Governor’s budget threatens public schoolsState representatives and school officials expressed outrage Friday afternoon over Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 biennial budget proposal.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
State representatives and school officials expressed outrage Friday afternoon over Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 biennial budget proposal.
Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and administrators from the Superior school district gathered at Superior Middle School to address elements of the budget that Jauch said amount to an assault on public education.
“Public education is not the failure he wants people to believe it is,” Jauch said. “But if his economic politics succeed it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. He bleeds (schools) to the point that they can’t succeed, and then he blames them for failing.”
Of key concern was the discrepancy between public and private school funding and the proposed expansion of the Parental Choice program, which provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools. Superior is among nine new districts targeted for the expansion.
“Here in Wisconsin we have always had a shared value that every child deserves an equal opportunity in our educational systems, and that has been provided for through the public education system for many, many years,” Milroy said. “Over the course of the last couple of years — with the last biennial budget and now this biennial budget — we are shifting resources in the state of Wisconsin so that kids who are being educated today are not going to have the same opportunities that kids had two years ago or 10 years ago.”
Under the governor’s 2013-15 biennial budget proposal, the revenue cap for public schools would be frozen, while funding for charter schools and private schools participating in the Parental Choice program would increase.
Allowable per pupil spending for charter schools would increase by 1 percent in both years of the budget. The Parental Choice program, which provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, would see a $600 increase in per pupil funding for grades K-8 and a $1,400 increase for high school students.
“It’s just so frustrating,” said Janna Stevens, Superior school district superintendent. “Even if he felt that he should try expanding the vouchers, if we could at least have all had an equal piece — even though I disagree with voucher systems — if we could be more equal in funding, then it would be appropriate.”
Stevens said her biggest objection to the voucher program is the lack of accountability for private schools that participate. Private institutions, she noted, did not receive school reports as public schools did in the fall.
Walker has proposed that districts be declared eligible for the Parental Choice program if their enrollment exceeds 4,000 students and if two schools in the district received failing grades on their school report cards.
Superior High School and Superior Middle School both received ratings of “meets few expectations.” Every elementary school in the district met expectations, and Lake Superior Elementary School received a rating of “exceeds expectations.”
If the voucher program were introduced in Superior, elementary school students would be eligible to apply along with high school and middle school students.
“That’s the craziness of this plan,” Jauch said. “It isn’t just for a student going to the middle school — it could be for somebody going to an elementary school that’s going to get a reward for its high performance. It makes no sense.”
“The voucher program in the Milwaukee school system has failed those students,” Milroy said. “This is not a program that should be exported across the state.”
Administrators at the high school and middle school objected to the labeling of their buildings as failed schools. Superior High School principal Kent Bergum was particularly upset.
“I think it’s dishonest, and I think it’s terribly misleading,” Bergum said.
He argued the school report cards, by themselves, are inadequate to judge a school’s effectiveness.
Superior High School received its initial report card in October and was listed as “meeting expectations” with a score of 63.5. About three weeks later, the score was recalculated to 62.9, putting the school one-tenth of a point below the threshold needed to meet expectations.
The final score also included a five-point deduction for high absenteeism rates, which came as a surprise to administrators.
“We were never, ever told that our school would be scored on absenteeism,” Bergum said. “Never in the last 10 years was it a factor at all in No Child Left Behind legislation.”
Bergum also pointed out Superior High School students in 2012 had their highest ACT scores since the early 1990s. The high school exceeded the state average overall and in every individual category.
“I’d like to invite the governor to come to Superior High School and talk to our students and talk to our staff, and truly let us know — let our teachers know — how he can say that our teachers are failing,” Bergum said.
Rick Flaherty, SMS principal, likewise disputed the portrayal of the middle school as failing.
SMS eighth-graders taking the ACT Explore test this year exceeded or matched the national average in every category. Flaherty also said roughly one-third of middle school students enter high school having already earned their required high school algebra credit.
“We’re not a failing school,” Flaherty said. “We will keep working hard, we will keep trying to meet the needs or come closer to meeting the needs (of our students), but it’s not fair and it’s not right.”
Many details of the proposed voucher expansion remain unclear, but Jauch said expects drastic changes to the plan as it passes through the Legislature.
“I’m convinced that this plan is going to be severely reduced,” Jauch said. “Last time he tried to expand it to two schools; he got one. Now he’s expanding to nine. I’m not sure he’s going to get more than one.”
Under the 2011-13 budget, public schools faced a mandatory 5.5 percent reduction in per pupil spending and a nearly $834 million cut in state aid.
The Superior school district absorbed a $2.7 million cut in its budget in 2011 and an additional $700,000 last year.
Stevens said Walker’s 2013-15 budget proposal would translate to another cut for the district — an estimated $395,000 of spending to balance its budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
“It would be nice to get more people understanding, here’s what is happening in the world around you,” Stevens said. “We have to get a lot of messages out to parents. Hopefully we can get the message out saying, you need to come and understand this could be a drastic cut.”