Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Superintendent Evers and Wisconsin voters agree- public schools are worthy investments

Yes, Republicans may have won a lot when it came to elected office in the State of Wisconsin last week, but something else also got a lot of support at the polls- the state's public schools. Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Murphy recently spoke to State Superintendent Tony Evers, who pointed out the massive success rate of school referenda around the state in an election where anti-“elitist” Republicans also were successful.
“I was amazed. More than 80 percent of the referendums were passed by voters concerned about government spending,” says Evers, noting the support for Donald Trump. “These same people turned around and said tax us for our schools.”

To Evers, it shows the support voters have for their local schools. But it also underlines a growing problem in the state. There is a yawning inequity between school districts as a result of strict school spending caps, which can only be overcome by local referendums and which are difficult to pass in poorer school districts. The situation is exacerbated by the impact of Act 10, which also handicaps poorer districts. Neither measure may have intended to create inequity, but that’s clearly what is happening….

“Since the start of 2012, more than half of public school district (242) have passed referenda to exceed state imposed revenue controls,” according an analysis by the state Department of Public Instruction. “So far in 2016, 154 questions have been posed by 111 districts at a success rate of 79.22 percent.”
This large amount of referenda also indicate that the money-saving “tools” of Act 10 haven’t been enough to keep schools functional in light of strict revenue limits, which forces the referenda to happen. And in fact, Scott Walker’s often-promoted statement about how Act 10 allows for teachers to be “free agents” often works to the detriment of many of these districts, as many cannot afford to pay the market rate for needed teachers and staff.
DPI figures show that the average revenue available per student is $13,031 per student statewide, but varies widely per district, from $10,883 in Milton to $26,477 in North Lakeland. That massive difference helps explain why some districts can’t afford to get in bidding wars for teachers.

“If you are a higher-paying district, the good teachers will flock to you,” Louise Blankenheim, district administrator in Kiel, told the newspaper. But in Kiel, voters have rejected school funding referendums eight of nine times since 2008, and the district is in no position to compete with better funded districts.
Huh, it’s almost like supply-and-demand takes over and doesn’t favor those without money when it comes to services that are necessary. Amazing how that works.

Now, if you think the children in rural communities and other underfunded places in Wisconsin aren’t worthy of the same level of education as some rich kid, then maybe this doesn’t bother you so much. But it bothers the hell out of me and apparently bothers Evers as well, as he asked for $5.5 million in funding to give retention bonuses for teachers in rural districts, as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s full budget request yesterday.
Evers’ budget request notes teachers in rural areas are less likely to have advanced degrees and more likely to be teaching students living in poverty. Students living in rural districts also have performed more poorly than students living in urban and suburban areas.

Rural districts compete with urban and suburban districts for teachers facing the obstacles of not being able to offer high pay, being located in isolated areas, requiring teachers to cover multiple subjects and not being able to offer a lot of training opportunities, the request said.

“In future years, these barriers will be further exacerbated by declining enrollment in rural districts and the overall decrease in the number of college students entering teacher education programs,” the request said.

Overall, Evers is seeking about a $707 million increase in spending including a $525 million increase in general school aid and other changes that would comprise a funding formula overhaul. The request seeks a 2.7 percent increase in overall spending in the 2017-18 school year and a 5.4 percent increase in the 2018-19 school year.
Now that's the type of independent sensibility that's a threat to leaders in Fitzwalkerstan. It explains why they tried to reel in Superintendent Evers by claiming they could make rules and force the DPI to follow them (even the right-wing Wisconsin Supreme Court shot them down), and you know that convicted criminal Scott Jensen and the voucher lobby will try to work to get Evers out of power in the Spring 2017 election.

Instead, I'd rather trust someone like Tony Evers who actually wants public schools to succeed, and knows that it takes an investment for them to offer opportunity to students in all communities throughout the state. It's not too early to draw the lines and get behind Tony and the state's schools as the new Legislature prepares to come in and discuss the state budget in the coming months.

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