham, who started Monday as Madison’s new schools superintendent, said she was planning to visit each of the district’s schools by the end of May.
The visits will include community meetings at each of the district’s high schools, allowing parents and community members to share what’s working and what needs to improve in the district, Cheatham said.
“It’s important to me to learn about what’s working and what isn’t working,” Cheatham said. “Often, new superintendents make changes to things that are actually beneficial to the district — unknowingly.”
Cheatham said she would start working soon with the school board on a list of priorities, which would include bridging the district’s minority achievement gap. The board will have at least two new members after Tuesday’s spring election, with Maya Cole and Beth Moss retiring.
The superintendent warned that state funding cuts, which district administrators have estimated will cost Madison schools about $8 million next year, may force the district to raise property taxes. She called Gov. Scott Walker’s school voucher proposal “a real threat to the quality of education we can provide.”

Related: Up, Down & Transparency: Madison Schools Received $11.8M more in State Tax Dollars last year (2012), Local District Forecasts a Possible Reduction of $8.7M this Year.
One would hope that the new Superintendent’s job 1 is addressing the District’s long term disastrous reading results.

Rapprochement in the Wisconsin Superintendent Election?

Amy Barrilleaux:

For state superintendent Tony Evers, reelection was the easy part. He handily beat his opponent, staunch conservative Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Town of Erin), with over 60% of the vote Tuesday.
“Voters spoke loudly and clearly, affirming their commitment to Wisconsin’s strong public schools and calling for a much-needed reinvestment to support the over 870,000 public school kids in our state,” says Evers in a statement.
But despite the big win, Evers faces an even bigger battle in the Legislature, where lawmakers are considering Gov. Scott Walker’s latest budget. It’s unclear whether the Republican majority is united behind Walker’s plan to increase funding for the state’s voucher schools by $73 million — something Evers campaigned against, insisting there is no evidence that voucher programs are working.
“The academic data just does not justify expansion,” he told the Joint Finance Committee (PDF) during a hearing in March.
It also remains to be seen whether lawmakers will give more money to traditional public schools, which were hit with a historic $800 million cut in Walker’s previous budget. Despite pleas from Evers, almost none of that money has been restored by Walker this time around.

State Rep. Don Pridemore says he doesn’t understand why fellow Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t endorse him in his race for state superintendent.
Pridemore lost to incumbent Tony Evers in Tuesday’s election.
Evers signed the petition to recall Walker, but the governor still refused to endorse anyone in the race.
Pridemore says after his loss that he is disappointed Walker didn’t help him with his campaign. Pridemore says people should question why Walker “didn’t support someone who would be a much friendlier person in this job.”

Pridemore’s statements, the muted campaign against incumbent Evers and a reasonably quiet state supreme court race make this observer wonder what sort of a deal might have been cut….


Marquette poll shows divide on education spending in Wisconsin

Alan Borsuk:

I’m in favor of spending more money on schools. Education is important. Important things need to be given the right support.
Am I in favor of spending more of my money on schools? A trickier question. I mean it when I say I support education spending. But I don’t like getting the bill. There are a lot of competing demands on my money, starting with my own needs.
How do I navigate this? How do I get it right when it comes to balancing what I favor supporting and what I actually am going to pay for? Come May and June, resolving this is going to be one of the most interesting, controversial and important plot developments in the final stretch of the state budget drama going on in Madison as we as a state decide this.
You can see tension between what people want in general and what they want when the discussion gets specific in results from the Marquette Law School Poll released a few days ago. (Disclosure: I am one of the people who work on the poll and I helped draft the education-related questions.)
When a sample of people statewide were asked if they support spending more money on public education, their answers were overwhelmingly yes. Sixteen percent said they wanted the amount given to support schools to increase more than the rate of inflation (about 2% over the last year). Another 41% said they thought the amount should go up in line with the rate of inflation. And 14% said they favored an increase of 1% a year (a figure used because it has been proposed by some Republican state senators).
That comes to 71% in favor. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed keeping the “revenue cap” on schools flat for the next two years, which would have the general effect of keeping spending for operations unchanged. Seventeen percent favored no increase in public school spending. And 8% wanted to reduce the amount given to public schools.
But not so fast in concluding there is big support for more money for schools. The poll also asked what was more important to people, to reduce property taxes or increase school spending. Walker’s budget proposal increases state aid to schools by about 1.5%, but, because the revenue cap would be flat, the money would go, in effect, to property tax relief.

Republicans Against Vouchers: GOP legislators join unions to oppose reform in Wisconsin.

Wall Street Journal:

School vouchers are usually opposed by teachers unions and their Democratic allies, but a dirty little secret is that some suburban Republicans oppose them too. The latter is the case in Wisconsin, where GOP Governor Scott Walker’s plan to get more kids out of failing schools is facing opposition from short-sighted members of his own party.
The Badger State’s 22-year-old voucher program currently covers Milwaukee and Racine. But in his budget for fiscal 2014-15, Mr. Walker wants to expand it to nine of the state’s worst school districts and increase funding by 9%. Under the proposed formula, students in districts that have at least two schools that get a D or F on their 2011-2012 performance report cards could use a voucher at a private school.
The plan would cover 500 new students in the first year, 1,000 in the second, and thereafter as many as qualified under the formula, which extends the voucher to students in failing schools whose families make 300% of the poverty level. The new areas include Beloit, Green Bay, Kenosha, Waukesha and Fond du Lac, and more than 40,000 children who currently attend lousy public schools would be eligible.
While Wisconsin schools score better than most, in 2010 the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Wisconsin’s black fourth grade students had the worst reading scores in the country. By eighth grade, black students did worse on English tests than students for whom English was a second language.

Madison School Board Candidates Discuss Redistributed State Tax Dollars & Voucher Schools


Five candidates are competing for three seats on the Madison school board, with the general election on April 2, 2013.
The political context for the races is explosive, given Gov. Scott Walker’s revolutionary proposals for education in Wisconsin: cuts to public school funding, an expansion of the voucher program, and a revamping of teachers’ evaluations and bargaining rights.
In Madison, the issues are particularly complex, with the intense disagreements over the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students.
In the race for Seat 4, incumbent James Howard is running against Greg Packnett, a Democratic legislative aide.
In this competitive series of elections, there are numerous candidate forums and listening sessions under way, and we thought we’d pose our own questions to candidates.
For this fourth and final week of questions, we ask candidates to evaluate Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals for the Wisconsin’s 2013-15 budget, and consider how it would impact schools in the state. Along similar lines, we ask candidates to share their thoughts on the proposal to expand voucher schools in Wisconsin.

Wayne Strong and Dean Loumos (Isthmus) TJ Mertz (Isthmus).