School leaders from area school districts assembled together in Milton, WI, for a press conference to share concerns regarding public policy embedded in the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) education budget. All superintendents agreed that their districts will be impacted by the public education policies and funding proposals. As Superintendent of the School District of Janesville, I was honored to be present to voice my concerns on behalf of the students, educators and employees in our district.
Please join us in our efforts by contacting legislators to let them know how much we disapprove of the decisions they are making. Some of the concerns shared by all districts include:
1. The touted reinstatement of the $150 per student categorical aid is simply giving districts back the funding they have this year. Because it was going to be a cut in funding, this is not an increase in funding. It is in reality a 0% increase. While school districts are able to avoid the cuts in programming that would have been caused by the governor’s proposed reduction, it is not new money. The state continues to underfund Wisconsin public schools by not acknowledging the need for inflationary increases in revenue to maintain educational opportunities for students.
2. Our legislators cannot adequately fund one educational system, so the concept of expanding a second taxpayer-supported educational system seems grossly irresponsible. Private school voucher expansion can only result in resources being further siphoned from public school children.
3. The special education voucher proposal is arbitrary and does not protect the interests of students with special needs. These students may not receive the same services and protections afforded to them by federal law if they attend a private voucher school. In addition, students with significant educational needs may not have the same access to private voucher schools, as the $12,000 special education voucher would not sufficiently cover the actual costs. The dollar amount is completely arbitrary, as the cost to educate varies drastically from student to student based on their individual needs.
4. The proposal allowing for learning portfolios to satisfy up to half of a high school student’s graduation requirements does not support our efforts to prepare graduates to be college and career ready. It will create a “track system” ultimately limiting students’ future opportunities.
5. The education package proposes requiring school districts to allow any homeschool, private school, or virtual school student to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. We offer sports to engage students in their education and participation in school. Under this policy we would not have true school teams; instead, they would be area recreation or club teams. This marginalizes school pride, which is an integral aspect of schools. In addition, this policy would raise a multitude of eligibility concerns around participants even on the same team.
6. The proposal to significantly ease teacher licensing standards is disrespectful to the profession and to our students. Teaching is more than knowing a certain body of knowledge. Teachers are trained professionals in the areas of pedagogy, methodology, school law, special education, and child development, along with the content knowledge. Our students deserve not only the best and brightest teachers in front of them every day, but they deserve the most qualified teachers as well. The proposed policy would permit individuals, even without a bachelor’s degree, to be eligible to receive a license. It has been stated that this proposal is intended to address hard-to-fill positions, and that school districts would still retain the ability to decide whether to employ these individuals, but this significant drop in standards diminishes the teaching profession. The policy is too broad and requires too little training – 40 hours – before the individual is placed in front of students. It certainly will not encourage our best and brightest to pursue a career in the classroom working with our state’s most valuable resource, our children.
7. Although we all value our civic responsibilities, the proposed graduation requirement, that all high school students must pass a 100-question civics test, appears to be another mandated assessment that will be added to the multitude of standardized tests that students are subjected to during their entire educational career. It will become another standardized test of which the actual educational value is debatable and will be difficult to determine.
8. All districts appreciate the need for transparency and accountability, but we oppose subjecting public schools to a “hotel rating system.” This overly simplistic approach would not adequately portray the quality of a school or district. It is a demeaning attempt to compare schools, with an unclear objective.
9. Similarly, our legislators continue to state the need for a school rating system, but how can districts be compared on student performance when students will be taking a different standardized test for the third consecutive year?
10. This proposed state budget also allows Wisconsin students to enroll in an out-of-state school, with the home school district paying the tuition. This is a real possibility for some of our districts near the state border and would result in lost revenue that would end up in a neighboring state.
11. The proposed budget would also allow Gateway Technical College in Racine County to set up independent charter schools in Rock County, with state funding going from local schools to the technical college instead.
Finally, we are troubled by the approach that has been taken to embed so many education policy provisions into the budget without open and public debate. Policy provisions related to teacher licensure, a required civics exam, contract renewal notices, and mandating private or homeschool student participation in public school/extracurricular activities have no place in the budget bill. We believe our communities have a right to know about these policies that will ultimately impact the educational experiences of the children in our schools. We believe Wisconsin public education is at a crossroads and strongly encourage our families and community partners to contact their legislators and advocate for their public schools and their children.