Governor’s budget produces questions for Superior schoolsEven before Superior Days delegates planning to lobby state legislators on behalf of education in the northern Wisconsin hit the Capitol, they were getting a taste of the governor’s budget proposals where schools were concerned.
By: By Shelley Nelson and Emily Kramfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com, Superior Telegram
Even before Superior Days delegates planning to lobby state legislators on behalf of education in the northern Wisconsin hit the Capitol, they were getting a taste of the governor’s budget proposals where schools were concerned.
On Sunday, Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to expand the state’s Parental Choice program — commonly called the voucher program — at the expense of public schools.
“Every child, regardless of their zip code, deserves access to a great education,” Walker said in a prepared statement released Monday. “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.”
However, Superintendent Janna Stevens struggled with how a cap on state spending would help school districts like Superior’s succeed.
“Over the weekend, we got information about the state budget, and we should be aware as we’re lobbying our legislators that the proposal on the table there is going to be a freeze on the revenue cap,” Stevens said. “What that means is there’s going to be no new money for districts because we’ll get a little money from the state, less money from the taxpayers.
“I can tell you what that means for Superior … is we’ll be in the hole $364,000 before we even start the year.”
Delegates went to Madison to support Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers proposal for Fair Funding for our Future proposal for education in pre-K-12 schools in the northland.
But the cap is not the only element of the governor’s budget proposal that threatens to hurt schools in Superior, according to Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
The Superior school district has been watching the Parental Choice program for the past two years, Stevens said. When Walker addressed the voucher system in his 2011-13 budget proposal, Superior was listed as a possible site for expansion.
“We kind of had a heads up,” Stevens said.
Under the governor’s proposal, school districts with at least 4,000 students and two underperforming schools — those receiving school report card grades of “fails to meet expectations” or “meets few expectations” — would be eligible for an expansion of the school choice program that provides vouchers, giving middle and low income families the option of putting their children in private schools.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know how he chose those two pieces of information as criteria,” Stevens said. “I don’t understand that rationale.”
The number of students attending schools in the Superior district is 4,753 according to the January count, said Jack Amadio, business manager for the Superior school district.
The vouchers are available to parents within districts in which at least 20 students intend to participate in the program.
The expansion caps the choice program at 500 students statewide for fiscal year 2014 and 1,000 students statewide for fiscal year 2015.
Critics noted the disparity between the $117,000 million increase in funding for voucher and independent charter schools, which combined, serve 32,000 students and $276 million in new funds for public schools, which serve about 880,000 students, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
In an effort to move toward greater funding equity among all education sectors, Walker added 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.
The current revenue cap per pupil in the Superior school district is $9,103.51, Amadio said.
Jauch said the program could be devastating for school districts like Superior.
According to the Department of Public Instruction, Superior middle and high school “meets few expectations.”
Both schools fell within the top reaches of the category.
The high school received a score of 62.9, while the middle school rated at 62.1. Schools with scores from 63 to 72.9 fall within the “meets expectations” range.
Stevens said the new school report cards are due out shortly, and she wondered how the results would affect the implementation of the voucher program.
“If we do better on our next school report cards, are we no longer eligible?” Steven asked. She also questioned if private schools participating in the Parental Choice program would be held to the same standards of accountability as public schools.
While all of Superior’s elementary schools are performing at levels that meet expectations — Lake Superior Elementary is the only one that “exceeds expectations,” which could make it eligible for a performance incentive of $30,000 Walker announced during his budget address Wednesday night.
Walker also announced plans to spend $100 million in new funding for workforce development, which would include grants for employers, support for apprenticeships, programs for veterans, and funds for our technical colleges and University of Wisconsin system.
The governor’s 2013-15 biennial budget proposal includes $181 million in new investments in the UW System. This includes $20 million for initiatives to boost economic development and workforce development.
Walker’s goal is lead the nation in fixing the skills gap to lead the country in economic development.
“Our plan is to focus on key skills clusters in areas like manufacturing, information technology, and health care,” Walker said during his budget address Wednesday night.