Vouchers Aren’t the Answer

Lisa Kaiser:

Today the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released new results for the statewide exam.
Not surprising to those who have been paying attention, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) did better than schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), otherwise known as the voucher program.
Overall, MPS had 47.8% of its students scoring as proficient in math, with 59% proficient in reading.
Among economically disadvantaged kids, MPS scored 43.9% in math and 55.3% in reading.
Those scores are lower for students in the voucher program–all of whom are economically disadvantaged, although that could change if Gov. Scott Walker has his way and opens up the program to middle-class and wealthy kids. Only 34.4% of voucher students scored proficient in math, while 55.2% were proficient in reading, about the same as MPS.

Executive Order #22: Read to Lead Task Force

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, via a kind reader’s email:

Relating to the Creation of the Governor’s
Read to Lead Task Force
WHEREAS, the number one priority for children in grades kindergarten through third grade is to learn to read; and
WHEREAS, one third of all Wisconsin students cannot read at a basic level and two thirds of all African American students in our state cannot read at a basic level, which is the lowest rate in the nation; and
WHEREAS, in approximately ten years, Florida, through state reading law reforms, has improved from one of the lowest ranked states in the nation to one of the highest and in doing so achieved a much smaller racial achievement gap than Wisconsin; and
WHEREAS, it is critical to have initiatives that will empower teachers, districts, and parents–not lawmakers–with the ability to decide how best to teach reading and explore ways to provide teachers and parents with better tools to identify young struggling students and address why they are struggling and how to overcome those challenges; and

What cuts? Madison schools OK

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Alarmists in Madison suggest Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal will decimate public education.
But Superintendent Dan Nerad’s proposed 2011-2012 budget for Madison School District tells a different story.
Under Nerad’s plan, unveiled late last week, the Madison district would:

That’s not to suggest Madison schools are flush with money. Gov. Walker, after all, is trying to balance a giant state budget deficit without raising taxes or pushing the problem further down the road. Walker has proposed cuts to most state programs, including aid to public schools.

Milwaukee Voucher School WKCE Headlines: “Students in Milwaukee voucher program didn’t perform better in state tests”, “Test results show choice schools perform worse than public schools”, “Choice schools not outperforming MPS”; Spend 50% Less Per Student

Erin Richards and Amy Hetzner

Latest tests show voucher scores about same or worse in math and reading.
Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.
The scores released by the state Department of Public Instruction cast a shadow on the overall quality of the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was intended to improve results for poor city children in failing public schools by allowing them to attend higher-performing private schools with publicly funded vouchers. The scores also raise concerns about Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to roll back the mandate that voucher schools participate in the current state test.
Voucher-school advocates counter that legislation that required administration of the state test should have been applied only once the new version of the test that’s in the works was rolled out. They also say that the latest test scores are an incomplete measure of voucher-school performance because they don’t show the progress those schools are making with a difficult population of students over time.
Statewide, results from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam show that scores didn’t vary much from last year. The percentage of students who scored proficient or better was higher in reading, science and social studies but lower in mathematics and language arts from the year before.

Susan Troller:

Great. Now Milwaukee has TWO failing taxpayer-financed school systems when it comes to educating low income kids (and that’s 89 per cent of the total population of Milwaukee Public Schools).
Statewide test results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction include for the first time performance data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which involves about 110 schools serving around 10,000 students. There’s a total population of around 80,000 students in Milwaukee’s school district.
The numbers for the voucher schools don’t look good. But the numbers for the conventional public schools in Milwaukee are very poor, as well.
In a bit of good news, around the rest of the state student test scores in every demographic group have improved over the last six years, and the achievment gap is narrowing.
But the picture in Milwaukee remains bleak.

Matthew DeFour:

The test results show the percentage of students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program who scored proficient or advanced was 34.4 percent for math and 55.2 percent for reading.
Among Milwaukee Public Schools students, it was 47.8 percent in math and 59 percent in reading. Among Milwaukee Public Schools students coming from families making 185 percent of the federal poverty level — a slightly better comparison because voucher students come from families making no more than 175 percent — it was 43.9 percent in math and 55.3 percent in reading.
Statewide, the figures were 77.2 percent in math and 83 percent in reading. Among all low-income students in the state, it was 63.2 percent in math and 71.7 percent in reading.
Democrats said the results are evidence that the voucher program is not working. Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, the top Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said voucher students, parents and taxpayers are being “bamboozled.”
“The fact that we’ve spent well over $1 billion on a failed experiment leads me to believe we have no business spending $22 million to expand it with these kinds of results,” Pope-Roberts said. “It’s irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and a disservice to Milwaukee students.”
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who is developing a proposal to expand the voucher program to other cities, took a more optimistic view of the results.
“Obviously opponents see the glass half-empty,” Vos said. “I see the glass half-full. Children in the school choice program do the same as the children in public school but at half the cost.”

Only DeFour’s article noted that voucher schools spend roughly half the amount per student compared to traditional public schools. Per student spending was discussed extensively during last evening’s planning grant approval (The vote was 6-1 with Marj Passman voting No while Maya Cole, James Howard, Ed Hughes, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira voted yes) for the Urban League’s proposed Charter IB School: The Madison Preparatory Academy.
The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Wisconsin DPI WKCE data.
Yin and Yang: Jay Bullock and Christian D’Andrea.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

Yin & Yang on Voucher Schools

Margaret Farrow:

School choice opponent Barbara Miner says that Wisconsin legislators should “just say no” to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to expand educational options for Milwaukee parents (Crossroads, March 13).
My advice to legislators?
Just say yes.
Those who do will have Milwaukee residents, especially Milwaukee parents, on their side.
In a recent poll, Milwaukeeans rate the 20-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program successful by a two-to-one margin (60%-28%). The results cut across racial and economic lines and extend even to households without school-age children.
Parents are especially enthusiastic. Two-thirds say the program is successful, and 64% endorse expansion.
There is good reason for their support. Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program graduate from high school at rates 18% higher than Milwaukee Public Schools students, according to estimates by University of Minnesota professor John Robert Warren.

Barbara Miner:

Memo to all Wisconsin legislators. There is an easy way to prove you care about public education in Wisconsin. And it won’t cost a penny.
Just say no to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program providing tax dollars to private schools.
This may seem merely like a Milwaukee issue. It’s not. Voucher advocates have made clear for more than 20 years that their goal is to replace public education with a system of universal vouchers that includes private and religious schools.
The heartbreaking drama currently playing in Milwaukee – millions of dollars cut from the public schools while vouchers are expanded so wealthy families can attend private schools in the suburbs – may be coming soon to a school district near you.
For those who worry about taxation without representation, vouchers should send shivers down your spine. Voucher schools are defined as private even though subsidized by taxpayers.

Milwaukee could become first American city to use universal vouchers for education

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee’s private school voucher program has broken new and controversial ground often in its 21-year history. Now, it is headed toward what might well be another amazing national first.
If Gov. Scott Walker and leading voucher advocates prevail, Milwaukee will become the first city in American history where any child, regardless of income, can go to a private school, including a religious school, using public money to pay the bill.
Universal vouchers have been a concept favored by many free-market economists and libertarians since they were suggested by famed economist Milton Friedman more than half a century ago. Friedman’s theory was that if all parents could apply their fair share of public money for educating their children at whatever school they thought best, their choices would drive educational quality higher.
Coming soon (fairly likely): Milwaukee as the biggest testing ground of Friedman’s idea.
But not only is it hard to figure out what to say about the future of vouchers, it’s not easy to know what to say about the past of Milwaukee’s 21-year-old program of vouchers limited to low-income students except that it has been popular (more than 20,000 students using vouchers this year to attend more than 100 private schools) and there is not much of a case (except in some specific schools) that it has driven quality higher, both when it comes to many of the private schools specifically and when it comes to the educational waterfront of Milwaukee.

Madison School District Proposes a 3.2% Property Tax Increase for the 2011-2012 Budget

Matthew DeFour:

Madison teachers wouldn’t pay anything toward their health insurance premiums next year and property taxes would decline $2 million under Superintendent Dan Nerad’s 2011-12 budget proposal.
The $359 million proposal, a 0.01 percent increase over this year, required the closing of a $24.5 million gap between district’s estimated expenses from January and the expenditures allowed under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, Nerad said.
Nerad proposes collecting $243 million in property taxes, down from $245 million this year. Because of an estimated drop in property value, the budget would mean a $90 increase on an average Madison home, down from $170 this year. That amount may decrease once the city releases an updated average home estimate for next year.

Related taxbase articles:

Why He Did It: For good reason, the Capitol exploded when Gov. Walker struck at collective bargaining: The Rise of Teacher Unions

Christian Schneider, via a kind reader’s email

By now, the political lore is familiar: A major political party, cast aside by Wisconsin voters due to a lengthy recession, comes roaring back, winning a number of major state offices.
The 43-year-old new governor, carrying out a mandate he believes the voters have granted him, boldly begins restructuring the state’s tax system. His reform package contains a major change in the way state and local governments bargain with their employees, leading to charges that the governor is paying back his campaign contributors.
Only the year wasn’t 2011 — it was 1959, and Gov. Gaylord Nelson had just resurrected the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Certain of his path, Nelson embarked on an ambitious agenda that included introduction of a withholding tax, which brought hundreds of protesters to the Capitol. Nelson also signed the nation’s first public-sector collective bargaining law — the same law that 52 years later Gov. Scott Walker targeted for fundamental revision.
Two different governors, two different parties, and two different positions.
Ironically, their assertive gubernatorial actions may produce the same disruptive outcome. By empowering the unions, Nelson’s legislation led to public-sector strikes and work stoppages. By disempowering the unions, Walker’s actions might lead to public-sector strikes and work stoppages.
In Walker’s case, union members reluctantly agreed to his pension and health-care demands, but have fought desperately to preserve their leverage in negotiating contracts. That raises the basic question of the Madison showdown: Why is Scott Walker so afraid of collective bargaining?
The answer can be found in the rise of the state’s teachers unions.

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

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.”

Madison teachers given until April 15 to rescind fake doctors’ notes

Matthew DeFour:

Madison teachers who missed school last month to attend protests and turned in fraudulent doctor’s notes have been given until April 15 to rescind those notes, officials said Thursday.
The district received more than 1,000 notes from teachers, human resources director Bob Nadler said. A couple hundred of those were ruled fraudulent because they appeared to be written by doctors at the Capitol protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining.
Teachers who don’t rescind fraudulent notes could receive a disciplinary letter of suspension, the most serious form of discipline aside from termination, Nadler said. The suspension would be considered already served — the time missed during the protests.
“We didn’t want to give anybody more time off,” Nadler said. “They can’t afford it. We can’t afford to have them gone any more. I don’t think kids need their teacher gone another two days.”

Parent organizing meeting set in Dane County

TJ Mertz, via email:

Parents in Dane County have scheduled an event to update the public on Governor Scott Walkers’ devastating cuts to their children’s educational opportunities and to plan what they can do, together, to form advocacy groups and work for a better way. The event follows closely on the heels of a similar meeting in Greenfield, March 5, that saw over 400 people come together to plan the next step.
March 27, members of the Dane County School Board Consortium and WAES (http://www.excellentschools.org) will host a community meeting — “The Future of Public Education and A Call to Action” — at the Monona Grove High School Commons (http://www.mononagrove.org/mghs/), 4400 Monona Drive, Monona. The hoped-for outcomes of the event, which runs from 3 to 4:40 p.m., include an increased understanding of school funding in Wisconsin, alternatives to cuts in funding, and formation of community advocacy groups. For more information, call 608-217-5938 or go to http://www.excellentschools.org/events/2011/budget/dane_county_flier.pdf.

Education and the boiled frog

Julie Underwood:

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-’13 budget proposal includes cuts to Wisconsin’s public schools of more than $834 million. This represents the largest cut to education in our state’s history. It would be impossible to implement cuts this size without significant cuts to educational programs and services for Wisconsin’s children.
The proposal is drastic – and that is just part of the problem. You have likely heard the old adage that a frog placed in a pot of hot water will immediately jump out to avoid harm, while a frog placed in cool water will not notice if the heat is turned up and will unwittingly allow itself to be boiled alive. Similarly, the proposed cuts are placed on top of smaller cuts the schools have taken steadily over the past two decades.
In Wisconsin, school districts have been under strict limits on their revenues and spending. These limits have not kept pace with the natural increases in the costs of everyday things like supplies, energy and fuel. So every year, local school board members and administrators have had to cut their budgets to comply with their budget limits.

Madison School District could reduce property taxes next year

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District is positioned to reduce property taxes next year because of proposed reductions in state funding and concessions from its employee unions, a district official said Tuesday.
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal calls for a 5.5 percent reduction in district revenues, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated Tuesday would reduce district funding statewide by $465 million.
Madison estimates its revenues — a combination of property taxes and state aid — would drop $15 million under the governor’s proposal, assistant superintendent for business services Erik Kass said.
The district’s property taxes would be $243 million next year, or $2 million less than this year, Kass said, because of an increase in enrollment, a proposed $5 million reduction in state aid and a 2008 referendum that allows the district to exceed its revenue limit set by the state.

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau Releases Redistributed Tax Dollar & Property Tax Growth Limitation Change Memos for School Districts

Greg Bump:

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau this afternoon released a host of memos analyzing Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-13 budget and its impact on local government aids.
The memos outline the budget’s impact on county and municipal aid, general transportation aid to counties and municipalities, state aid and levy information for technical college districts, and potential savings to local governments due to increase employee contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
According to the LFB, the bill would reduce total funding for calendar year 2012 payments by $96 million, $59.5 million for towns, villages and cities, and $36.5 million for counties.

Madison School Board Tension over Spending/Taxes & Compensation

Bill Lueders:

Gov. Scott Walker says the changes he has rammed through the Legislature will give school districts and local governments “the tools” they need to withstand the severe cuts in state aid his budget will deliver. What he doesn’t get into is how the tensions caused by his agenda will divide the members of these bodies, as they have the state as a whole.
One example of this is the Madison school board, where disagreements over the impact of Walker’s actions have spurned an ugly exchange, in which school board member Lucy Mathiak lobbed an F-bomb at a fellow board member, Marj Passman.
The exchange happened yesterday, March 14. Passman was contacted by a Madison school teacher who felt Mathiak had been dismissive of the teacher’s concerns, urging her to “get over yourself.” Passman, who allows that board members have been deluged with angry emails, says she expressed to Mathiak that she agreed this response was a little harsh.

Somewhat related: Jason Shepherd: Going to the mat for WPS
School board yields to pressure to keep costlier insurance option

Suzanne Fatupaito, a nurse’s assistant in Madison schools, is fed up with Wisconsin Physicians Service, the preferred health insurance provider of Madison Teachers Inc.
“MTI uses scare tactics” to maintain teacher support for WPS, Fatupaito recently wrote to the school board. “If members knew that another insurance [plan] would offer similar services to WPS and was less expensive – it would be a no-brainer.”
WPS, with a monthly price tag of $1,720 for family coverage, is one of two health coverage options available to the district’s teachers. The other is Group Health Cooperative, costing $920 monthly for a family plan.
During the past year, the Madison school board has reached agreements with other employee groups to switch from WPS to HMO plans, with most of the savings going to boost pay.
In December, the board held a secret vote in closed session to give up its right to seek health insurance changes should negotiations on the 2007-09 teachers contract go into binding arbitration. (The board can seek voluntary insurance changes during negotations.)

Lucy has been a long time friend and I have long appreciated her activism on behalf of students, the schools and our community.

Proposed budget makes all-male charter school in Madison less likely

Matthew DeFour:

The chances the Madison School Board will approve an Urban League proposal for an all-male charter school geared toward low-income minorities are dwindling.
Madison Preparatory Academy would cost the district $1.1 million in 2012-13, its first year of operation. That would increase to $2.8 million by its fifth year, Superintendent Dan Nerad told the board last week.
“For each of these years, (the district) would be obligated to reduce programs and services to our existing schools to transfer this amount of money to Madison Prep,” Nerad wrote in a memo.
Some school board members said last week that Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal makes it less likely they will be able to support cutting other programs to find money for Madison Prep.

Who has plan to lift teachers’ gloom?

Alan Borsuk:

So much tumult lately. It’s hard to focus on just one thing. So here are four short columns instead of one long one.
Column 1
Forget the Viagra. The teachers I’ve been in touch with lately need Prozac.
Somewhere in the chaos of last week, the Milwaukee teachers union confirmed that it had given up the fight for its members’ rights to have drugs for sexual dysfunction covered by their insurance (a stand that, whatever its merits, belongs in the Hall of Fame of public relations blunders).
But depression among teachers – now that’s a serious subject. Maybe not genuine, clinical depression. Rather, bad-morale, pessimistic, stressed-out, I-think-it’s-only-going-to-get-worse depression.
Maybe the unhappiness will blow over. Daily routines tend to win out in our minds. Or maybe you think ill will is just a necessary by-product of the mother of all comeuppances that teachers deserved and got at the hands of Gov. Scott Walker and the legislative Republicans.
But marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War by staging a new one in Wisconsin will have long-term consequences on teachers and teaching. Some maybe on the upside. Some will have lasting effects as downers. Who goes into teaching, who stays, what the work is like – there will be big issues to sort out.

I sincerely hope that Wisconsin political, education and civic leaders take the lead on new education opportunities, rather than follow. Minnesota Democrat Governor Mark Dayton just signed an alternative teacher licensing law days ago. Janet Mertz advocated for a similar model for math & science teachers via this 2009 email. Education model, curricular and financial changes are certainly well underway.

It’s Breakfast Time, and Education Will Pay

James Warren:

If Terry Mazany, the interim chief of Chicago Public Schools, is no longer chief upon the arrival of a new mayor, he can at least claim to have performed the impossible: shortening the school day.
In a Chicago Tribune homage to Mr. Mazany upon the “milestone” of his 100th day in office, various achievements were claimed as he threw his predecessor, Ron Huberman, under a school bus. (“The system was in free fall,” Mr. Mazany said.)
Nowhere in a multimedia outreach by Mr. Mazany was there mention of a policy change that makes about as much sense as Gov. Scott Walker’s joining the Wisconsin state employees union. You didn’t think it could happen, but Chicago’s pitifully short school day is getting even shorter.

Just say no to voucher expansion

Barbara Miner:

Memo to all Wisconsin legislators. There is an easy way to prove you care about public education in Wisconsin. And it won’t cost a penny.
Just say no to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program providing tax dollars to private schools.
This may seem merely like a Milwaukee issue. It’s not. Voucher advocates have made clear for more than 20 years that their goal is to replace public education with a system of universal vouchers that includes private and religious schools.
The heartbreaking drama currently playing in Milwaukee – millions of dollars cut from the public schools while vouchers are expanded so wealthy families can attend private schools in the suburbs – may be coming soon to a school district near you.

Madison School District reaches tentative contract agreement with teachers’ union

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District has reached a tentative agreement with all of its unions for an extension of their collective bargaining agreement through mid-2013.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said the agreement includes a 50 percent employee contribution to the pension plan. It also includes a five percentage point increase in employees’ health insurance premiums, and the elimination of a more expensive health insurance option in the second year.
Salaries would be frozen at current levels, though employees could still receive raises for longevity and educational credits.
The district said the deal results in savings of about $23 million for the district over the two-year contract.
The agreement includes no amnesty or pay for teachers who missed four days last month protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public employee collective bargaining rights. Walker’s signing of the bill Friday prompted the district and MTI to reach an agreement quickly


A two-year tentative contract agreement has been reached between the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Madison Teachers Union for five bargaining units: teachers, substitute teachers, educational and special educational assistants, supportive educational employees and school security assistants.
District administrators, with the guidance of the Board of Education, and Madison Teacher Inc. reps negotiated from 9 a.m. Friday until 3 a.m. Saturday when the tentative agreements were completed.
Under details of the contract, workers would contribute 50 percent of the total money that’s being contribution to pension plans. That figure according to district officials, is believed to be very close to the 12 percent overall contribution that the budget repair bill was calling for. The overall savings to the district would be $11 million.

David Blaska

I present Blaska’s Red Badge of Courage award to the Madison Area Technical College Board. Its part-time teachers union would rather sue than settle until Gov. Scott Walker acted. Then it withdrew the lawsuit and asked the board for terms. No dice. “Times have changed,” said MATC’s attorney.
The Madison school board showed a rudimentary backbone when it settled a contract, rather hastily, with a newly nervous Madison teachers union.
The school board got $23 million of concessions over the next two years. Wages are frozen at current levels. Of course, the automatic pay track system remains, which rewards longevity.

NBC 15

The Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Teachers, Inc. have reached tentative contract agreements for five bargaining units: teachers, substitute teachers, educational and special educational assistants, supportive educational employees, and school security assistants.
District administrators, with the guidance of the Board of Education, and MTI reps negotiated from 9:00 a.m. Friday until 3:00 a.m. Saturday when the tentative agreements were completed.
The Board of Education held a Special Meeting today at 2:00 p.m. and ratified the five collective bargaining agreements. The five MTI units must also ratify before the contracts take effect.
Summary of the agreements:

On Quickly Extending Madison Teacher Contracts; Board to Meet Tomorrow @ 2:00p.m.

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Thursday, March 10 was an eventful day. With the approval by the state Assembly of legislation stripping public employees of nearly all collective bargaining rights, it appears that our school district has about a day to negotiate with our teachers and other bargaining units represented by MTI about an extension of our current collective bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of June. (We have already agreed to extensions for our two bargaining units represented by AFSCME and for our trades workers.)
Board members have received hundreds of emails from our teachers and others requesting that we extend their contracts and that we do it quickly. Here is the response I sent to as many of the emails as I could on Thursday night. I apologize to those to whose messages I simply didn’t have time to respond.

Thanks for contacting me to urge the School Board to extend the contract for our teachers and other represented employees.
This is a difficult situation for all of us and one that all of us would have preferred to have avoided. However, it is here now and we have to deal with it.
Like all our Board members, I respect, value and like our teachers. I want to do whatever I can to ease the stress and uncertainty that we’re all feeling, but I’m also required to act in the best interest of the school district and all of our students.
The situation before us is that if we do not extend the contract with our teachers, then, once the legislation approved today goes into effect, collective bargaining will effectively come to an end.
The School Board met tonight to discuss the terms of a contract that we could responsibly enter into for the next two years, given the uncertainty we face. We agreed on a proposal, which we submitted to MTI this evening. Like our previous settlements with other bargaining units, the proposed contract gives us the flexibility we need to adapt to the requirements imposed on us by the new state law, as well as the reduced spending limits and reduction in state aid that are parts of the proposed budget bill.
The proposed contract is written so that it gives the District discretion over changes in salary and in contributions to retirement accounts and to the cost of health insurance. I recognize that you can feel uncomfortable about the extent of the discretion that our proposal reserves for the school district. We have to write the contract this way, because any change in the contract – like re-opening the contract to adjust its terms – triggers application of the new state law that abolishes nearly all collective bargaining. So we have to draft the contract in a way that any adjustment in its economic terms does not amount to an amendment or change to the contract, and providing the school district with discretion to make such changes seems like the only way to do this.

The Madison School Board apparently is going to meet tomorrow @ 2:00p.m. to discuss extending the teacher contracts, though I don’t see notice on their website.
Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board scheduled a meeting for 2 p.m. Saturday to approve a deal with its unions before a Republican law to strip collective bargaining takes effect.
The vote is scheduled less than 48 hours after the School District and Madison Teachers Inc. exchanged initial proposals Thursday night at a hastily called School Board meeting.
The two proposals, released by the district Friday afternoon, called for extending contracts until June 30, 2013, and freezing wages, but differed on benefit concessions and other details.
MTI asked that teachers be granted amnesty and given full pay for four days missed last month. Hundreds of teachers called in sick on Feb. 16, 17, 18 and 21 to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining. Walker signed the bill Friday after the Legislature approve it Wednesday and Thursday.
MTI also asked for the missed days to be made up by adding 8 to 15 minutes to the end of every school day through the rest of the year. That would fulfill a state requirement for instructional time.
The MTI proposal did not include any employee contributions to pension and health insurance premiums over the next two years, something other unions around the state seeking contract extensions proposed to their school boards.
The district’s proposal called for allowing it to set pension contributions, change its health insurance carrier and employees’ share of premiums, set class sizes, and increase or decrease wages at its discretion, among other things. The district faces a $16 million reduction in funding under Walker’s 2011-13 budget proposal.

Don Severson: Considerations Proposed for the Madison School District 2011-2012 Budget 300K PDF, via email:

The legislative passage of the bill to limit collective bargaining for public employees provides significant opportunities for Wisconsin school districts to make major improvements in how they deliver instructional, business and other services. Instead of playing the “ain’t it awful’ game the districts can make ‘systemic’ changes to address such challenges as evaluating programs, services and personnel; setting priorities for the allocation and re-allocation of available resources; closing “the achievement gap”; and reading and mathematics proficiency, to name a ‘short list’. The Madison Metropolitan School District can and should conduct their responsibilities in different ways to attain more effective and efficient results–and, they can do this without cutting teacher positions and without raising taxes. Following are some actions the District must take to accomplish desirable, attainable, sustainable, cost effective and accountable results.

‘Insanity,’ ‘stupidity’ drive education reform efforts

Susan Troller:

A big crowd packed into the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Theater on Tuesday night to hear education historian Diane Ravitch, considered one of the most influential scholars in the nation on schools.
In her talk, she ripped into Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top, the obsession with measuring student progress through high stakes testing, privatization of education through charters and vouchers and No Child Left Behind legislation that is closing schools and punishing teachers.
Her gloomy assessment of the current passion for “fixing” education and vilifying teachers is particularly striking because Ravitch herself is a former proponent of school testing and accountability and an early supporter of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Wisconsin School choice programs get boost in Walker budget

Matthew DeFour:

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal calls for deep cuts in most areas of public education with one notable exception – public school choice programs.
In addition to steep reductions in school district funding, Walker’s budget calls for a 10 percent cut to grants for programs such as bilingual-bicultural education and 4-year-old kindergarten. It also retains current grant funding for special education and low-income students, despite projected growth in those populations.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s 20-year-old voucher program would receive $22.5 million more to accommodate 1,300 additional students. The growth would result from Walker’s proposal to remove the program’s income requirements and enrollment caps.
And independent charter schools would receive $18.4 million more over the biennium. Walker is projecting 600 additional students as his proposal would lift the state enrollment cap on virtual charter schools, allow the UW System’s 13 four-year universities to establish charter schools, and allow independent charter schools in any district in the state.

Notes and Links on “The Battle of Wisconsin”

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin cannot continue to spend more money than it has while pushing a pile of bills into the future.
For too long, Wisconsin has lurched from one budget shortfall to another.
The near-constant distraction of the state’s financial mess has kept our leaders from thinking long term. It has intensified partisan squabbles. It has forced difficult cuts and limited our state’s ability to invest in its future.
Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget, unveiled last week, is far from perfect. But it does one big thing right: It finally tackles Wisconsin’s money problems in a serious way – without the usual accounting tricks and money raids that only delay tough decisions.
Walker is largely doing in his budget proposal what he said he’d do: Fix the budget mess without raising taxes.

WPRI Poll: Wisconsinites want Walker to compromise

Wisconsinites overwhelmingly want GOP Gov. Scott Walker to compromise, a new poll says.
The poll, commissioned by a conservative-leaning think tank, also found that state residents think Democratic President Barack Obama is doing a better overall job than Walker.
Further, Wisconsinites narrowly disapprove of Senate Democrats’ decision to leave the state to block a Senate vote on Walker’s budget repair bill, which contains language to strip away most public employee union bargaining rights.
The poll of 603 Wisconsinites was commissioned by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and conducted between Feb. 27 and March 1, the day of Walker’s budget address, and has a margin of error of 4 percent. The survey of randomly selected adults included cell phone-users and was directed by Ken Goldstein, a UW-Madison political science professor on leave who is also the co-founder and director of the Big Ten Battleground Poll.
The poll’s release comes amid talks between Walker’s office and the Senate Democrats. Walker has hinted recently at compromise but said he won’t compromise on the core principles of his bi

Amy Hetzner:

Days after Gov. Scott Walker proposed major cuts to state education funding, school officials are still trying to find out how harsh the impact might be on their own districts.
Although the governor recommended a two-year, $834 million decline in state aid for schools and an across-the-board 5.5% decrease in per-pupil revenue caps – restricting how much districts can collect from state aid and property taxes – how that plays out at the local level could still shock some communities.
They have only to think of two years ago when the Democrat-controlled Legislature dropped school aid by less than 3% and nearly one-quarter of the state’s 425 school districts saw their general state aid decline by 15%. The proposed cut in school aid in Walker’s budget is more than 8% in the first year.
“Whenever the state tries to do things at a macro level, with formulas and revenue caps and so forth, there are always glitches,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

New York Times Editorial on New York’s Budget:

At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago.
That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference.
Although taxpayers are on the hook for the recession’s costs, most state employees pay only 3 percent of their salaries to their pensions, half the level of most state employees elsewhere. Their health insurance payments are about half those in the private sector.
In all, the salaries and benefits of state employees add up to $18.5 billion, or a fifth of New York’s operating budget. Unless those costs are reined in, New York will find itself unable to provide even essential services.

And, finally, photos from Tennessee.
Tyler Cowen:

What to do? Time is no longer on the side of good. I suggest that we confront the nation’s fiscal difficulties as soon as possible. That means both tax hikes and spending cuts, though I prefer to concentrate on the latter. Nonetheless it is naive to think spending cuts can do the job alone, and insisting on no tax hikes drives us faster along the path of fiscal ruin. The time for the Grand Bargain is now, it will only get harder:

On School Choice

Patrick McIlheran:

Take the school John Norquist sent his son to when he was mayor of Milwaukee. It’s private because it bought into the decidedly non-mainstream Waldorf movement. The Norquist family obviously felt it was worth the tuition, which the mayor could afford.
The school also accepted children via Milwaukee’s school choice program, so poor children could attend. Who was left out? Children from families neither poor nor well-off, including children whose parents worked for Norquist as firefighters and cops.
This is one reason Norquist says Gov. Scott Walker is right to expand school choice. By letting in the middle class, said Norquist, Walker makes better options available to middle-income parents in Milwaukee.
Norquist swiftly adds that he agrees with nothing else Walker has proposed lately. The ex-mayor goes on at length that he believes Walker wrong to limit public-union bargaining power.
That said, he vigorously favors more school choice. Milwaukee has school choice for the middle class, only it amounts to moving out to somewhere that the public schools are good. “One of the reasons people leave the city is because they feel they don’t have good choices for their kids,” Norquist said. “This bill changes that.”

Wisconsin Budget cuts $834 million from schools

Amy Hetzner and Erin Richards:

State and local funding for general Wisconsin public school operations would drop 5.5% in 2011-’12 while Milwaukee’s private-school voucher program could be poised for a massive expansion under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, one that slashes $834 million in state K-12 education spending over the next two years.
The governor’s 2011-’13 budget proposal would phase out the income requirements of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, eliminate the enrollment cap on student participation, and allow Milwaukee families to use their publicly funded voucher to attend any private school in Milwaukee County that wished to participate in the program.
Walker also hopes to remove a requirement that students in the choice schools take state tests, possibly scuttling new efforts to gauge whether the private school choice program has meaningful impact on academic achievement.
“We’ve been saying for a month now that the second shoe was going to drop,” said Tom Beebe, executive director of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, referring to Walker’s recent push for major concessions on benefits from teachers and other public employees. “It wasn’t just dropped. It was thrown at the head.”

Missing Wisconsin senators rely heavily on union campaign dollars

Daniel Bice and Ben Poston:

The 14 Wisconsin Democratic senators who fled to Illinois share more than just political sympathy with the public employees and unions targeted by Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.
The Senate Democrats count on those in the public sector as a key funding source for their campaigns.
In fact, nearly one out of every five dollars raised by those Democratic senators in the past two election cycles came from public employees, such as teachers and firefighters, and their unions, a Journal Sentinel analysis of campaign records shows.
“It’s very simple,” said Richard Abelson, executive director of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We have interests, and because of that, we attempt to support candidates who support our interests. It’s pretty hard to find Republicans who support our interests these days.”
Critics of Walker’s budget-repair bill say it would mean less union money for Democrats. That’s because the legislation would end automatic payroll deductions for dues and would allow public employees to opt out of belonging to a union.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators.

Even Without Muni Bond Sale, Wisconsin Not in Fiscal Peril

Kelly Nolan, via a Barb Schrank email:

Wisconsin may not be able to refinance $165 million in debt as planned in the municipal bond market this week or next, but that doesn’t mean the state is in any kind of immediate fiscal peril.
Wisconsin has taken center stage this budget season, as Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has pushed to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights for the state’s 170,000 public employees through a controversial budget “repair bill.” Democratic state senators have fled the state to avoid voting on the measure.
Mr. Walker’s latest tactic to lure them back has been threatening to make additional cuts or more layoffs, should the state be unable to refinance $165 million in debt for short-term budget relief. Under his plan, the state would issue a 10-year bond to restructure a debt payment that otherwise would be due May 1.

US State & Federal Tax & Spending Climate

Gerald Seib:

The federal government isn’t simply bleeding money. Because of its addiction to red ink, it’s bleeding power, which is starting to flow away from the nation’s capital and out to the states. This is the little-recognized reality behind the remarkable political upheaval being seen in state capitals.
Republican governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels are pursuing their own controversial fiscal policies out of what they consider financial necessity; they have budgets to balance, and little time and few options to do the job. But governors of both parties also have less reason to wait and hope for help from a federal government that, with overwhelming budget deficits, is losing its ability to offer financial goodies to the states.
For decades, the implicit deal between Washington and state capitals has been that the feds would offer chunks of cash, and in return would get commensurate influence over the states’ social policies. Now that flow of federal goodies has begun what figures to be a long-term decline, as the money Washington has available to pass around to the states is squeezed. Already the funds the federal government offered states as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package have nearly run out, and the budget-cutting that has begun in Washington is curtailing the other money available to dole out.

Craft your own Wisconsin budget

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

This is your chance, Wisconsin taxpayer, to cut the 2012 state budget to fix the deficit.
To answer, you need to know what are the most expensive programs. Once you know that, you can set your own priorities. Is aid to public schools more important than health care spending, for example, or aid to local governments?
On Tuesday, you can see how your cuts compare to those that Republican Gov. Scott Walker will recommend.
So, let’s start – and your budget cuts should total $1.3 billion. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the most state tax funds (not including federal and other funds) are spent on these programs.
No. 1: Aid to public schools: $5.3 billion in direct aid and $6.2 billion if you count tax credits paid property owners to hold down property taxes. Hint: Tuesday, Walker is expected to recommend a $450 million cut in aid to public schools next year. The governor signaled the size of this cut when he said that weakening collective bargaining laws for public employees would allow school districts to save even more – about $488 million – than the cut.
No. 2: Medicaid health care programs that now care for one in five Wisconsin residents: $1.55 billion from state taxes, although federal funds push the annual cost of this program to more than $6 billion. Hint: If you cut state tax funds for Medicaid, you will also be losing federal funds because about 60% of Medicaid funding comes from Washington. And if you cut state aid for Medicaid, you must also cut some care or pay less to medical professionals who provide that care, which could prompt them to no longer take Medicaid patients.

Related: Wisconsin’s redistributed state tax dollars for K-12 public schools has grown significantly over the past few decades.

Give public employees a stake in economic revival

Tom Still:

During his Tuesday night “fireside chat” about Wisconsin’s budget woes and his plan to dramatically curb the influence of public-sector unions, Gov. Scott Walker aptly referred to public employees as the state’s “partners in economic development.”
“We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years,” Walker told a statewide audience.
It was an important point, and it suggests a path out of Wisconsin’s nationally watched showdown between Walker, the Republican-led Legislature and the public-employee unions. Simply put, could public employees become fuller “partners” in Wisconsin’s economic revival if they had more skin in the game?
That question should be asked as the budget-repair bill moves to the Senate, where majority Republicans and boycotting Democrats should aspire to find at least a toehold of common ground.
The dominant private-sector view about unionized public employees is that they’re disconnected from the reality of the state and national economy. When times are good, public employees generally do well. When times are bad, most public employees still do pretty well, even if private-sector workers are taking pay cuts, benefit reductions or layoffs.
That view of insulated public employees isn’t limited to employers and non-unionized private workers. It is sometimes shared by the 7% of private workers who still belong to unions. It’s not uncommon to hear from workers in the auto industry or the construction trades who wonder why their fortunes ebb and flow with the economy, yet public-sector employees seem largely immune.

Why America’s unions are not working any more

Christopher Caldwell:

During the holiday break this winter, a woman in my neighbourhood was at the supermarket with her son when they ran into the son’s teacher. “See you Monday,” the mother said. The teacher gaily informed her she would not be back until mid-month, as she had planned a vacation in Central America. Teachers used to content themselves with the months off they enjoy in summers and at holidays, but they have got used to more. One can understand why American public employees ardently defend their unions, and the benefits they win. But one can also understand why, in a time of straitened budgets, union-negotiated contracts might be among the first places to make savings.
A fierce budget battle has been running for more than a week in Madison, Wisconsin. It goes far beyond salaries and benefits, to touch on the deeper question of whether collective bargaining has any place in government employment. Governor Scott Walker, a Republican elected last autumn with support from the Tea Party movement, believes it does not. His “budget repair” bill not only requires state employees to contribute to their pension and health plans. It would also end collective bargaining for benefits. Democratic senators, lacking the votes to defeat the bill, fled the state, denying the quorum necessary to bring it to a vote.
Mr Walker is not making a mountain out of a molehill. Wisconsin has a $137m budget gap to fill this year and a $3.6bn deficit over the next two. The big year-on-year leap reflects, in part, the expiration of federal stimulus spending, much of which was used to avoid laying off government workers. Citizens of other advanced countries sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the US has a skeletal bureaucracy. That is wrong. Once you include state, county and city employees, it is a formidable workforce and an expensive one. State employees account for up to $6,000bn in coming pension costs. Wisconsin’s difficulties are milder than those elsewhere, which means that similar clashes are arising in other states, especially where Republicans rule.

Former D.C. Schools Chief Aims To Put ‘StudentsFirst’


It’s not only Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who are challenging unions. When it comes to teachers unions, increasingly it’s Democrats like Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the public school system in Washington, D.C.
Rhee led the school district for almost three years. While she was there, she tied pay increases to merit rather than tenure and fired hundreds of teachers who she said were underperforming.
Those moves angered teachers unions across the country and made Rhee one of the most controversial figures in education reform. Now, she’s heading up an education advocacy group based out of Sacramento, Calif., called StudentsFirst. With it, she tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz, she hopes to create a powerful lobby to push for education reform.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin Cities Must Wrestle with Reality

Willie L. Hines, Jr.

As you have surely read, there’s a lot going on in Madison, Wis., these days. The tens of thousands of protesters currently storming the Capitol came about when our new governor, Scott Walker, called a special legislative session in order to introduce a “budget repair bill.” The stated purpose for this emergency session and this bill was that we have a short-term deficit that needs to be addressed.
Gov. Walker and Republican legislators have taken the liberty of extending their scope well beyond that original purpose. Instead of focusing on the short-term deficit as promised, they are using this emergency session as an opportunity to introduce dramatic, systematic changes to how local governments operate all over Wisconsin. The most controversial, which saves no money in the near future and perhaps no money ever unless policymakers make future decisions to cut benefits, is to eliminate collective bargaining for non-public safety employees.

Unlike Wisconsin, ‘collective bargaining’ doesn’t exist for Arizona’s teachers

Michelle Reese:

As Wisconsin teachers and other public union workers take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his plans to end collective bargaining, Arizona teachers wonder: Could there be an impact here?
Unlike Wisconsin, Arizona is a right-to-work state, along with 21 other states. The National Education Association has an affiliate here – the Arizona Education Association – and most school districts have individual chapters. But Arizona doesn’t have collective bargaining, what public workers are arguing to keep intact in Wisconsin.
The education association represents teachers when lobbying Arizona lawmakers and in negotiation efforts, such as “meet and confer” or “interest based bargaining” with school district leadership.
“With collective bargaining, you’re a little more of a partner at the table than what we see here. In some regards we are a partner, but there are other issues we’re not always included on,” Mesa Education Association president Kirk Hinsey said, pointing out that a school district’s governing board ultimately makes the decisions.

Madison School District preparing hundreds of teacher layoff notices

Matthew DeFour & Gena Kittner:

The Madison School District and others across the state are scrambling to issue preliminary layoff notices to teachers by Monday due to confusion over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill and the delay of the state budget.
Madison may issue hundreds of preliminary layoff notices to teachers Monday if an agreement with its union can’t be reached to extend a state deadline, school officials said Thursday.
The School Board plans to meet at 7 a.m. Friday in closed session to discuss the matter.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards this week urged local school officials to decide on staff cuts by Monday or risk having potential layoffs challenged later in court.
“It’s hugely important and hugely upsetting to everyone,” said Craig Bender, superintendent of the Sauk Prairie School District, which will issue preliminary notices to 63 of its roughly 220 teachers. “It has a huge effect on how schools can function and how well we can continue to educate all kids.”
Bender said the preliminary notices reflected “a guess” about the number of teachers who could lose their jobs because the state budget has not been released.

Related: Providence plans to pink slip all teachers Due to Budget Deficit
Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

The first tremors of what could be coming when Gov. Scott Walker releases his 2011-’13 budget proposal next week are rippling through Wisconsin school districts, where officials are preparing for the worst possibilities and girding for fiscal fallouts.
“I’m completely nervous,” Cudahy School District Superintendent Jim Heiden said. “Walking into buildings and seeing teachers break into tears when they see you – I mean, that’s the level of anxiety that’s out there.”
For the past two weeks, protests in Madison have been the focus of a nation, as angry public-sector workers have descended on the Capitol to try to stop Walker’s proposal to roll back most of their collective bargaining rights, leaving them with the ability to negotiate only limited wage increases.
Next week, the demonstrations could move to many of the state’s 425 school districts, the first local entities that will have to hash out budgets for a fiscal year that starts July 1.

Susan Troller:

Gov. Scott Walker’s secrecy and rhetoric regarding his budget plans are fueling rumors and anxiety as well as a flurry of preliminary teacher layoff notices in school districts around the state.
In Dane County, the Belleville school board voted to send layoff notices to 19 staff members at a meeting on Monday. Both the Madison and Middleton Boards of Education will meet Friday to determine their options and if they will also need to send out layoff notices, given the dire predictions of the governor’s budget which will be announced March 1.
In Madison, hundreds of teachers could receive layoff notices, district officials confirmed. Superintendent Daniel Nerad called it an option that would provide “maximum flexibility under the worst case scenario” in an e-mail sent to board members Thursday evening.
Most districts are bracing, and planning, for that worst case scenario.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Walker’s claim on health insurance savings for public schools questioned

David Wahlberg:

School districts required to offer health insurance through WEA Trust, a company created by the teachers’ union, would save $68 million a year if employees could switch to the state health plan, Gov. Scott Walker said this week, repeating a claim he made last year.
“That’s one of the many examples of why it’s so critically important to change collective bargaining,” Walker said at a news conference Monday before bringing up the issue again in his public address Tuesday.
Madison-based WEA Trust, created by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, disputes the claim. The insurer says it provides lower-cost choices, and districts can already join the state health plan.
“It’s been an option for them for some time,” said WEA Trust spokesman Steve Lyons.
About 65 percent of the state’s school districts contract with WEA Trust, covering about 35 percent of school employees. Several large districts, including Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee, don’t offer the plan.

The cost of providing WPS coverage to Madison teachers has long been controversial.

Back to school for kids, teachers — But back to normal? Not quite

Matthew DeFour & Gena Kittner:

Madison schools will open Tuesday for the first time in a week, but it won’t be just any other school day.
Civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson will greet East High School students over the loudspeaker in the morning. Students have made posters in support of their teachers. And classrooms likely will be buzzing with discussion over the four-day teacher walkout prompted by Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining.
With that backdrop, district officials have been preparing principals and staff for what could be a dramatic day.
“We know that there’s a lot of emotion here and we need to recognize that there’s a lot of upset and upset in the parent community as well,” Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad said.

Meanwhile: Jesse Jackson to Address Madison East High School Students Tuesday.

State Workers in Wisconsin See a Fraying of Union Bonds

AG Sulzberger & Monica Davey:

Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.
“Something needs to be done,” he said, “and quickly.”
Across Wisconsin, residents like Mr. Hahan have fumed in recent years as tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished, and as some of the state’s best-known corporations have pressured workers to accept benefit cuts.
Wisconsin’s financial problems are not as dire as those of many other states. But a simmering resentment over those lost jobs and lost benefits in private industry — combined with the state’s history of highly polarized politics — may explain why Wisconsin, once a pioneer in supporting organized labor, has set off a debate that is spreading to other states over public workers, unions and budget woes.

Unions vs. The Common Good

The Chicago Tribune via The Milwaukee Drum:

America’s labor movement can claim historic victories that have served the common good. Safer workplaces. Laws to protect children from workplace exploitation. The eight-hour workday. Those who are in unions can justifiably be proud of those and other accomplishments.
But how proud are they that the children of Madison, Wis., have missed school the last two days because so many of their teachers abandoned their classrooms and joined a mass demonstration? Joined a mass demonstration to intimidate the members of the Wisconsin Legislature, who are trying to close a $3 billion deficit they face over the next two years?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has demanded that state workers contribute roughly 5.8 percent of their wages toward their retirement. He wants them to pay for 12 percent of their health-care premiums. Those modest employee contributions would be the envy of many workers in the private sector.
Walker wants government officials to have authority to reshape public-employee benefits without collective bargaining. Walker wouldn’t remove the right of unions to bargain for wages.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Enough with trickery; just fix the problem

The Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel:

Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis is real – not something ginned up by Gov. Scott Walker as a way to punish political opponents. The numbers don’t lie. Like many other states, Wisconsin is in a fiscal quagmire, and not one of Walker’s making.
The state has a budget hole of $3.6 billion for the 2011-’13 period. The budget must be balanced. But this time, it must not be “balanced” through trickery and gimmicks. This time, it should be balanced in fact as well as in theory. Walker intends to do that.
Walker is scheduled to deliver his budget address on Tuesday, although he may not release the budget document until later. We encourage the governor to show not only fiscal prudence but also ideological restraint. And we urge Walker to take special care with programs that help Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens. Fairness and compassion should not take a holiday.
Walker’s tough approach with state public employee unions in his budget repair bill is justified; their benefits for too long have been exempt from scrutiny. The governor’s proposals would save $300 million over the next two years, he says.

The standoff in Madison and the fallout for 2012

Craig Gilbert:

The explosive budget debate in Madison, like the explosive budget debate in Washington, is setting the table for 2012.
Part of the same struggle, the two battles are now feeding off each other, defining the parties and a broader political argument that both sides hope to somehow “settle” in the next election.
Some political consequences of the stand-off in Wisconsin are hard to predict, such as which side will win the fight for public opinion and where else the battle will “spread.”
Others are more immediate. One obvious consequence of Gov. Scott Walker’s push to curtail bargaining rights for public employees is the fire he has lighted under Democrats, labor and the left. While there are many ways the issue could play out over the coming months, this fact alone has significance for 2012, since by any measure Democratic voters were less motivated in 2010 than their GOP counterparts.
“Gov. Walker has done more to galvanize progressives and working people than anyone possibly could have done … By going at people’s throats and trying to destroy their rights, he has not only galvanized people in Wisconsin but across the country,” former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said in an interview Thursday, a day after launching a new political action committee.

Report: Public employees make less, including benefits, than private workers

Steven Verburg:

Gov. Scott Walker argues that public employees can sacrifice more of their paychecks for health insurance and retirement because they pay so little for those benefits compared to workers at private companies.
Walker is correct about the disparity, but a new report by the liberal Economic Policy Institute suggests that looking at benefits alone is misleading.
The study looks at total compensation – pay and benefits together – and found that public workers earn 4.8 percent less than private sector employees with the same qualifications and traits doing similar jobs.
Average compensation for public workers is higher because the jobs they do – such as teaching – require a relatively high level of education, and a higher education is one of the main factors that drives wages up, said Ethan Pollack, a senior policy analyst at the institute.

Average Milwaukee Public Schools Teacher Salary Plus Benefits Tops $100,000; Ramifications

MacIver Institute:

For the first time in history, the average annual compensation for a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system will exceed $100,000.
That staggering figure was revealed last night at a meeting of the MPS School Board.
The average salary for an MPS teacher is $56,500. When fringe benefits are factored in, the annual compensation will be $100,005 in 2011.
MacIver’s Bill Osmulski has more in this video report.

Related Links:

Finally, the economic and political issue in a nutshell: Wisconsin’s taxbase is not keeping up with other states:

The Wisconsin Teachers’ Crisis: Who’s Really to Blame?

Andy Rotherham:

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened hundreds of teachers’-union leaders and school-district leaders in Denver to discuss ways management and labor could work together better. Kumbaya!
Two days later, all hell broke loose in Madison, Wis. The flash point was Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to address the state’s budget gap by making public employees contribute more to health care coverage, coupled with a proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees — including teachers. Democratic state legislators went into hiding to thwart a vote on the measure, and schools closed as thousands of teachers left their classrooms to descend on the state capital.
The two episodes vividly illustrate the hope — and the reality — of labor-management issues in education today. As Madison becomes ground zero for the debate over government spending and public-sector reform, some hard questions are getting lost in political theatrics and overwrought rhetoric. Here are questions Wisconsin’s governor, labor leaders and President Obama should have good answers for but so far don’t:

A tale of three teachers: Checking in with protesters inside the Wisconsin Capitol

Bill Lueders:

There are as many stories to tell about the ongoing protests at the state Capitol are there are protesters – tens of thousands. This is a story about three protesters I spoke to today. I noticed them because of their sign: “Sauk Prairie teachers.” On the back was another message: “Stop GOP Class War.”
All three teach at Sauk Prairie High School. This is the second day in a row that they’ve come to Madison to protest Scott Walker’s move to strip them of their collective bargaining rights and undercut their unions. It probably won’t be the last.
Their names are Betty Koehl, Alison Turner and Lynn Frick. Betty has taught at Sauk Prairie High for nearly 30 years; she’s a Sauk Prairie native and a graduate of that school. Alison has taught for eight years. It is her second career. From 1993, she worked “in this building as a legislative aide,” for state Reps. Mark Meyer and Gwen Moore. Lynn has been a teacher for 26 years, 21 of them at Sauk Prairie.
I ask each of them why they are here, and what they hope to accomplish.
Responds Betty, “I taught social studies for 30 years and, as a citizen and worker, I have to stand up for my rights and show my students that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.”

Madison Superintendent Nerad calls on teachers to return to classroom

Gena Kittner:

Madison School District superintendent Dan Nerad called on teachers late Thursday to end their protest and return to the classroom.
“These job actions need to end,” Nerad said in an e-mail to families of students. “I want to assure you that we continue to examine our options to more quickly move back to normal school days.”
Madison schools are closed Friday for a third straight day. Nerad also apologized for the closures.
On Thursday, state and Madison teachers union leaders urged their members to report to the Capitol on Friday and Saturday for continued protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining proposal.
“Even though the Madison School District can only react to the group decisions of our teachers, I apologize to you for not being able to provide learning for the last three days to your students,” Nerad said.

Related: Judge denies Madison School District request to stop teacher sick-out and “Who Runs the Madison Schools?

DNC/Organizing for America playing role in Wisconsin protests

Ben Smith:

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
OfA, as the campaign group is known, has been criticized at times for staying out of local issues like same-sex marriage, but it’s riding to the aide of the public sector unions who hoping to persuade some Republican legislators to oppose Walker’s plan. And while Obama may have his difference with teachers unions, OfA’s engagement with the fight — and Obama’s own clear stance against Walker — mean that he’s remaining loyal to key Democratic Party allies at what is, for them, a very dangerous moment.
OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

Clips from Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s News Conference on Closed Schools & Teacher Job Action

Matthew DeFour: (watch the 15 minute conference here)

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad discusses on Wednesday Gov. Scott Walker’s bill, teacher absences, and Madison Teachers Inc.


Dave Baskerville is right on the money: Wisconsin needs two big goals:

For Wisconsin, we only need two:
Raise our state’s per capita income to 10 percent above Minnesota’s by 2030.
In job and business creation over the next decade, Wisconsin is often predicted to be among the lowest 10 states. When I was a kid growing up in Madison, income in Wisconsin was some 10 percent higher than in Minnesota. Minnesota caught up to us in 1967, and now the average Minnesotan makes $4,500 more than the average Wisconsinite.
Lift the math, science and reading scores of all K-12, non-special education students in Wisconsin above world-class standards by 2030. (emphasis added)
Wisconsinites often believe we lose jobs because of lower wages elsewhere. In fact, it is often the abundance of skills (and subsidies and effort) that bring huge Intel research and development labs to Bangalore, Microsoft research centers to Beijing, and Advanced Micro Devices chip factories to Dresden.

Grow the economy (tax base) and significantly improve our schools….

Union leader calls for Madison schools to close during planned sickout

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District is preparing for “excessive” teacher absences Wednesday, and a teacher union leader urged school be closed because few teachers are expected to show up for work.
School officials announcement Tuesday in a letter to parents they expected many teachers to call in sick Wednesday.
The letter was distributed the same day nearly 800 Madison East High School students — half the school — walked out to participate in a demonstration at the state Capitol protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit public employee bargaining power.
Students at West, Memorial and at other schools around the state — from Shullsburg to Sheboygan — also participated in demonstrations during school hours.
As of Tuesday evening, Superintendent Dan Nerad said a higher-than-usual number of teachers had called in sick for Wednesday, though he declined to disclose exact numbers. He said the district would monitor the expected absences overnight before deciding whether to cancel school.

Jessica Vanegeren and Susan Troller have more.

Council: Strive for high grade points, not big political points

Elise Swanson:

After Detroit, Milwaukee is the country’s most segregated city. The Milwaukee Public School District (MPS) has an endemic racial achievement gap, in which, in terms of aggregate statistics, African American students perform three to four years below their European American counterparts in both math and reading. Combine this with a general dearth of resources — as is common to virtually all of public education — and you have a recipe for inadequate schooling that is failing its almost 90,000 students.
The crisis in Milwaukee is indicative of the educational crisis roiling the nation. Across the United States, school districts are facing enormous budget deficits, decreasing enrollment and intense pedagogical and ideological debates questioning the very foundations of modern education. The debate is particularly vociferous here in Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin Education Association Council feels threatened by Governor Scott Walker’s educational platform. This past Tuesday, however, WEAC introduced a series of reforms it would endorse, many of which took observers by surprise, and received mixed reactions.
The reform drawing the most ire is the proposal to carve up MPS into multiple smaller districts to make them more manageable, and thus more successful. However, as pointed out by one observer, this separation of districts would probably mirror racial divisions within the city, compounding instead of alleviating racial achievement gaps.

MacIver’s Christian D’Andrea Reacts to WEAC Reform Plans

Christian D’Andrea:

“WEAC unveiled their strategy Tuesday in the form of a pre-emptive strike as Governor Scott Walker prepares his upcoming budget proposal, which most insiders agree will have a significant impact on school funding and the way our schools operate.
“The organization’s main focus is to break Wisconsin’s largest district into multiple pieces by 2015. According to WEAC leaders, this move would create a more manageable system in the schools that have become a collective albatross hanging from the neck of Wisconsin’s public education.
“[I]n its current configuration, we do not believe MPS can be fixed. It is simply too big,” said WEAC President Mary Bell. Bell later went on to say that despite the state union’s buy-in, the local Milwaukee Teachers’ Educational Association (MTEA) isn’t on board.
“While MPS is fraught with problems, a reduction of size won’t be a panacea, nor will it make things much clearer in Wisconsin’s largest city. While WEAC’s change of heart is refreshing given their recent track record on education reform, they are resorting to a drastic step without fully exploring their other options for reform that are politically more feasible. MPS is only the 33rd largest school district in the country by enrollment, and while some of the cities that are larger than Milwaukee nationally have their own problems, many operate successfully despite a glut of students.

Walker gives Madison Preparatory IB Charter School a better chance

Wisconsin State Journal:

Gov. Scott Walker just gave a boost to the Urban League of Greater Madison’s intriguing proposal for an all-male charter school.
As part of his state budget address late Tuesday afternoon, Walker said he wants to let any four-year public university in Wisconsin create a charter school for K-12 students.
That gives the Urban League of Greater Madison a second potential partner for its proposal, should the Madison School Board reject the League’s idea.
Kaleem Caire, president and CEO of the Urban League, has made a powerful case for an all-male charter school with high standards, uniforms and a longer school day and year.
Charter schools are public schools allowed more freedom to try new things in exchange for greater accountability for results.

Supporting Wisconsin School Reform

Wisconsin State Journal:

We heard encouraging words about school reform last week from Republican leaders in the state Legislature.
For starters, those leaders — Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rep. Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake — both seem focused on change and flexibility, essential parts of any movement forward with our public schools. And both seem committed to reducing the mandates and state demands on local school systems.
That type of increased local control will be necessary not only to truly bring about change to public schools but also to maneuver them through an era of exceedingly tight budgets. Funding for schools no doubt will be squeezed as Gov. Scott Walker deals with the state’s $3 billion-plus deficit in his two-year budget proposal next month.

Wisconsin Governor Walker Seeks Strict Property Tax Increase Limits


Gov. Scott Walker said he will try to impose strict limits on property tax increases while giving local governments facing cuts new tools to manage costs.
On Sunday’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” a statewide TV newsmagazine produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com, Walker (left) said that even as he trims state spending while maintaining core services, he aims to do it in a way that doesn’t simply pass costs off to the future or to local governments and property tax payers.
“We’re going to have to make tough but compassionate decisions to do that,” Walker said of his approach to closing the state’s $3.3 billion deficit.
Asked if he would be willing to cap property taxes at about 2 percent, Walker said he hopes to get “closer to zero” while still allowing provisions for growth and development.
While Walker said local governments and school boards may see “changes” in state aid, they will have new tools to deal with them.

Related: The Madison School District’s 2010-2011 budget, which increased property taxes about 9%.
Wisconsin State and Local Debt Rose Faster Than Federal Debt During 1990-2009 Average Annual Increase in State Debt, 7.8%; Local Debt, 7.3%.

Wisconsin Government Employment Per Capita 8.2% Smaller Than U.S. Average

Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding

GOP plans more K-12 education choices for Wisconsin

Matthew DeFour:

The Legislature’s new Republican leaders will emphasize giving school districts, parents and students more choices as they seek reforms in K-12 education, and opposition is surfacing to a proposal that would kill Madison’s 4-year-old kindergarten program.
Later this month, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, a former teacher and co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee, plans to introduce a charter school reform package that will, among other things, call for an independent statewide board to approve charter schools.
Currently local school boards approve charter schools, even if they won’t be directly operated by the district. A statewide board could help proposals, such as an all-male charter school in Madison, move forward “without having to wait forever and ever and without having lots of obstacles,” Darling said.
Other education reforms are expected in Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-13 budget proposal in February, said Rep. Robin Vos, Assembly chairman of the budget committee.
Olsen has hired education policy consultant Sarah Archibald, a UW-Madison professor and researcher at the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Archibald has written about attracting high-quality teachers by offering bonuses to top math and science students who decide to teach, making it easier for teachers trained outside Wisconsin to obtain certification here and increasing the grade-point requirement for aspiring teachers above the current 2.5.

Lawmaker Proposes Cutting 4-Year-Old Kindergarten


The Madison Metropolitan School District is preparing to start up 4-year-old kindergarten this fall, but a state lawmaker said the program isn’t worth the cost and wants it cut from the state budget.
More than 300 school districts in Wisconsin already offer 4-year-old kindergarten, but Gov. Scott Walker is considering a proposal to do away with the program.
This comes as Madison prepares to enroll any child who turns 4 years old on or before Sept. 1, 2011, and to launch 4K in the fall.
The turnout Wednesday at the last scheduled meeting for Madison’s upcoming 4K program wasn’t just standing-room-only; some parents, such as Emily Lockwood, weren’t even able to step foot inside at the Lussier Community Center because the crowd was so large, WISC-TV reported.
“I’m excited. She loves to learn. She’s really into numbers and letters and writing,” said Lockwood, whose daughter Adele plans to attend the 4K program.

Much more on Madison’s planned 4K program, here.

Beloit part of voucher plan? “The Days of An Educational Monopoly Are Over”

Justin Weaver:

The new Wisconsin governor is considering sweeping reforms in Madison, one of which could directly impact Beloit schools.
Gov. Scott Walker and the incoming Republican legislature assumed power in the state Monday and wasted no time in introducing the possibility of expanding the state’s school voucher program. The program, presently instituted in the Milwaukee area, allows students to receive taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private schools, including religious schools. Just under 21,000 of the maximum 22,500 students enrolled in the program this year.
The governor has identified Beloit as one place where the vouchers could be phased in as part of a trial effort to spread the program statewide.
“I think school choice is successful,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I think it’s worth looking at expanding it. How do you do that? There’s really a multitude of options, not only those being discussed in other parts of the country. And we want to continue to be at the forefront of that.”
Beloit School District Superintendent Milt Thompson said he views the potential voucher introduction as yet another reason for the district to reassess its direction.
“My concern is that the district has to become conscious of today’s market. If you have a system that is attractive, people will send their kids here. If you don’t, the days of an educational monopoly are over,” he said.

Additional choices for our communities is a good thing. Thompson’s perspective is correct and useful.

WEAC leaders hoping to forge relationships with GOP leaders at Capitol


Like other union leaders, WEAC President Mary Bell can see some “labor unrest” among her members if they’re targeted by the incoming Walker administration.
But she can’t see them taking an extreme step like going on strike, something they’re prevented from doing under Wisconsin law.
“My members care so desperately about the work they do that it would be extremely difficult to envision them leaving their classrooms, leaving their kids,” Bell said in a new WisPolitics interview. “We have that history in Wisconsin, but it’s been 30 years since those things took place.”
With Scott Walker set to occupy the governor’s office next week and Republicans poised to take over both houses of the Legislature, Bell and WEAC executive director Dan Burkhalter said their members are feeling apprehensive and somewhat targeted. Still, Bell pointed out they’ve felt targeted since the early 1990s, when the state imposed the qualified economic offer.
In the last budget, Dems and Gov. Jim Doyle lifted the QEO, which allowed districts to avoid arbitration so long as they offered teachers a bump in pay and benefits of at least 3.8 percent.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Walker, Barrett seek checks on unions

Larry Sandler:

They didn’t seem to agree on anything during the gubernatorial election, but Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is hoping he and Governor-elect Scott Walker can find common ground on at least one issue in 2011.
Both leaders want to rein in public employee unions – just not the same ones.
Walker, who has tangled with Milwaukee County unions as county executive, is gearing up for a clash with state workers, seeking wage and benefit cuts and threatening legislation to weaken or eliminate state unions’ bargaining rights if they won’t agree to concessions.
Barrett, meanwhile, wants Walker’s help to change another law that gives Milwaukee police unions extra bargaining leverage. The mayor also wants to block the police and firefighters’ unions from winning one of their top legislative priorities: abolishing residency requirements.
While most public employee unions backed Barrett, the Democratic nominee for governor, the Milwaukee Police Association and the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association endorsed Walker, the Republican. Now both unions’ presidents accuse Barrett of seeking retribution for those endorsements, a charge he denies.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin State agencies request 6.2% hike in spending

State agencies are requesting an additional $3.94 billion in state and federal money – a 6.2% increase – over the next two years to fund priorities such as health care and education.
But with the state already facing a massive deficit in the 2011-’13 budget, Governor-elect Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature are unlikely to fill many of those requests. The report on the $67.43 billion in requests over two years – most by agencies in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration -was released Thursday by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
The biggest share of the proposed increases would go to the state Department of Health Services for programs such as Medicaid health care for the poor – spending that Walker and other Republicans have pledged to rein in.

Evers says he’d accept lifting Wisconsin Voucher & Virtual School enrollment cap

Becky Vevea

Governor-elect Scott Walker’s campaign promise to lift the enrollment cap on Wisconsin’s voucher and virtual schools could come to fruition soon, despite opposition from unions.
In an interview this week on the public affairs program “WisconsinEye,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said that he is open to lifting the enrollment limits, something Republicans have pushed for in the face of resistance from unions and public school advocates who see the voucher program as draining resources from Milwaukee schools by diverting public funding to private voucher schools.
“I’m steeped in reality. I’m not sure if what I think makes a lot of difference,” Evers said, alluding to the impending Republican control of the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature. “People have made clear what their positions are.”
Removing the caps on virtual schools or the choice program would not “fundamentally change the way those programs operate, nor will it dramatically increase the enrollments,” Evers said.

Wisconsin could learn a thing or two from Florida’s school grading system

Alan Borsuk

I heard Jeb Bush give a talk a few months ago in Milwaukee about education policies that he promoted while he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. I should have taken notes, because I think I was listening to at least a few of the pages from the playbook that will be used by Scott Walker when he becomes governor of Wisconsin in about five weeks.
I’m betting that is particularly true for the system of giving every school in the state a grade – A to F – each year. It’s a centerpiece of the “A+ Schools” program that Bush championed in Florida. He credits the grading system with being a key driver of rising test scores over the last decade.
In his campaign platform, Walker called for launching a grading system for Wisconsin schools. He hasn’t spelled out details, but Florida is the primary example of such a system, and Walker is an admirer of Bush. Walker also will have strong Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and I can’t think of any reason he won’t succeed in turning what he said he would do into reality in the not-at-all-distant future.
So let’s look at Florida’s grading system on the assumption it is a lot like what will be used here.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Poll shows misperceptions about Wisconsin budget

Karen Herzog

Four out of 10 Wisconsin residents want state aid to elementary and secondary schools to be protected from spending cuts, but most don’t realize school aid is the biggest expense in the state budget, according to a new poll.
The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute telephone survey of 615 randomly selected Wisconsin adults last Monday through Wednesday revealed misperceptions about the state budget, which officials may need to correct as they grapple with the upcoming two-year budget, said George Lightbourn, president of the conservative think tank.
Thirty percent of those polled said they thought Medicaid insurance for lower income households was the top expense in the state budget; it actually ranks second by a large margin. Twenty-one percent picked the correct answer: aid for elementary and secondary schools.
Others who guessed the top expense incorrectly included 13% who picked transportation, 12% who picked aid to local government (shared revenue), and 10% who guessed higher education, all of which are considerably less expensive than aid to elementary and secondary schools.
The state faces a projected deficit of at least $2.2 billion in its upcoming two-year budget, assuming Governor-elect Scott Walker and lawmakers make spending cuts that have yet to happen – two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs, the Journal Sentinel reported Saturday.
Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the shortfall is projected at $3.3 billion.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: $2.2 billion Wisconsin deficit balloons to $3.3 billion without assumed spending cuts

Jason Stein

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration on Friday told Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker that he would have to cope with a $2.2 billion deficit in the state’s upcoming two-year budget, but this brighter-than-expected forecast contained more than $1 billion in hidden pain.
To arrive at the favorable estimate, the Doyle administration’s estimate assumed that Walker and lawmakers would make spending cuts that have yet to actually happen – two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs. Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the state’s projected shortfall rises to $3.3 billion – a significant increase over previous estimates that put the gap at between $2.7 billion and $3.1 billion.
The shortfall and the efforts to close it could affect everything from schools and health care to local governments and taxpayers.
The “revenue projections released Friday underscore what Governor-elect Walker has said for months – the state of Wisconsin is facing very serious budget challenges,” Walker transition director John Hiller said in a statement. “Further, we believe that the true budget shortfall is much higher than indicated by the projections released today.”

Wisconsin Education Superintendent Seeks 2-4% annual increases in redistributed state tax dollars, introduction of a poverty formula and a shift in Property Tax Credits

Many links as the school finance jockeying begins, prior to Governor Scott Walker’s January, 2011 inauguration. Wisconsin’s $3,000,000,000 deficit (and top 10 debt position) makes it unlikely that the K-12 world will see any funding growth.
Matthew DeFour

Evers plan relies on a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, a tough sell given the state’s $3 billion deficit and the takeover of state government by Republicans, who have pledged budget cuts.
One major change calls for the transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, which Evers said would make the system more transparent while having a negligible impact on property taxes. That’s because the state imposes a limit on how much a district can raise its total revenue. An increase in state aid revenue would in most cases be offset by a decrease in the other primary revenue — property taxes.
Thus the switch would mean school districts wouldn’t have such large annual property tax increases compared to counties, cities and other municipalities, even though tax bills would remain virtually the same, said Todd Berry, executive director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
“Distributing the money through the school aid formula, from a pure policy sense, is probably more equitable than distributing it in its current tax credit form,” Berry said. “The money will tend to help districts that tend to be poorer or middle-of-the-road.”

Susan Troller

Inequities in the current system tend to punish public schools in areas like Madison and Wisconsin’s northern lake districts because they have high property values combined with high poverty and special needs in their school populations. The current system doesn’t account for differences in kids’ needs when it doles out state aid.
Education policy makers as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle have talked school funding reform for over a dozen years but it’s been a tough sell because most plans have created a system of winners and losers, pitting legislator against legislator, district against district.
Evers’ plan, which calls for a 2 percent increase in school aid funding next year and a 4 percent increase the following year, as well as a transfer of about $900 million in property tax credits to general aid, addresses that issue of winners and losers. Over 90 percent of districts are receiving more funding under his proposal. But there aren’t any district losers in Evers’ plan, either, thanks to a provision that requests a tenth of a percent of the total state K-12 schools budget — $7 million — to apply to districts facing a revenue decline.


Wisconsin State and Local Debt Rose Faster Than Federal Debt During 1990-2009 Average Annual Increase in State Debt, 7.8%; Local Debt, 7.3%

Scott Bauer

Rewrite of Wisconsin school aid formula has cost

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

The following printout provides school district level information related to the impact of State Superintendent Evers’ Fair Funding proposal.
Specifically, the attachment to this document shows what each school district is receiving from the state for the following programs: (1) 2010-11 Certified General Aid; (2) 2009-10 School Levy Tax Credit; and (3) 2010-11 High Poverty Aid.
This information is compared to the potential impact of the State Superintendent’s Fair Funding proposal, which is proposed to be effective in 2012-13, as if it had applied to 2010-11.
Specifically, the Fair Funding Proposal contains the following provisions:

Amy Hetzner

But the plan also asks for $420 million more over the next two years – a 2% increase in funding from the state for the 2011-’12 school year and 4% more for the following year – making it a tough sell in the Legislature.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who will co-chair the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said she considered the proposal pretty much dead on arrival in the state Legislature, which will be under Republican control next year, without further changes.
“I think those goals are very admirable,” said Darling, who has been briefed on the plan. “But, you know, it’s a $6 billion budget just for education alone and we don’t have the new money. I think we have to do better with less. That’s just where we are.”
On Friday, Governor-elect Scott Walker said his office had only recently received the proposal from the DPI and he had not had time to delve into its details or to speak with Evers. He said he hoped to use his budget to introduce proposals that would help school districts to control their costs, such as freeing them from state mandates and allowing school boards to switch their employees to the state health plan.

No more waiting for (Wisconsin) school reform

Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin Gov.-elect Scott Walker hasn’t seen the film “Waiting for Superman” yet, about America’s struggling public school system. The demands of campaigning and now preparing to take office don’t allow much time for movies.
But Walker did have “a good chat” with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week. “In many ways,” Walker told the State Journal, “our ideas on reform follow a similar path.”
That’s encouraging because Walker has a huge opportunity to reshape our state’s schools. The incoming GOP governor needs to think big and act boldly, just as the Democratic president’s impressive education secretary has.
Duncan last month called the release of “Waiting for Superman,” by director Davis Guggenheim, “a Rosa Parks moment.” Duncan hopes the vital film — now playing at Sundance Cinemas in Madison — will spark discussion and action aimed at the incredibly serious challenges facing public education.

Walker, GOP pledge to reform Wisconsin’s approach to school funding

Matthew DeFour

Wisconsin’s next governor has promised big changes for schools and taxpayers – from tying teacher pay raises to performance and giving each school a letter grade to expanding alternatives to public schools and helping school districts cut costs.
But the first challenge facing Republican Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature next year is closing a $3 billion deficit in the state’s general fund, 44 percent of which covers K-12 education.
“I don’t think anybody is going to, in the short run, be able to solve the budget problems without cutting state funding for K-12,” said Andrew Reschovsky, a UW-Madison economics professor. “The current situation is unsustainable in the long run. There really is a crisis in how we fund schools.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers this week is expected to kick-start the school spending debate by announcing the details of his plan to reform the state’s complex education funding formula. In June, he said his proposal would move away from distributing aid based on property values and take into account factors such as student poverty – a move that could help districts such as Madison with high property wealth but also a lot of poor students.
The state cut $284 million, or 2.6 percent, from school aid in the current budget, resulting in an 8 percent reduction for Madison. The state also reduced the amount districts could increase revenues from $275 per pupil to $200 per pupil, which helped keep a lid on property taxes but forced districts to make budget cuts.

Taste of things to come: Do more with less, Gov.-elect Walker tells University of Wisconsin regents

Todd Finkelmeyer

Two days after the election, Gov.-elect Scott Walker was greeted with wide smiles, warm handshakes and a standing ovation during a short stop at the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents meeting.
Walker returned the love by telling the regents gathered at UW-Madison that “this is truly one of the greatest university systems in the world, not just the country. It’s an honor to be here today.”
But he soon got down to business, making it clear that with the state’s massive budget hole, university leaders would be asked to do more with less.
“It isn’t just always about more money,” Walker said, noting that leaders would need to be flexible, innovative and creative to get the most out of limited resources.
Some believe any more cuts in state funding to the UW System will do significant harm to its 13 universities and 13 two-year colleges, but UW System leaders would be wise to start preparing for the worst, says Noel Radomski.

Systemic changes coming for Wisconsin public school teachers

Alan Borsuk

An educational earthquake aimed at improving the effectiveness of teachers is rumbling across the nation.
So far, the quake is only beginning to affect Wisconsin. But the tremors of change are already being felt here, and more are coming.
In the process, a new world of teaching is being built.
Nationwide, the federal government and giant philanthropies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into underwriting work in dozens of states and cities on better ways to select teachers, monitor their work and pay them.
President Barack Obama has taken on teachers unions – traditionally partisan allies – over teacher improvement issues, while many Republicans, including Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker, say they support reform in teachers’ pay.
National leaders of teachers unions, long opposed to change, are willing to talk about once-taboo subjects such as making it easier to get weak teachers out of classrooms.
Multiple factors have ushered in this new era. First, it is now widely understood that not only are teachers the most important school-related factor in student learning, but that teacher effectiveness varies drastically. Second, the recession – and the resulting stimulus package – gave Obama a chance to launch large programs focused on increasing teacher effectiveness. Third, data about students and teachers has improved greatly, providing better tools for figuring out the success of many teachers on an individual basis.

The Post-Election Education Landscape: Vouchers Up, WEAC Down

Alan Borsuk via a Senn Brown email

Two quick education-related comments on Tuesday’s election outcomes in Wisconsin:
First, this was a banner outcome in the eyes of voucher and charter school leaders. Governor-elect Scott Walker is a long-time ally of those promoting the 20,000-plus-student private school voucher program in the city of Milwaukee, and he is a booster of charter schools both in Milwaukee and statewide. But just as important as Walker’s win was the thumpingly strong victories for Republicans in both the Assembly and State Senate, which will now come under sizable Republican majorities.
What will result?
Let’s assume it’s good-bye to the 22,500-student cap on the voucher enrollment in Milwaukee. Will Walker and the Legislature expand the voucher program beyond the city, perhaps, for openers, to Racine? Will they open the doors wider for charter schools, for national charter-school operators to come into Wisconsin, and for more public bodies to be given the power to authorize charter schools? (Currently, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee City Hall, and UW-Parkside are the only ones authorized to do that, other than school boards.) Perhaps most important, what will the Republicans do about the per-student payments to voucher and charter schools? School leaders now are chafing under the impact of receiving less than $6,500 per student for each voucher student and less than $8,000 for each charter student. Will this be one of the very few spots where the Republicans increase the state’s financial involvement? Pretty good chance the answer is yes to all of the above.

Change is certainly in the air.

Wisconsin School Finance Reform Climate: 16% Health Care Spending Growth & Local Lobbying

Jason Stein & Patrick Marley:

The state health department is requesting $675 million more from state taxpayers in the next two-year budget to maintain services such as Wisconsin’s health care programs for the poor, elderly and disabled, according to budget estimates released Thursday.
That figure, included in a budget request by the state Department of Health Services, shows how difficult it will be for the next governor to balance a budget that already faces a $2.7 billion projected shortfall over two years.
One of the chief reasons the state faces the steep increase in costs is because federal economic stimulus money for health care programs will dry up before the 2011-’13 budget starts July 1.
That scheduled decrease in funding would come even as high unemployment lingers, driving many families into poverty and keeping enrollment in the programs relatively high. State Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake said the state needs to find a way to keep health care for those who need it.
“People need this program in a way many of them never expected to,” she said.
But maintaining health programs at existing levels could cost even more than the $675 million increase over two years – a 16% jump – now projected in the budget request, which will be handled by the next governor and Legislature.

Dane County Board Urges State Action on School Reform 194K PDF via a TJ Mertz email:

This evening the Dane County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically approved a resolution urging the Wisconsin Legislature to make comprehensive changes in the way schools are funded. The Board encouraged the Legislature to consider revenue sources other than the local property tax to support the diverse needs of students and school districts.

“I hear over and over again from Dane County residents that investing in education is a priority, said County Board Supervisor Melissa Sargent, District 18, the primary sponsor of the resolution. “However, people tell me they do not like the overreliance on property taxes to fund education – pitting homeowners against children,” she added.

For the last 17 years, the state funding formula has produced annual shortfalls resulting in program cuts to schools. In 2009-2010, cuts in state aid resulted in a net loss of over $14 million in state support for students in Dane County, shifting the cost of education increasingly to property taxpayers. More and more districts are forced to rely on either program cuts or sometimes divisive referenda. In fact, voters rejected school referendums in five districts Tuesday, while just two were approved.

“The future of our children and our community is dependent on the development of an equitable system for funding public education; a system the recognizes the diverse needs of our children and does not put the funding burden on the backs of our taxpayers, said Madison Metropolitan School
Board member Arlene Silvera. “I appreciate the leadership of the County Board in raising awareness of this critical need and in lobbying our state legislators to make this happen,” she said.

Jeffery Ziegler a Member of the Marshall Public School District Board of Education and Jim Cavanaugh, President of the South Central Federation of Labor, both emphasized the need to get the attention of state officials in statements supporting the resolution. Ziegler described how state inaction has forced Board Members to make decisions that harm education.

State legislators can apparently decide to just not make the tough decisions that need to be made. School boards have a responsibility to keep our schools functioning and delivering the best education they can under the circumstances, knowing full well that those decisions will have a negative effect on the education of the children in their community.

Cavanaugh observed that the consensus that reform is needed has not led to action and pointed to the important role local governmental bodies can play in changing this by following the lead of the Dane County Board

“Legislators of all political stripes acknowledge that Wisconsin’s system for funding public schools is broken. Yet, there doesn’t appear to be the political will to address this very complicated issue. Perhaps they need a nudge from the various local units of government.”

In passing this resolution, Dane County is taking the lead on a critical statewide issue. Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) board member Thomas J. Mertz said that WAES thanked the Dane County Board and said that WAES will seek similar resolutions from communities around the state in the coming months.

“All around Wisconsin districts are hurting and we’ve been working hard to bring the need for reform to the attention of state officials,” said WAES board member Thomas J. Mertz. “Hearing from local officials might do the trick,” he concluded.

Gubernertorial candidates Tom Barrett (Clusty) and Scott Walker (Clusty) on education.
The current economic climate certainly requires that choices be made.
Perhaps this is part of the problem.
Finally, The Economist on taxes.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public workers’ generous benefits come at a price State law makes it difficult to make any changes in health benefits without approval of the unions

Guy Boulton & Jason Stein:

The rich health benefits enjoyed by workers in the public sector are becoming an increasingly inviting target as cities, counties and school districts struggle with continual budget deficits.
The numbers explain why:
The Milwaukee Public Schools district spends as much as $26,846 a year to provide family coverage for a teacher. The City of Milwaukee spends a bit less than $21,000, and Milwaukee County spends $17,800 to $19,400. The state’s cost is slightly less than $20,000 a year for employees in the Milwaukee area.
That’s after subtracting the employee’s share of the premium, which can range from nothing to $2,160 a year.
In contrast, family coverage from private and public employers costs $13,770 on average nationally and workers on average pay nearly $4,000 of that.
Several forces contribute to the gap between public and private sectors. For one, state law prohibits many public employees from striking and that prohibition comes at a price of ensuring fairness for those employees. In addition, many public workers accept lower salaries in exchange for generous health care benefits.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate, each have proposals to lower health benefit costs.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Next Wisconsin governor faces big deficit Candidates promise tax cuts amid $2.7 billion shortfall

Jason Stein & Patrick Marley

The state faces a looming $2.7 billion budget shortfall, but that hasn’t kept candidates for governor from piling on with what are likely to be hundreds of millions of dollars in new commitments to cut taxes or increase spending.
All the major candidates have put forward plans to rein in spending, but by making added pledges like tax cuts, the candidates are adding to the challenge they’ll face as the state’s top executive.
The most aggressive are the two Republican candidates, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker who, without specific figures, are promising hefty tax cuts in their first budget as governor and some possible increases in spending on roads and bridges.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, has made more modest pledges totaling at least tens of millions of dollars in the form of targeted tax cuts and spending to create jobs. So far, he has offered the most detailed plans about his proposed spending cuts, although serious questions have been raised about some of that proposed saving.

Wisconsin Gubernartorial Candidate Walker proposes letting schools, government units use lower-cost state health plan

Lee Bergquist:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker proposed a plan he says would potentially save school districts and local units of government more than $300 million in health care costs.
Walker, a Republican candidate for governor, said his proposal would allow local units of government to switch from health plans that have high premiums to the state’s lower-cost employee health plan.
Walker said his proposal could save school districts $68 million and local governments up to $242 million annually in health care costs.
He cautioned, however, that the savings estimate for local units of government is impossible to estimate because there is no central database of what municipalities pay for health care. To make his projections, he used data of the potential savings at school districts and applied those figures to the state’s more than 200,000 local public employees.
Walker said the biggest reduction would come from Milwaukee Public Schools, which he said could realize $20 million a year in savings.

Locally, the Madison School District’s use of WPS has long been controversial due to its high cost versus alternatives, such as GHC, among others.

Improving education must be the top priority

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial: What’s needed is a regional response, which should include more involvement of businesses outside Milwaukee County in MPS and other school districts’ programs, more collaborative efforts such as the Kern Family Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Lead the Way program and a debate on what fundamental changes need to be made … Continue reading Improving education must be the top priority

WisPolitics: Walker, Green Forum

WisPolitics hosted a recent Forum for GOP candidates for governor. Incumbent governor Jim Doyle has agreed to appear at a future forum, which I will link to when that occurs. Both GOP candidates addressed school funding, to some degree. Scott Walker said that he supported 2/3 state funding, but that it was not a “blank … Continue reading WisPolitics: Walker, Green Forum

Tax Base, City Growth and the School District’s Budget

Paying my annual property tax bill recently, I wondered what the effect of Madison’s development growth (some might call it sprawl) has had on overall spending growth and on an individual’s tax burden (note, Madison Schools include Fitchburg, Maple Bluff and Shorewood parcels). I contacted the city assessor’s office and asked how the number of … Continue reading Tax Base, City Growth and the School District’s Budget