Author Archives: Robert Godfrey

The Cost of Commitment


President Obama gave a speech at Wright Middle School in Madison today (text here) outlining his education reform initiative for the nation’s schools, called “Race to the Top,” sometimes referred to by some of his critics as the “Race off the Cliff.”

As Thomas Mertz has pointed out earlier, the amount of funds being discussed here for Wisconsin are relatively meager.

Make no mistake that this is cake, a treat, not life-sustaining bread.  The amount being discussed for Wisconsin is $80 million and this relative pittance would all be targeted for specific programs and when the $80 million is gone, Wisconsin would be stuck with more things that we can no longer afford.

So what type of reform would we be getting in this initiative, along with the modest dollars to come our way, and what would we be giving up in return? That was the crux of a letter sent yesterday by State Senator Mark Miller, chair of the Joint Committee on Finance, to Secretary Arne Duncan. He is worried like others in similar policy positions, that with all the current economic challenges out there blowing huge holes in states’ budgets across the country, that:

We do not have the fiscal resilience to sustain another long-term financial commitment based on the mere possibility that we may be awarded one-time federal dollars in the future. Once these proposed educational policy and fiscal changes are enacted into law, Wisconsin legislators and taxpayers will be responsible for the accompanying financial commitment regardless of the outcome of Wisconsin’s Race to the Top application. This promise to fund new requirements without the promise of federal dollars puts at risk other social safety net programs that rely on adequate state funding to operate.

He cited the example of costs associated with the implementation of a “Children’s Zone” in Wisconsin based upon a model developed for Harlem that could ultimately have ongoing costs to Wisconsin of more than $400 million. If you make such financial and policy commitments you must be able to have some good assurances that you can continue to pay for them. He likens the exercise in not knowing how the grant dollars will be allocated and for how long, to a gambler “trying to draw to an inside straight.”

The National Academy of Sciences recently issued a report offering recommendations on how to revise the funding guidelines and regulations of Obama/Duncan’s $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” grant program, and is well worth a read. Interestingly, the report all but neglects to mention charter schools, which are a major component of RTtT. You can read something I wrote on that subject the other day, here.

In a press release for the Academy’s study, they applauded the step of encouraging states to create systems of linking data on student achievement to teachers, since, as they noted, it is essential to conducting research about the best ways of evaluating teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student’s scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much “value” a year with a particular teacher added to the student’s educational experience.  The report expresses concern that the department’s proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches.  Too little research has been done on these methods’ validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them.  A student’s scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher — his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support — and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautioned against the use of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal assessment instrument. While effective at monitoring broad trends, it will not be able to detect the type of specific effects of the targeted interventions that the RTtT hopes to fund. This infatuation with data can lead reformers, philanthropists (case in point, Bill Gates’ team up with RTtT-type initiatives) and bureaucrats to become unquestioning supporters of using test scores as indicators of real learning and teaching. As the study pointed out:

The choice of appropriate assessments for use in instructional improvement systems is critical. Because of the extensive focus on large-scale, high-stakes, summative tests, policy makers and educators sometimes mistakenly believe that such tests are appropriate to use to provide rapid feedback to guide instruction. This is not the case.

The report also urged caution when trying to apply such a blunt instrument towards making international comparisons.

We note that the difficulties that arise in comparing test results from different states apply even more strongly for comparing test results from different countries.

They conclude the report with a reiterated point, “careful evaluation of this spending should not be seen as optional; it is likely to be the only way that this substantial investment in educational innovation can have a lasting impact on the U.S. education system.”

And in another side note related to federal education financing, the Obama administration’s latest and most detailed information yet on the jobs created by the stimulus, noted that of the 640,239 jobs recipients claimed to have created or saved so far, more than half — 325,000 — were in education. Most were teachers’ jobs that states said were saved when stimulus money averted a need for layoffs.

Robert Godfrey

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Reform Is In The Air


Mike Rose at Truthdig has noted that following the extensive and unprecedented federal reach of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is attempting to extend this iniative further by putting some some serious money behind a number of education initiatives that invite states and districts to compete for federal dollars. In the K-12 education world, they want, in part, to stimulate better state standards and tests, including the better measurement of teacher effectiveness, while turning around failing schools. One way they want to accomplish this is through an increase in the number of charter schools. At the same time, a third initiative wants to spark innovation and scale up the best of local academic programs.

As Mr. Rose acknowledges, this is a moment of real promise for American education, from kindergarten through college. But he also sounds a note of caution.

Reform is in the air. But within many of these reforms are the seeds of their undoing.

He pointed out that the Education Department has put a lot of stock in charter schools as “engines of innovation,” while noting, importantly, that DOE will not consider a state’s funding proposal if that state has a cap on charters.

Yet a number of research studies — the most recent from Stanford — demonstrate that charter schools, on average, are no better or worse than the regular public schools around them. To be sure, some charters are sites of fresh ideas and robust education, but so are magnet schools, and, lest we forget, so are our regular public schools, ones with strong leadership and a critical mass of good teachers. For the “reformers’” however, charter schools are the recipients of the highest accolades, the rest – not so much.

The Stanford University study shattered the myth of charter school superiority. According to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, students at only 17 percent of charter schools do better on math and reading tests than their demographic peers in regular public schools. Thirty-seven percent do worse, while 46 percent of charter school kids, almost half, perform at approximately the same level as their traditional public school counterparts.

The author of the report concludes:

This study shows that we’ve got a 2-to-1 margin of bad charters to good charters.

The results are especially significant, given that charter schools have built-in advantages – starting with parents that are engaged enough in their children’s education to put them there, in the first place. Yet the actual outcomes, in most cases, fail to live up to the hype.

President Obama and his administration are committed to charter schools. In no small part this policy is driven by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was a cheerleader for charters when he ran the Chicago school system, and has threatened to withhold federal education money from the 10 states that don’t yet have charter schools and the 26 other states that put limits on enrollment in charters. Such raw coercion, especially given the results of the Stanford study, seems strongly misguided. This comes in spite of the acknowledgement of the Stanford study on the part of Sec. Duncan, which, he suggests, merely points to the need for greater vigilance. “Charter authorizers need to do a better job of holding schools accountable.”

This administration has said that charter schools are key to educational “reform,” and provide “competition” for traditional schools. But that’s utter nonsense if the educational outcomes are no better, and in many cases worse, than in the regular public schools.

Speaking of “holding [charter] schools accountable,” one would of thought that that was a central argument for the need for charter schools in the first place, an institution free of those ill-principled and wretched teacher unions. Unionized teachers are blamed for much of the ills of education; it’s not a reasoned argument, but a matter of faith – and political prejudice. Charter schools are not private (at least not entirely, if you consider they are chartered by the state), but they are the privatizers’ foot in the door, a wedge issue to demonize unions. And that third leg of the reform movement, so to speak, measurement of teacher effectiveness, is also front and center (see the latest continued plea from the Wisconsin State Journal).

One approach being piloted in a number of education systems around the country is by the non-profit Hope Street Group, and developed by a team of teachers across the U.S., who have proposed recommendations for a smarter evaluation system, imploying more ‘objective’ measures of student achievement, ones that aim to attract and retain teachers, and put America’s schools back on top internationally.

“Policy 2.0: Using Open Innovation to Reform Teacher Evaluation Systems” suggests that in K-12 education, any teacher evaluation system should have the input of teachers and administrators and not solely come from researchers and policymakers. Their specific recommendations include the suggestion that evaluation systems should be frequently revised, that teaching advocates need to be involved in this process, and that any in-class observations for assessment must be done by teachers with sufficient experience.

Lets hope the coming “seeds of change” are not broadcasted, with great hope, onto marginal soil. There is too much at stake for education in this new century.

Robert Godfrey

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Education: Dressed & Ready for Stimulation

Photograph by David Wahl

Photograph by David Wahl

The National Access Network has highlighted the U.S. Department of Educations (USDOE) Office of the Inspector General’s report that has raised concerns over states’ use of stimulus funds.

The American Renewal and Recovery Act (ARRA) statute requires states to provide several assurances, including commitments to fund K-12 and higher education at least at FY 2006 levels and to promote reform in four areas, in order to receive these monies. The report noted however, that several states have capitalized on the flexibility of the funding requirements, to use stimulus funds to supplant rather than supplement education budgets. On AMPS we have highlighted this same issue for Wisconsin on a number of occasions, see here and here.

The department’s report contended that it has made an effort to close some funding loopholes by including funding maintenance as a consideration for awarding the so-called “Race to the Top” funds.

Equity advocates, however, have argued that this provision does not do enough, as the guidelines focus on proportional levels of funding rather than absolute figures. That is, the regulations leave the door open for states to cut the total budget from year-to-year and remain competitive applicants.

As the Access Network has noted:

The information the states have submitted raises serious questions about whether the stated purposes of the Act – stabilizing education funding, facilitating the continuation of equity and adequacy formula adjustments and promoting education reforms to boost student achievement – are being met. The goal of boosting student achievement is to be promoted through commitments from each state to promote four essential areas of reform: 1) improving teacher effectiveness; 2) making progress toward college and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments; 3) enhancing data systems to track educational practice; and 4) improving achievement in low-performing schools.

Only the first of these three goals appears to have been achieved. Virtually all of the states have stabilized their funding levels for FY 2010 at the previous years level, with the application of the federal stimulus funds. (In many instances, however, this flat funding will nevertheless result in substantial cuts in educational services since mandatory cost increases will not be covered.)

In the vastly underfunded state education systems throughout the country, stabilizing funding levels may have been

unduly emphasized at the expense of the equity and reform goals of the ARRA, as some states apparently increased their anticipated education deficits upon learning that substantial federal funding for education was in the offing, in order to limit planned cuts in other areas of the budget. Although some officials might argue that such maneuvers represented prudent budget planning, from the perspective the intent of the ARRA and the constitutional pre-eminence given to education in most state constitutions, such maneuvers clearly raise serious legal issues.

A number of advocates for educational equity have called on the DOE to require states to fund low performing schools at adequate levels. The way the current regulations are drafted, only one provision has a focus on this kind of funding. The Campaign for Educational Equity for example, has proposed a requirement that states need to provide data that shows to what extent the proportion of each state’s budget devoted to education for FY 2009 either increased, decreased or remained the same compared to FY 2008. The assumption is that those states who have maintained or increased educational funding during the last fiscal year would receive some favorable consideration in the review process for doing so. But additionally, the campaign has argued that any reform conditions that seek to assist struggling schools should include specifically the various resources identified through adequacy case law that are deemed necessary comprehensive services for students from poverty backgrounds. Further, they’ve advocated for the DOE to require states to increase their total and per pupil state and local revenues that meet the average levels of all states, or if the state is more affluent, then maintain their current funding levels. That requirement would also include states having to allocate higher levels of funding to school districts with higher levels of poverty. The DOE is meant to issue final guidelines quite shortly and grant applications will then be due and phase 1 monies will be distrubuted in early 2010.

Exactly where Wisconsin is on the supplanting vs. supplementing continuum remains to be seen. A report card from this July of each state can be found here. We’ll keep you posted.

Robert Godfrey

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“Let’s get to work.”

United States Office for Emergency Management. - 1941

United States Office for Emergency Management. - 1941

A hopeful voice emerged today in an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal, a venue that wasn’t always convinced in the past of the need for education finance reform.

School finance reform should be at the top of Gov. Jim Doyle’s to-do list before he leaves office.

Reform won’t be easy.

Yet fixing the state’s broken system of paying for public education has always been a monumental task. That’s why so many politicians — Democrats and Republicans — have largely ignored it for so long.

Doyle, who announced Monday he won’t seek a third term, has advantages in pressing for major change now, even if he’s viewed as a lame duck.

The Democratic governor won’t have to fear the political repercussions of reform because he’s leaving anyway. And his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature might be happy to let Doyle take ownership of the thorny and complicated issue. Then Doyle can be the fall guy if special and local interests balk at difficult yet necessary state decisions.

Without reform, school districts will only face more pressure to scale back, threatening the quality of public education that’s so vital to a strong economy.

Doyle and the Democrats lifted state-imposed limits on teacher raises earlier this year. That means the biggest expense for schools — employee compensation — is about to jump.

At the same time, Doyle and the Legislature cut state aid to schools while maintaining school revenue caps. That leaves schools with less money to pay its climbing expenses. And the vise will only get tighter.

We hope Doyle was serious Monday when he pledged to “move forward” with school finance reform despite his looming departure.

Doyle told the State Journal editorial board in February that he would unveil far-reaching changes to state policy on school finance this fall. Without a lot of detail, Doyle suggested he would require savings on health benefits for teachers. He also would allow districts more revenue if they agreed to a list of best practices to improve student performance with accountability for results.

The effect on property taxpayers is unclear.

Doyle has talked about fixing school finances for years. He’s made a few tweaks but never finished the job.

As Doyle said to his staff at Monday’s press conference: “Let’s get to work.”

I myself remain skeptical, but hopeful, Governor Doyle will “finish the job.” We’ll keep you posted of any new developments.

Robert Godfrey

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A need for pigeonholes

Thomas J. Mertz highlighted some inherent problems with the “Cluster Grouping” scheme envisioned in MMSD’s Talented and Gifted Plan. Given the swift policy creation the board is starting to enact, it is useful to highlight some of the potential downsides to ability grouping.

A dichotomous and discouraging set of statistics, one with the focus both on TAG education and the special education, should give one pause to think further about the school board’s current rush to implementation of the TAG plan without establishing the terms for an evaluation.

The Education for Change site has highlighted the under-representation of children of color in gifted education classes and programs.

* In 1997, African-Americans made up 17.2% of the total student population, but only 8.40% of those assigned to gifted and talented classes or programs.
* Latina/o students comprised 15.6% of the student population, but 8.6% of the students designated for gifted and talented classes or programs.
* King, Kozleski and Landsdowne (2009) reported that in California in 2007, 7.2% of the students enrolled in public education were African-American, yet only 4.13% of those enrolled in gifted and talented educational program were African-American.

The National Research Council Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education reported that Asian/Pacific Islanders are 1/3 more likely than white students to be in gifted programs, while African-American and Latina/o students are less than half as likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented educational classes and programs as Caucasian students.

It is not much of stretch to conclude that many of the problems with the assignment of students to gifted education programs are due in large part to the lack of agreement and an overall subjectivity around defining what giftedness actually means. Therefore, the potential for discrimination here is more evident and explicit.

At the same time, when we look at these same sort of comparisons for assessment evaluations of children in special education, we find some similar and disturbing numbers. Consider the disproportionate number of students of color classified as special needs students. The Twenty-Second Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2000) documents the extent and seriousness of the problem:

* African-American youth, ages 6 through 21, account for 14.8 percent of the general population. Yet, they account for 20.2 percent of the special education population.
* In 10 of the 13 disability categories, the percentage of African-American students equals or exceeds the resident population percentage.
* The representation of African-American students in the mental retardation and developmental delay categories is more than twice their national population estimates.

The same National Research Council panel cited above has also noted that in 1998, African-American students were 59% more likely to be identified as emotionally disturbed than Caucasian students. According to a NAACP study, “contrary to the expectations, is the finding that the risk for being labeled ‘mentally retarded’ increases for blacks attending schools in districts serving mostly middle-class or wealthy white students” (p. 18). In fact, as Losen and Orfield (2002) have noted, African-American children, and especially males, are at increased risk for mental retardation and emotional disturbance identification as the white population of a district increases.

These numbers tell us caution and careful study is the wisest course of action whenever we embark on an effort to pigeonhole children. It always done with the best of intentions (mostly), but a rush to implementing a program so rife with labeling is indeed a worrying one.

Robert Godfrey

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Madison Common Council Supports “Walk on the Child’s Side” Rally

Mayor Dave and kids

The Madison Common Council voted this evening to support the “Walk on the Child’s Side” rally slated for June 16th. The resolution read as follows:

WHEREAS, investment in education is essential to the quality of life and future prosperity of Madison and the State of Wisconsin; and
WHEREAS, for 15 years the school funding system of the State of Wisconsin has produced annual shortfalls between costs and allowed revenues, resulting in annual program cuts of between 1% and 2% for most school districts; and WHEREAS, the school funding system of the State of Wisconsin produces inequities in taxation and educational opportunities and does not adequately provide for the distribution of resources based on the diverse circumstances of students and districts; and WHEREAS, the school funding system of the State of Wisconsin’s over reliance on property taxes places school districts in harmful competition with Counties and Municipalities; and WHEREAS, achieving adequate, equitable and sustainable investment in education requires action by state government; and

WHEREAS, on June 7, 1999 the Price County Citizens Who CARE and their allies began a 240 mile “Walk on the Child’s Side” to carry the message of the need for education finance reform to the Wisconsin State Capitol, arriving in Madison on June 17, 1999; and have repeated this walk in subsequent years and have continued working for education finance reform; and WHEREAS, these efforts have been instrumental in bringing public attention to the need for education finance reform; and WHEREAS, On June 16, 2009 at 11:00 the Price County Citizens Who Care will host a 10th Anniversary “Walk on the Child’s Side” Rally and March in Madison, Wisconsin; and WHEREAS, the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Madison Wisconsin recognizes the need to support our local school districts and that fundamental changes in Wisconsin’s school funding system are necessary;

and WHEREAS, the Mayor and Common Council of the City Madison supports efforts to call public attention to this need and seeks to build coalitions to bring about education finance reform. NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Madison Wisconsin extends support to the “Walk on the Child’s Side” 10th Anniversary Rally and March and encourages the citizens of Madison to support and participate in the “Walk on the Child’s Side” 10th Anniversary Rally and March.

Robert Godfrey

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Education Reporting: A Suicide Watch?


It is not a news flash to say that the decline in the health of American journalism is currently close to a death spiral. In a wonderfully succinct review of the current state of play for the industry in Frank Rich’s column today, he noted the many challenges that have been faced by the varied mediums throughout the 20th century, right up to the present. It’s well worth a read. But unlike the entertainment media who have had their successes at reviving their fortunes with the introduction of new technologies – and failures, he noted, “with all due respect to show business, it’s only journalism that’s essential to a functioning democracy. And it’s not just because — as we keep being tediously reminded — Thomas Jefferson said so.”

Rich goes on to write:

Yes, journalists have made tons of mistakes and always will. But without their enterprise, to take a few representative recent examples, we would not have known about the wretched conditions for our veterans at Walter Reed, the government’s warrantless wiretapping, the scams at Enron or steroids in baseball.

Such news gathering is not to be confused with opinion writing or bloviating — including that practiced here. Opinions can be stimulating and, for the audiences at Fox News and MSNBC, cathartic. We can spend hours surfing the posts of bloggers we like or despise, some of them gems, even as we might be moved to write our own blogs about local restaurants or the government documents we obsessively study online.

But opinions, however insightful or provocative and whether expressed online or in print or in prime time, are cheap. Reporting the news can be expensive. Some of it — monitoring the local school board, say — can and is being done by voluntary “citizen journalists” with time on their hands, integrity and a Web site.

I guess he would be referring to me, but not sure about the time issue.

He goes on to say that opinion is still no substitute for reporting, such as what is happening in Pakistan, Washington or Wall Street — and our local school board. I noted earlier that there was no reporting on the school finance hearing that recently took place at the capital. Nor was there any local newspaper reporting on our recent school budget decisions for next year. I’ve been told that a short TV piece aired on a 10 o’clock broadcast (update: WKOW, includes video, h/t JW) — hardly a sufficient exercise in enfranchising our community with the knowledge of how one of the largest portions of their tax money is being spent. In fact, at the moment, the Board of Education web site is even down, ironically. The latest lack of coverage by our local media about the budget deliberations, especially print, with it’s ability to dig a little deeper on issues, is a sad development. With newspaper management fixated on moving around reporters to new beats on a regular basis (from a long out-of-date model), just has they have gotten up to speed on a complex subject such as education, is indeed beyond stupid. Just because conflict has been and remains a driver of much American journalism, it does not mean that there isn’t some important education reporting that needs to be done at the moment.

Blogs, such as this one, are a woefully inadequate substitute to good reporting, one in which telephone calls to sources are made, meetings attended and then a report distributed in a medium large enough to reach a mass audience. Count me as another person who is concerned about these latest developments. What is the current thinking of the editors at the WSJ and the Cap Times?

Robert Godfrey

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A Slice of Two-Thirds

Credit: TeckPoh

Credit: TeckPoh

Following several hours of impassioned testimony from administrators, parents, and staff from school districts throughout the state, both large and small, at this week’s School Finance Network Assembly Hearing, it ended, unfortunately, on what could be charitably characterized as a flat note. Despite the hard work of disparate leaders of education groups meeting constantly for the past couple of years to come up with a thoroughly conceptualized school finance reform plan to present to the legislature, a committee composed of organizations in the School Finance Network who have often been traditionally at odds with each other in the past (for example WEAC and WASB ), came to the hearing armed with numbers vetted by both economists at the UW-Madison and the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, including a number of suggestions for how to pay for this reform. However, the Committee on Education made it clear they were not going to take any action on this plan for the upcoming budget legislation hearings for the 2009-2011 budget. And most discouragingly there was, as far as I’m aware, no newspaper coverage of this event. I saw only one Madison tv crew present. They covered some of the personal testimony at the beginning but were not around to hear the actual presentation of the plan itself, which came late in the proceedings, too late to make it into the evening broadcast.

There are several political issues at play here, and with the funding reform process seemingly ended as soon as it was given its first oxygen to breathe, I think we may be headed towards even more dangerous waters. We will try and cover what rocky shores we may be encountering in future posts (such as the Governor’s push to repeal the QEO without other fundamental reforms). I want to draw your attention to one of them that, frankly, I missed in some of our earlier discussion on AMPS here about the use of federal stimulus money for school budgeting. In the Summary of Governor’s Budget Recommendations, Thomas Mertz pointed out his confusion with the school district’s use of their increase in their federal Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding to reduce their levies and the potential bad effects this may have on district’s budgets in subsequent years. I, along with Mr. Mertz, remain quite confused about the Governor’s and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s thinking on the added stimulus money to IDEA and Title I as a way to keep within the Fed guidlines of “supplement not supplant.” It would appear that the Governor is planning to scale back his professed desire for the state to provide 2/3’s funding for education and instead reduce it to a level between 62.0% and 63.2% in 2010-11 and the shortfall made up with increased short-term Fed dollars. As an editorial in the New York Times noted the other day:

The education portion of the federal stimulus package gives a $13 billion boost to Title I, the federal program that is meant to provide extra help to disadvantaged schoolchildren. And the Department of Education has issued new guidelines, requiring states to give a clearer accounting of how education dollars are spent. But the federal money won’t get to the students for whom it is intended unless the department bird dogs this issue.

As envisioned by Congress, Title I is supposed to serve as an additional layer of financing for high-poverty schools that already are provided with budgets comparable to other schools in the same system. In reality, states and localities have often shortchanged schools that served the poor and used federal money to make up the difference in their basic budgets.

They further added:

The states and localities will resist the reporting requirement, which could easily unmask unethical financing gaps and even evasions of federal education law. But Arne Duncan, the education secretary, needs to hold them to the rules. The new reporting requirement is absolutely essential to school reform in general and fairness for impoverished children in particular.

But in yesterday’s State Journal report showing that MMSD would be receiving $11.7 million over two years from the stimulus bill, the Governor was quoted as warning school districts against “creating “funding cliffs”: using the short-term dollars to start new programs that would have to be sustained later by other funding.” But isn’t that what he is doing in his budget, promising something and then pretending he’s actually paying for it with two funds that are meant to supplement and not supplant state funding?

The Governor is further quoted, “This money can really protect our property taxpayers, and it also can add real quality to our schools if used correctly,” Doyle said.

Indeed. We’ll wait to see what the Obama administration has to say about this old street hustle 3-cups-and-a-ball routine.

Robert Godfrey

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Fragrant Delusions


In another episode of feigned outrage, the new adjunct to a scorned Republican Party searching for new identity – leaderless and jumbled up with 30 years of rhetoric that, surprisingly, in just a wink of an eye, seems immensely trite, dated even – tone deaf to the body politic; behold a specimen of Wisconsin politics that can easily serve as specimen A of this “did we really talk and think like that before” mentality. We present to you – Steve Nass.

In short, the Cap Times editorial, responding in part to this, pretty much says it all. It can only be redundant to pile on with citations of this piece. Suffice to say, this crazed, destroy it all juju, is merely a taste of the Trojan Horse “Sturm und Drang” that would have awaited us if the Rose Fernandez candidacy had been successful. To cite more positive rhetoric of Wisconsin’s history, Forward!

Robert Godfrey

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Elephant in the Room


Maya Cole, Madison School Board member, wrote an op-ed for the Cap Times that provided an excellent piece of analysis on the current state of play at the Capital; the tired old dance routine between the governor and the legislature over how to finance our schools. But this budget season, the sound track has been suddenly revved up due to the stimulus money on the horizon.

The predictable talk of paying for education plays to the citizenry. Don’t raise taxes and do more with less — it’s the same old dichotomy. Lately there’s new irony, as suggested by Gov. Jim Doyle, that school boards should go to the table with “more creative ways” to bargain and without the QEO (qualified economic offer).

As Cole rightly pointed out, this “more with less” canard is trotted out in other guises such as a “creative teacher compensation package.” This meme of, “get more creative,” is meant to be compensation for the often referred to “three legged stool” of the Wisconsin school finance system: 2/3 funding from state revenues (1/3 from local and federal sources), the QEO to limit teacher contract costs and the revenue caps to limit local property taxes. She also astutely noted that the current system originated as a short term plan 16 years ago, and asks, when will it be revised?

Several years hence, the elephant in the room (school finance reform) stands on stage taunting school boards across the state. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards, a member of the coalition of the School Finance Network, has one approach — it’s not in the script this year. We are asked by the governor to accept a watered down plan and continue to be mired in the same old strategies.

What really should keep lawmakers up at night is the dependent nature of these one time (maybe two) short term “fixes,” a “solution” in which Doyle hopes that school districts will remain under the revenue caps while spending federal dollars (TJ Mertz investigated the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s newest numbers here). Cole instead called for a clear departure from the current process of having property owners paying the lion’s share of the costs for schools.

We must be bold and put our spending and revenue practices on the table. Districts across the state have been cutting budgets for over 10 years. Property owners have shouldered the costs to pay for schools. When we add in the confluence of federal mandates (unfunded), demographic shifts, and the dwindling manufacturing in the state, it’s clear we’re in the third act.

Doyle should take his own advice. A budget dependent on one-time federal money for education and transfers to plug holes in budget gaps is shortsighted at best

The Assembly Education Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, April 21 1:00 PM at Room 413 North in the Capitol to discuss the School Finance Network education funding reform proposal.

Don’t forget too that on Wednesday April 1, 2009, 6:00 PM at Wright Middle School — the Madison School District will be hosting a “Legislative Informational Community Session” to “provide updates on school funding and state budget issues that affect the MMSD” and “discuss and share strategies on how the community can get involved in advocating for our schools.” More information on the MMSD Legislative Agenda can be found here.

Robert Godfrey

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