Monday, February 18, 2013

Education in Walker budget- declining again

I know our governor is paid off and wants to wreck public services any chance he gets, and nowhere is this more flagrant that it is with the K-12 education budget. Our media originally tried to protray Walker's proposed education budget as some kind of "increaed investment", because it plans to slightly increase K-12 funding to public schools between 2013-2015, but still leaves us around $600 million under the total amount we had in the 2009-2011 budget.

Even the Journal-Sentinel had to tell its readers the truth about how Walker's education plans add little to public education, has the money go toward property tax relief and not instruction, and it sends huge amounts of money to voucher schools.
For public schools, Walker is proposing a 1% increase in state general aid, though he has also proposed several other separate increases in state money for specific items.

But Walker is also rejecting an increase in the state-imposed cap in revenues that public schools are allowed to raise from both the state and local property taxpayers. That means that school districts would have to hold a voter referendum to spend any more in public money than they do now.

Walker's proposed increase in state general aid for public schools would be $129.2 million over two years. For the much smaller system of voucher schools, the increase would be $73 million - $45 million from the state and $28 million from local property taxpayers.
Walker's giveaway to the voucher organizations (who have the last 3 GOP Assembly speakers lobbying for it at the Capitol) is made even more obvious when you look at the Department of Public Instruction's budget request for 2013-2015.

When the DPI made their budget for 2013-2015, it asked the Governor to give back $574 million in general K-12 school aids and tax credits. Walker didn't even give them half of that. Likewise, Walker would raise the amount of money going to voucher schoos above and beyond the $56 million increase that DPI asked for. And scarier, Walker's education plan would allow other districts to be opened to vouchers, whether the majority of taxpayers in those places want it or not.
Among the choice programs and initiatives funded in Governor Walker’s budget are:

Wisconsin Parental Choice Program: Open the choice program to school districts with at least two underperforming schools (those receiving school report card grades of "fails to meet expectations" or "meets few expectations"), at least 4,000 students, and at least 20 students intending to participate in the program. This expansion will be capped at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2014 and 1,000 students statewide for fiscal year 2015. Eligibility requirements for students would be similar to current choice program eligibility requirements.
Now explain to me how these schools will be judged to be "underperforming?" Through test scores? Graduation rates? Not doing enough Louisiana and Florida-style "teach to the test" curricula to placate the Michelle Rhee crowd? It's a system that is set up for massive cheating and distorted outcomes that have little to nothing to do with preparing students for further learning and the adult world. Instead, it is a blatant scam intended to defund and deligitimize public education, and it is a pathetic giveaway to campaign contributors. We'll see if it's allowed to get through as is (a similar attempt died in the Senate last budget, and there are fewer GOPs in the Senate now than there were in 2011).

If vouchers worked, I wouldn't be so forcefully against this plan. But as the Public Policy Forum showed again last week, vouchers do not improve educational outcomes, and many of these schools in Milwaukee do worse than Milwaukee Public Schools.

For example, the Public Policy Forum study showed that MPS and Milwaukee vouchers schools have similar levels of students from economically disadvantged backgrounds (MPS 84%, vouchers 79%) and minority students (MPS 86%, vouchers 80%), so it's pretty much an apples-to-apples group of students. But when it came to test scores on the annual WKCE test, MPS was the clear leader. MPS students had slightly higher numbers of students scoring at "proficient" or "advanced" at virtually every grade level between 3rd and 10th grades in both years than voucher schools did. In math, MPS destroyed the voucher schools, having between 7 and 20% more of its students be proficient in Math than voucher school students did.

The one advantage the Public Policy Forum says voucher schools have is that they have a lower per-student cost when it comes to education than public schools do, partly because voucher schools pay their teachers less and generally offer lower amounts of benefits (with the lower test scores, you could also argue it's proof of "you get what you pay for"). But the PPF also says that a reason voucher schools have low costs is because the offer fewer classes than public schools do.
MPCP schools may opt to control costs by not providing expensive instructional offerings, such as teacher specialists (art, music, etc.), or by offering only certain grade levels.

For example, in this year’s census, 39 of 110 MPCP schools report having no art, music, PE, library or technology specialist teachers. Schools report a total of 52 art teachers, 52 music teachers, 72 PE teachers, 30 librarians, and 51 technology teachers, which represents a program average of less than one of each type of specialist per school.

Of the 18 schools reporting five or more specialist teachers on staff, two-thirds are high schools. For many years school choice advocates have noted that the voucher value is too small to fully fund comprehensive high school costs, which likely contributes to the relatively few high schools participating in the program. As a result, schools are now able to charge high school students whose families earn above 220% of the federal poverty level the tuition difference.
So yes, voucher schools may be slightly cheaper than public schools, but its students have a whole lot fewer classes to choose from, and they don't perform as well on tests. And if the school is run poorly or goes under, there is little recourse for the school or the taxpayers that paid into them (unlike public schools, which will continue to exist year after year, and have school boards that can hold teachers and administrators to account).

With this in mind, there is no legitimate reason to expand this failing program, and to throw more taxpayer dollars at it. But we all know Scott Walker's never really cared about results, but instead cares about what gets him and the voucher interests PAID. So that's why this garbage is slated to end up in the state budget. It's up to us to expose this failure and shut it down before it takes hold and debases all types of education in this state. Because if the Walker education plan comes in, we will be less competitive economically as the level of talent coming into the workforce declines, and the most talented people will leave Wisconsin for somewhere that values critical thinking and quality education. We can't let that happen.

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