Walker Wants Major Education Reform Included in Budget

MacIver News Service|February 18, 2013

Updated February 19, 2013 at 10:36AM

[Madison, Wisc…] Governor Scott Walker has some big changes in mind for public education in Wisconsin as he proposes increasing education funding by $475.6 million in the next state budget.

On Monday, he announced his desire to expand the school choice program from Milwaukee and Racine to other school districts based on failing district’s report card grades. It will be capped at 500 students statewide in 2014 and 1000 students in 2015. In order for a student to be eligible for the program, they must be in a district with at least two underperforming schools and have at least 4,000 students as well as 20 or more students with the intention to participate in the program.

To be considered an underperforming school district, they must have received a “D” or “F” on the recent report card grades given out to each district. Schools were given overall grades that were based on their scores in four separate categories. Those were student achievement, student growth, closing gaps, and on-track and postsecondary readiness. More information regarding the School District Report Cards can be seen here.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a statement that “Parents have the right to give their children the best possible education, and expanding school choice will give options to those stuck in underperforming schools. The governor has proposed excellent options to help students succeed at every level; removing barriers for those don’t want to settle for anything less than a top-notch education. Thousands of students could benefit from these changes.”

According to The MacIver Institute analysis, the following districts would currently be eligible to participate in the program: Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Waukesha, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Superior, West Allis, and Beloit. This expansion will accompany an increase in per-student funding for voucher students. In 2012-2013, schools received $6,442 for every student that they educated. Under Walker’s proposal, this figure will rise to $7,856 for high school students and $7,050 for students in grades K-8.

Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) also supported Governor Walker’s proposal saying, “I applaud the Governor’s decision to include an expansion of the School Choice program to nine more districts across the state. I supported his provision last session and I intend to continue my support this session. Giving school districts the opportunity to improve access to quality education is a priority of mine that I share with Governor Walker. I have and will continue to support educational initiatives that create better options for parents and their children.”

Walker has included various other proposals tied to the choice program including the creation of a charter school oversight board, special needs scholarships, and allowing home schooled students to take courses at public schools with additional funding attached for those schools.

“Every child, regardless of their zip code, deserves access to a great education,” said Governor Walker. “While it is our goal to help struggling schools succeed, we need to make sure students and parents can choose the best option and make sure each child receives a truly great education.”

Walker has already announced numerous other proposals he’s including in his budget aimed at reforming public education.

That includes increasing Equalization Aids by $129.2 million in K-12 schools. This would mean $42.9 million in 2014 and $86.3 million in 2015 to be added to the equalization aid formula. The Governor also wants to offer an additional $54 million through a performance incentive program. Another $10 million will be set aside for failing schools that present innovative plans to turn things around.

The $54 million will be split into two separate incentive programs. $24 million will be set aside for schools that receive an “A” or “B” rating on their report card, while $30 million will be set aside for schools that have improved over the prior year’s grade by at least three points on a 100 point scale. Schools receiving awards will have discretion over the use of the funds and may be used for items such as technology improvements and facility upgrades.

Schools that are failing will have to present original ideas for improving the schools in their district. This will allow schools to compete for the $10 million in grant funds to turn around their underperforming systems.

Although performing well could mean additional funds for the K-12 schools, for the technical colleges it could become a matter of life and death. Starting this next budget, Walker wants 10 percent of funding for technical colleges directly tied to their performance. That percentage will continue to increase each year until 2020 when all their state funding will be based on how well they perform. Currently, state funding Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges is $88.5 million.

Walker wants both the technical college and the UW system to focus on helping the economy by closing the skills gap. He wants to give UW an extra $20 million in grant funding specifically for economic development programs that will prepare students for jobs in high demand industries in Wisconsin.

In addition to the incentive grant, Walker would like to increase the current funding for the UW System’s Block Grant by an additional $42.9 million in 2014 and $67.8 million in 2015, which will provide increased flexibility within the university’s budget.

The College Tuition Tax Deduction will also be adjusted for inflation under Walker’s proposals. According to a press release from Walker, this will “protect the value of the tax deduction for middle class taxpayers.”

Also included in Walker’s education proposal is a $1 million commitment to expand Teach for America in Milwaukee. That organization specializes in providing to teachers to poor, underperforming districts, including MPS. According to its websites, the school districts are paid directly by the school districts, receiving the same salary and benefits as entry-level teachers. The organization states, “A growing body of rigorous research demonstrates that Teach For America corps members are as effective as–and in some cases more effective than–other teachers.”

Walker’s budget will also follow up on a 2011 reform by committing $13.5 million to fund the state’s Educator Effectiveness program. This funding will give DPI and local districts the resources to implement a program that evaluates teachers and administrators in an effort to bring more transparency and accountability to Wisconsin’s public schools.

That commitment to better data collection in the classroom applies to statewide testing as well. Wisconsin will replace its oft-criticized WKCE testing program with the ACT in high schools, giving students a more comprehensive and nationally reputable examination suite. This move gels with the state’s shift to Common Core of Data standards, gives pupils a more comprehensive curriculum in preparation for graduating high school, and costs just $11.5 million to be implemented from border to border.

Despite the almost the almost half a billion dollar increase in education funding, Walker’s opponents say it’s not enough. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) is trying to present the funding increase as “Governor Walker’s Education Budget Deficit.”

“Wisconsin’s education budget still has a deficit of over $600 million and Wisconsin’s middle class families will pay the price,” Larson said in a press release Monday.

Some of Walker’s other proposals involve new statewide computer and evaluation systems. He also wants to make good on Governor Jim Doyle’s “Wisconsin Covenant” program by providing it $12 million in funding.

Governor Jim Doyle instituted the Wisconsin Covenant Pledge in 2006, which promises financial aid to students who are able to maintain a B average through high school, among other requirements. Students sign the pledge before September 30th of their freshman year. Doyle’s administration never had to find funding for the program, because his administration ended before the first Covenant Class graduated from high school. Governor Scott Walker wants to follow up on his predecessor’s promise by committing $12 million to the program.

Below are the expanded details released from Walker’s office regarding his proposed education reforms:

Performance and Accountability Initiatives:

• K-12 School Equalization Aids: Invest an additional $129.2 million in our public schools by adding $42.9 million in fiscal year 2014 and $86.3 million in fiscal year 2015 to the public school equalization aid formula.
• K-12 School Performance Incentive Program: In addition to increases in equalization aids, the state will create a new fund of $64 million in the 2014-15 school year based on performance on the school report cards.
• Reward High-Performing Schools: $24 million will be awarded to schools with grades of “significantly exceeds expectations” or “exceeds expectations.” $30 million will be awarded to schools that improve report card scores by at least three points (out of 100 total) over the prior year. Although school districts are permitted to set policies regarding district wide objectives for use of awards, awarded schools will have discretion over spending the awards. Awards could fund one-time items such as teacher bonuses, purchases of new technology, or facility upgrades.
• Help Under-Performing School: $10M will be available as competitive grant funding for school districts that present innovative plans to turn around failing schools. Support for these districts recognizes the unique challenges faced by schools and provides opportunity and support for improvement.
• Data Systems: Fund $13.9 million, which are the remaining funds needed to implement the Statewide Student Information System, and $6.6 million for the Longitudinal Data System and WISEdash interface.
• UW Incentive Grant Program: The state will invest $20 million to support initiatives that further economic development, address employer needs through development of a skilled workforce, and improve affordability to students
• UW Block Grant: Provide the University of Wisconsin System with increased flexibility through continued implementation of a block grant funding structure. In addition to other programs, the UW’s block grant (adjusted base of $884.1 million) will see an additional $42.9 million in FY14 and $67.8 million in FY15
• College Tuition Tax Deduction: Index the college tuition tax deduction to inflation to protect the value of the tax deduction for middle class taxpayers.
• Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Performance Funding: In addition, the budget will phase in performance funding for all of the state aid given to technical colleges. It will begin at 10 percent in 2014-15 and would eventually total all $88.5 million general aid through performance by 2020. This would be roughly one-tenth of WTCS school operational budgets. The funding formula would be developed by WTCS with DOA oversight. The formula would be required to have a focus on job placement and programs focused in high demand fields.
• Wisconsin Covenant: Wisconsin will honor the commitment made by the prior administration to students by allocating $4 million in FY14 and $8 million in FY15 to cover the cost of tuition grants to students.

Supporting Our Teachers:

• Educator Effectiveness System: Provides $13.5 million to implement the system for evaluating all teachers and principals statewide, cover Department of Public Instruction (DPI) implementation, and approximately $80 per teacher to districts to purchase and implement the system.
• Teach for America: Funds $1 million for an expanded Teach for America presence in Milwaukee.
• WISELearn Portal: Teachers need tools that adapt to their style of teaching and best practices proven to get results so they can effectively tailor instruction to each child. The budget provides $1.5 million for WISELearn, which will include the development of an online portal that will offer blended learning opportunities for students, online content for teachers and students to grow, and tools for teachers to collaborate with peers and expand their reach through digital learning.
• SMARTER Balanced Assessments: Support the Department of Public Instruction in its effort to move away from the much-criticized WKCE test and towards a less burdensome, more useful test to be adopted in grades 4-8. $11.5 million will be included as a part of the ACT Suite.

K-12 Initiatives:

• Explore, Plan, ACT, WorkKeys: Fund $11.5 million over the biennium for the ACT, the WorkKeys (which measures work readiness), and the precursor Explore and Plan tests to help parents and teachers understand which students are ready for college or a career by 11th grade. Using these tests will allow schools to provide these students with opportunities to begin taking AP and other advanced course work, while ensuring 12thgraders who are behind get the remedial education they need to catch up. These tests are vital to measuring student academic growth in high schools for the purposes of state school report cards.
• Read to Lead Screener: In 2011, Governor Walker convened a bipartisan group of legislators, researchers, teachers, and others under the Read to Lead Task Force. In 2012, he signed Act 166, which, among other reading and teaching reforms, paid for a screener to measure the literacy skills of every child as soon as he or she enters kindergarten. Beginning in the fall of 2013, we will follow the recommendations of the Task Force by extending the screener to 4K and 1st grade. The following year we will also add 2nd grade. The total cost of these additions will be $2,847,000 over the biennium.
• Academic and Career Plans: Give every child the opportunity to create an academic and career plan based on his or her interests, beginning in 6th grade. These individualized plans, developed with and frequently revised by parents, teachers, and guidance counselors, will help make sure our children are on track to graduate with a diploma and a plan. Approximately $1.1 million will be provided to school districts to fund this effort beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

University of Wisconsin System Initiatives:

• UW Flexible Option: Fund $2 million to support start-up costs to develop additional programs and course offerings in the new UW Flexible Option degree program.
• Core Credit Transfer: Ensure students, who have earned credits in general education courses, get to keep those credits, even if they transfer to another school. Require the UW and Technical Colleges to develop a core set of 30 credits transferrable between all institutions, while giving private and tribal colleges the option to participate as well.
• Wisconsin GI Bill Tuition Remission: Align standards under the Wisconsin G.I. Bill with state veterans benefit programs in other states and eliminate an arbitrary time limit for spouses of veterans, who were disabled or killed in the line of duty, to use educational benefits.

Wisconsin Technical College System:

• Increased Aid and Flexibility for Workforce Training: Increase state general aids to technical colleges by $5 million. A growing percentage of these funds – beginning in 2014-15 with 10% – will be tied to performance to allow the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) to adjust its offerings to meet future skills gaps.
• In addition, WTCS will be given flexibility over $22 million in existing funds related to worker training. WTCS can use these funds to incentivize training program expansion in areas of high-demand.

School Choice Programs and Initiatives:

• 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.
• Charter School Oversight Board: The board will enable the further development of the independent charter school system, while creating a new level of accountability for all levels of the system and helping to preserve local control.
• The budget creates a charter school oversight board to manage the authorization of local, independent charter school authorizers.
• New local authorizers must be nonprofit, nonsectarian entities or groups of such entities.
• While charter schools can be built physically anywhere, only students in school districts with at least 4,000 students and schools with a “D” or “F” on their report card (the same criteria as choice) will be able attend without the possibility of a district veto. Students in smaller or higher performing districts will need district permission to attend an independent charter.
• When applying to the board, applicant entities must include detailed information on the financial and educational viability of the school to ensure accountability. The authorizer would be responsible for ensuring performance targets are set and met.
• On an ongoing basis, authorizers are required to approve only high-quality school applications, monitor performance, and provide annual reports regarding performance.
• Course Options: Expand the part-time open enrollment program by permitting pupils to take up to two courses from a pool of education providers including public (traditional or virtual) K-12 schools, University of Wisconsin institutions, technical colleges, and other Department of Public Instruction (DPI) approved non-profits. This innovative program will allow K-12 students to take any course aligned with their Academic and Career Plan to move them closer to graduation. Students, especially those in rural areas, will now have access to a variety of foreign languages and rigorous AP classes, which they cannot currently access. In addition, it will give students options to take courses with a different approach to a course they are struggling in.
• Special Needs Scholarship: Further enhance the ability of families to choose alternative education options by creating a Special Needs Scholarship Program, through which a child with special needs may receive a state-funded scholarship to attend the school of his or her choice.
• Home Schooled Students: The budget will eliminate grade and residency restrictions on the ability of homeschooled pupils to take courses in a school district. This will expand traditional and virtual options to these students, while allowing school districts to get additional credit (0.25 FTE per course) towards their enrollment counts.
• Moving Towards Funding Parity: In an effort to move towards greater funding equity among all education sectors, Governor Walker will add funding to each sector. The charter school per pupil payment is increased by 1 percent in each year, from $7,775 in the current year to $7,852 for the 2013-14 school year and $7,931 in the 2014-15 school year. Payments to students in choice programs are also increased from $6,442 to $7,050 for K-8 schools and $7,856 for high schools beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the first increase since 2009-10.