Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WisGOP's "HS laptop" proposal fails reality, reeks of desperation

If any of you were tricked into thinking the Wisconsin GOP Legislature started caring about the quality of K-12 education with last week’s proposal to give a laptop to every high school freshman, then today’s headline story in the Wisconsin State Journal should put your mind back at ease. The WisGOPs still don't care, but they are feeling the heat from the voters.

As part of today’s article titled “Details Skimpy on Assembly GOP's Laptop Proposal”, the spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos said there were no figures or actual details with the “give every freshman a laptop” plan, and that it is merely a “big idea.”
Kit Beyer, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the proposal is part of the Assembly Republicans’ overall commitment to fund K-12 education, “which would be addressed in the budget.”

“The specifics of the proposal are still being researched and developed,” said Beyer, who noted the agenda released last week is “a broad outline of goals for the next session and beyond.”
As you dig into Molly Beck’s article in the Wisconsin State Journal, it’s apparent that ALEC/GOP members of the Legislature came up with this half-baked plan on their own, as the top policy person for the state’s public schools says his department hasn’t been asked for input on how to actually carry this technology plan out, and that they have very little idea how it’ll work.
Jeff Pertl, senior policy adviser for DPI, said DPI officials have learned few details on the proposal. Pertl said lawmakers emphasized the proposal would not be a mandate, which could mean the funding would be provided as more of an incentive to provide devices to students.
Oh, so “a laptop for every frosh” wouldn’t be a requirement after all, just big talk from Robbin’ and the rest of WisGOP? Looks like it, as Pertl goes onto say the state could set up a reimbursement plan for schools who purchase new technology for students, but we have no idea how much money would go toward that reimbursement program. In addition, do all requests for this new technology get granted (which could drive up costs and lead to cuts elsewhere in K-12 or for other services), or would the Legislature limit how much money is available for such a program (which limits who could get a laptop)?

Another problem that Pertl mentions is that the state’s voucher program gives a payment to the students, who pass that onto the schools. So is there an extra voucher payment given out to students because of this stupid idea to add to the stupid amount of money that is already thrown to vouchers? And how do we verify that these funds are being used for technology, especially in vouchers which often fails to have the transparency to uphold the requirements for transparent record-keeping and the needs of special education kids? (read this recently-released report from the Feds on how vouchers fail to provide special ed services)

In the article, Beck also talks to Hurley, Wis. Superintendent Chris Pattrito, whose district up North already provides Internet-ready devices for all students. Pattrito points out that when you plunge into new technology in the classroom, ongoing costs are a major concern.
Technology is of utmost importance to our kids now, but it is an extremely expensive line item and most schools don’t have much if any dollars in that line item,” [Patritto] said. “The biggest need we have is a need for funding for the hardware itself and then maintenance. We have firewall contracts, wireless access, internet contracts, etc., all of which is a cost people cannot imagine.”

Patritto said a technology upgrade the district plans to make next spring will likely cost the district of more than 600 students about $400,000 to $500,000.
Which leads to another obvious question. Will districts get the extra funding in future years needed to maintain the software and hardware needed to keep the “every kid gets a laptop” program running? Or will the WisGOP Legislature say “sorry,”, and continue to limit and/or cut K-12 public school aids, forcing districts to choose between keeping the new technology, keeping adequate numbers of teachers and staff, or keeping the buildings from falling down? If the ALEC crew stays in charge at the Capitol, bet on the latter, with a side order of buck-passing fauxtrage claiming either “Why can’t schools control their expenses?”, or “Why aren’t Wisconsin's schools keeping up with the technology needs of the 2010s?”

In addition, the WisGOPs won’t tell you about the past budget cuts and revenue limits that they’ve imposed that have kept some schools from implementing their own technology program (which would have eliminated the need for more state money to be spent on getting kids laptops), nor do they mention the (unfunded) extra costs and constraints their state-run program could cause later. This is not unlike how the school voucher lobby runs tons of ads to help WisGOP candidates, but never mention “candidate X will expand voucher schools!” as part of the ads (funny, isn't it?). And just like with most ALEC policies, this half-baked policy of a “laptop for every frosh” ultimately will lead to cuts to K-12 and other services that will result from this extra expense will come later, which will be used as an excuse for more privatization and similar schemes that help GOP campaign contributors.

Whether it's this laptop proposal, or the stupid sales-tax holiday idea that also got floated recently, it's becoming clear that the WisGOPs really have nothing legitimate to offer anymore, and are just throwing these trial balloons out there in a desperate attempt to distract low-info voters from 5 ½ years of failed policies. Don't even think of falling for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment