School Funding Action: Capitol Visit 9/18

Tuesday September 18th is an in-service day for MMSD and a group of parents have decided to take this opportunity to bring their children to the Capitol to remind our elected officials of the need to do a better job funding education.

The details and some notes about talking points below:

First, the simple details (flier here):

  • Meet at the State entrance 10:00 AM, 9/18.
  • Senators Risser and Robson, Representatives Pocan, Pope Roberts and Berceau have all been contacted and are expecting us. The legislature will convene at 11:00, the elected officials have full schedules and we may end up speaking to staff in one or more of the offices.
  • MMSD is also represented by Senators Erpenbach and Miller and Representatives Travis, Black and Parsi. We will try to contact them in advance.
  • It has been suggested that the Chairs of the Assembly Education Committee (Brett Davis) and the Assembly Education Reform Committee (Donald Pridemore) also get visits (more on that below).
  • Under the circumstances, I think it would be a good idea to bring short, personal letters that we can leave with the legislators or their staffs (letters from kids would be great! My 12-year-old son is writing one letter addressed to “Senators and Representatives” and we will bring multiple copies).
  • With the tight time frame we will probably divide up (and conquer!).
  • Bringing signs would be good too (not allowed in chambers, but OK in hallways).

    That should take care of the who, where and when. The what got very complicated these last few days. I’m going to try to make this as simple as possible but need to give some background (skip down to the talking points at the end if you like).

    The state finance system is a mess, a big mess. The Wisconsin Legislature is in the middle of negotiations on the biennial budget but none of the proposals on the table address the fundamental problems of the school finance system, the big mess. However, except for some relatively small differences as of Thursday September 13, the parties all back different versions of something very much like the best proposal anyone put forth. Points of agreement include items like the standard annual revenue limit increases, increased SAGE funding and special education aid; all of which would help Madison’s schools and many other districts. This would be good news except for the fact that the GOP want this considered separate from the budget negotiations and the Democrats don’t want to separate anything.

    So all the parties have essentially agreed on the structure and level of school funding, but conflict remains. This may change by Tuesday when the Assembly is scheduled to take up their k-12 bill.

    I don’t think it is a good idea for advocates of school finance reform to take sides in this conflict, but use your own judgment. What I do think we all should do is thank the Legislators of all a parties for supporting in one form or another the good things this budget will provide for the schools and continue to push for systematic reform, to demand that they do better.

    The structural gap between allowed revenues and expenses in the current system, even under the best-case scenario with this budget cycle, will continue to create annual cuts in programming and services of about 1.5%. Special education aid from the state will still only cover about 30% of the costs and bilingual reimbursements from the state will cover less than 12% of the costs. Almost all schools and districts that take advantage of the proven SAGE class size reductions will have to find cuts elsewhere to pay for this wonderful but underfunded program. Over 100 districts have held referenda in the last year. Districts with declining enrollments and rising enrollments face different but equally destructive shortfalls under the current system. This system, the system the budget won’t touch, wreaks havoc in the biggest cities, the small towns, the rural districts, the North woods… Throughout the state educators and students find themselves struggling each year to do more with less.

    Representative Sondy Pope Roberts has introduced a Joint Resolution (with 60 co-sponsors) calling for the Legislature to create a new system with funding levels based on the real costs of education, sufficient state resources for districts to meet mandates and enough flexibility to address the diverse needs of districts in the state. This is the best shot to move real reform forward this session. A hearing by the Senate Education Committee has been scheduled for November 15th. The Assembly Education and Education Reform Committee Chairs have not agreed to schedule hearings.

    Based on the above, these are my suggested talking points:

    Thank you for supporting the band-aid relief in this budget cycle.
    o Revenue limit increases
    o SAGE funding increases
    o Special Education funding increases

    The system remains broken
    o Structural gap between revenue limits and costs
    o Underfunded mandates and programs
    o Diverse needs inadequately addressed
    o Schools and children are struggling
    o Wisconsin cannot remain competitive if this continues

    Real reform needed

    Pope-Roberts Resolution will move real reform forward

    Support the resolution

    More information links:

    WisPolitics Budget Blog (best source for both background and up to the minute info)

    MMSD Budget Info

    Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools

    Carol Carstensen’s brief explanation of the state school finance system

    Past Present and Future MMSD Budget Cuts

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    Filed under AMPS, Budget, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Take Action

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