Category Archives: Pennies for Kids

“Political Dynamite”= School Funding

From MPTV’s Fourth Street Forum.

[Original Airdate: October 1, 2010] POLITICAL DYNAMITE: PAYING FOR WISCONSIN’S SCHOOLS Wisconsin has a crisis when it comes to paying for schools. The fallout hurts children, teachers and our future. 4th Street Forum explores school tax fairness and high quality education. With Host DENISE CALLAWAY, Director of Communications, Greater Milwaukee Foundation and with guests, in order of appearance, TONY EVERS, PhD, Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction; WILLIE HINES, Milwaukee Common Council President; ANNELIESE DICKMAN, JD, Research Director, Public Policy Forum and WILLIAM HUGHES, PhD, Greendale Superintendent of Schools.

Penny for Kids?  Penny for Kids!

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, School Finance, Uncategorized

On the Agenda: MMSD Board of Education, the week of September 27, 2010

Note: For a while, I’m going to be illustrating the “On the Agenda” posts with various graphs documenting achievement gaps in MMSD as revealed by the admittedly flawed and limited WSAS/WKCE results. I think regular reminders may do some good.

For the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and related bodies, hree meetings on Monday this week, one on Tuesday.

The Four-Year-Old Kindergarten Advisory Council continues their work at 9:00 on Monday, at the 4C offices.

The new Board Ad-Hoc Committee on Equity and Decision-Making will hold their first meeting at 5:00 PM in the Doyle Bldg, Rm 103.  The agenda revolves around committee goals.  There will be public appearances and if you have concerns about equity related things, I’d suggest getting their attention near the start of their work.  These could include anything from staffing, to class-size, to achievement gaps, to budgets, to curricula, to… for an idea of what the scope of this committee includes, check the Equity Policy and the work of Equity Task Force (as well as the Equity Report from earlier this year).

One new thing before the Committee is an update on equity work.  This partially updates the appendices of the rejected March version of the report, which linked district initiatives to portions of the Strategic Plan and Equity Task Force recommendations.   I thought this was the best part of the March version, but it didn’t make it into the final.  Good to see it back.

What isn’t good is how much remains to be done.

This will be followed by the full Board meeting at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Bdg Auditorium.  There are public appearances scheduled and it can be assumed that both this meeting and the Equity meeting will be carried on MMSD-TV.  A note to people not familiar with Board procedures, all public testimony is at the start of the meeting and you have to register by the time they begin.

I’m not going to do the whole agenda this week, but just hit the highlights in approximate order of interest.

The biggest item for most is the recommendation on the extension of TID 32 to fund the Edgewater project.  Board Members Ed Hughes and Lucy Mathiak have both posted on this, and I put something on Forward LookoutSome time ago I laid out why I thought this was a bad idea and in their memo to the Board the administration agrees with that conclusion (if not all the particulars), saying the extension will have a ““significant negative effect…upon our district.”   Following  their own paths, Hughes and Mathiak come to the same conclusion.

I’d put the Budget Update at the top of my personal list of agenda items.  Bad news and good news with a net bad news of a larger increase in the mil rate (from 11.08 to 11.13) and slightly bigger hit to property owners likely (Penny for Kids would help!)

Among the news here is anticipated decrease of $442,501 in state Special Education Categorical aids, and an anticipated increase of $1,569, 546 in state equalization aid from the amounts budgeted in the Spring.  Unfortunately the increase in equalization is related to a decrease in property values, meaning that although the total levy will be smaller, the base for that levy is smaller also and the increased equalization only partially covers the difference (Penny for Kids is needed!).  There are lots of moving pieces locally — including property values in the district — and statewide that contribute to these adjustments.  One of the biggest pieces is the “Third Friday” student count certification.  If we are lucky, that number will be previewed at the meeting Monday.  None of this is final till the end of October when the tax levy is passed.

On a related and positive note, the district did save $185,954 in short term borrowing costs.

These are combined here in a projected tax levy scenarios I think the last is the most likely.

I don’t like the $250,00 “average home” calculations, but the levy increase expressed in that way is $237.50, or $12.50 more than projected in the Spring ((Penny for Kids! Now more than ever).

And then there is the fund balance.  It increased  by $5.1 million in 2009-10.   MMSD needs to have an open and thorough discussion of fund balance policies and practices (I’ve said this before).  In the last three years the fund balance has increased by about $20 million, almost doubling.  This is good and bad, but what is all bad is that it has happened without the Board directly addressing the choices being made.   This money was collected to educate the children of our district and we (the people it was collected from) deserve to know if building equity at this level is the way it can best be used in the service of education.

Last in the update is “Budget Tracking Table” with big and unexplained changes in the ARRA lines (these may be covered in this previous ARRA update.  Nothing on the EduJobs money (my guess is that it will be used for 2011-12 in MMSD).

Next in order of import is the Revised Code of Conduct.   It looks like this might finally get done.  I haven’t followed all the details, but I do like the Phoenix/Abeyance model as an alternative to expulsions.

It is kind of insider stuff, but I find the the evolution of the Superintendent’/Board of Education  Communication Plan fascinating.  This is a new iteration and with each version it seems to get more detailed and more exacting.  I applaud the effort to clarify roles and expectations, but find it disconcerting that all concerned feel it needs to be spelled out this thoroughly.  To me that indicates trust, faith and yes “communication” are not where they should be.  Maybe I’m reading too much into this; maybe I’m just more comfortable with improvisational give-and-take.

Last item I’m going to cover (and the last item on the agenda) is the Legislative Liaison Report.  Three things here.

First is the recent Resolution passed by the Dane County Board calling for school finance reform (press release here).   This got some nice coverage from Neil Heinen on Channel 3000, in the Sun Prairie Star and maybe elsewhere.  I worked on this with Supervisor Melissa Sargent and want to give a big thank you to her and the other Supervisors and the Board of Education and community members who supported the Resolution.  Look for more Resolutions of this sort around the state in the coming months.  As Neil Heinen said “Thanks to the Dane County Board, the voice for school funding reform just got louder.”

Next is Superintendent Tony Evers State of Education address.  The big news here is no news on the Fair Funding Framework.  For logistical and other reasons, there will be no further details till after the November elections.  I’ll leave the “other” alone and note that there will be updated numbers to work with after October 15 aid certifications and the logistical reasons have legitimacy.

Last is a Penny for Kids update.  Not 100% sure what this will be, but I will take this opportunity to put on my Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Board member hat and thank MMSD for actively supporting this campaign.

Much more on this agenda, technology purchases, big donations, contracts, Board/Common Council Liaison meeting …check for yourself to see what I missed.

One more meeting.   Ad-Hoc Hiring and Diversity on Tuesday, noon, at JC Wright Middle School.  Another goal setting agenda and no linked documents.  For some background see this report from September 2009.   Staff diversity at all levels remains an issue.  I hope that those working and agitating on minority  teacher matters realize that this is a national problem and that long term solutions involving improving minority education, higher education opportunities, early recruitment into education fields and supports to achieve professional status are where the real solutions to teaching staff diversity lay.  The district’s efforts can and should be improved in the short term (and not just with teachers, the clerical staff numbers are a disgrace), but only very limited improvements should be expected in the diversity of MMSD teaching staff.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Budget, education, Equity, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, School Finance, Uncategorized

Labor Day Mega Music Post

I need to find the time to do some serious blogging, but meanwhile some music for Labor Day.  Don’t forget to come to LaborFest on Monday (at the Labor Temple, Park  & Wingra, Noon to 5:30).  Good people, good music, good food.  Stop by the CAST table, say hey and sign the Penny for Kids petition.

The Dubliners, The Molly Maguires

Utah Phillips, There is Power In The Union

The Clash, Career Opportunities

Lee Dorsey, Working In The Coal Mine

Roy Orbison, Working For The Man

Dolly Parton, 9 To 5 (Live)

Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band, Pay Me My Money Down

The Gravedigger n the Teacher, Union Maid

Merle Haggard, Workin’ Man’s Blues

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, Pennies for Kids

State Superintendent Tony Evers’ Framework for School Funding Reform

Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers has released a “framework for school funding reform” called “Fair Funding for Our Future” (press release here, DPI page here).  I’m glad that Evers is showing some leadership and it looks like it may be a good framework, but with so few details it is hard to tell.

The one thing I like best is the stated goal of   “a fresh look at school funding and to ensure[ing]that candidates for elected office address school finance in real and substantial terms in their campaigns this fall.”  Evers clearly understands the need for reform and that if legislators and the Gubernatorial candidates don’t make commitments during their campaigns there is no chance that they will take positive action once in office (he probably also understands that even with campaign commitments  there is no guarantee).

The lack of detail works fine for this purpose (lots of detail would work too).  Still, I do think it is worth spending a little time looking at what is and isn’t there and how filling in the specifics could move this in good and bad directions.

Here are the bullet points (there is very little but bullet points):

Creates a Fair and Sustainable School Funding System that:

  • Prioritizes funding for ALL students.
    Provide a minimum level of state aid for every student in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live.
  • Accounts for family income and poverty.
    Use student poverty – not just property value – as a factor in a portion of state aid to schools.
  • Provides predictable growth in state support for schools.
    Increase state school aids and local revenue limits by a predictable percentage each year.
  • Supports rural schools.
    Expand sparsity aid and transportation funding.

Brings Transparency and Accountability for Results to School Funding by:

  • Ensuring state education dollars are spent educating children.
    Allocate the nearly $900 million School Levy Tax Credit into general school aids – a move that does not increase net property taxes statewide, but ensures that significant state financial assistance goes to kids and classrooms.
  • Investing in innovation and programs that show results.
    Consolidate and target categorical aids in ways that encourage innovation and focus on increasing student achievement, turning around struggling schools, and improving graduation outcomes.
  • Protecting Wisconsin students and taxpayers.
    Ensure that no school district faces a drastic reduction in state school aid in any given year.

Before looking at these each in turn it is important to remember that all these moving parts interact and that this is especially important if the total investments are not increased or are increased only minimally.  If the same sized pie is being sliced differently there will likely be winners and losers.    The levy credit move kind of increases the state’s contribution to the pie (or at least moves the state’s contribution from tax relief to education) but doesn’t increase the size of the total funding pie.

Prioritizes funding for ALL students.
Provide a minimum level of state aid for every student in Wisconsin, regardless of where they live.

The first sounds good but is pretty meaningless; the second really depends on what the minimum is.  Under the current system there is a $1,000 per pupil  minimum called Primary Equalization aid.

Accounts for family income and poverty.
Use student poverty – not just property value – as a factor in a portion of state aid to schools.

This could be a big change, depending on the weights given to income and property wealth and depending on whether “family income” for the district as a whole is used or “student poverty” is the measure.  [ Added 8:50 AM, 6-25-10From the press conference reports it is clear that student poverty would be used.  I’m keeping the discussion of using district income because it helps illustrate the complexity of assessing changes to the system] Madison is a high property wealth, high income district with high student poverty.  Last session there was  proposed legislation to move to a solely district income based equalization formula, which  according to this LFB analysis would have resulted in an over  60% 68% loss in aid for MMSD.  In contrast, one based on on student poverty should help MMSD significantly (I haven’t seen anyone run the numbers).

Just a little background on this.  For years the big push to incorporate income in equalization has come from high property wealth districts with many vacation homes but relatively low incomes among year round residents (sometimes called the Lake Districts).  Others, including the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and the School Finance Network have concentrated more on including student poverty either in a foundation formula or as a categorical aid.    Further complicating things is the possibility that in some of the Lake Districts, the relatively low incomes might not translate fully into high student poverty as measured by free and reduced lunch counts (and the under-counting of poverty by that measure, especially with secondary students,  is always a factor too).   Many moving parts.

Provides predictable growth in state support for schools.
Increase state school aids and local revenue limits by a predictable percentage each year.

Predictable is good.  But like the 2/3 state funding commitment (however calculated — see the levy credit stuff below), what the legislature  gives, the legislature can take away.

I’m also intrigued by the “predictable percentage each year” phrasing.  Any growth based on income measures, educational costs, cost-of-living…wouldn’t be predictable.  This instead sounds like a call for a guaranteed minimum percent.  If that’s the case, what the percent is and how it relates to costs are the big questions.

Supports rural schools.
Expand sparsity aid and transportation funding.

As a superintendent I know in a struggling, small rural district has been quoting lately “show me the money.”  Inadequate sparsity aid (such as that in place the last few years) only relives a little pressure.  Without some real fixes we will see districts dissolve in the next couple of years.  Taken as a whole, the reforms Evers proposes may stop that from happening, or they may not (too few details, too many moving parts to tell).  I hope they do.

Ensuring state education dollars are spent educating children.
Allocate the nearly $900 million School Levy Tax Credit into general school aids – a move that does not increase net property taxes statewide, but ensures that significant state financial assistance goes to kids and classrooms.

For background on this read Professor Andrew Reschovky’s important paper, “A Critical Review of Property Tax Relief in Wisconsin: The School Levy Credit and the First Dollar Credit.”

If you read the press release or look at the charts posted by DPI (such as the one below), this appears to the centerpiece of the Framework.

Note the steep increase in the last two state budgets.  As I’ve said before, this gives lie to the assertions by state lawmakers that it is difficult to change the school funding system; these represent significant changes and were easily accomplished.  Few people noticed (Evers was pretty much silent on this and other school funding matters during the  last budget period).

This was so far off the radar that even districts like Madison that benefited from the change did not include the benefits in their budget discussions or explanations (I tried to get them to and if they had figured in the recent credits of about 1.5% for most taxpayers, this may have given them the courage to not under-levy so extremely).

As policy it is kind of  a no-brainer that money called education aid should go to education and not tax relief, but that hasn’t been the case in Wisconsin because tax credits were counted as part of the 2/3 funding when that % was statutorily required and continue to be counted as such in most calculations (including the maintenance of effort calculations in the ARRA and Race to the Top  paperwork it is worth noting).  So I like the policy change of using “education funding” to fund education.

It is also a no-brainer that state education tax relief should not be skewed to the most wealthy districts or individuals.  This is what the levy credit did.

How this money should be distributed is more complicated.

A good case can be made to reallocate to an expanded Homestead Credit and stop calling it education aid.  I’m not going to make that case here, but it is worth thinking about.

Evers is committed to using this as part of a revamped equalization formula.  I think this is in part because it looks like “free money,” in that it allows him to ask to put more state money into schools without asking for new revenue sources via tax reform or something like Penny for Kids. It is worth noting that with many districts under-levying (like Madison) what looks like a lot more money statewide might not end up being that much more money locally (or any more money at all) if when the impact of losing the tax credits is understood districts react by passing levies well below the authorized amount.  A couple of people also pointed out to me that in districts with higher property wealth (and maybe others) this will make passing referenda harder.

[Added 5:15 PM, 6-24-10] Note that Evers’ plan says  no “net” increase in property taxes.  Higher value property owners and higher value districts will see increases or at least the districts will see levy authority to increase if they choose.  Lower value owners and districts will see decreases.   What this does is increase the Robin Hood factor of equalization.  Good in theory, but the primary, secondary and tertiary aid formulas as they now exist (also in theory) take into account some level tax relief via credits.  The formulas also assume something like 2/3 state funding, so maybe none of this matters because they have essentially been junked anyway).  Whatever matters or doesn’t in theory, this change if done in isolation would necessitate sizable property tax increases in Madison (in 2008-9 the levy credits totaled $1,636 per student for Madison, some of this would be offset by the increase in the equalization pool and one would hope a student poverty factor).

How this and everything else plays out depend on all the pieces and how they fit together.  The biggest piece here is the incorporation of some poverty measure in the equalization calculations.

Investing in innovation and programs that show results.
Consolidate and target categorical aids in ways that encourage innovation and focus on increasing student achievement, turning around struggling schools, and improving graduation outcomes.

Buzz, buzz, buzz.  Buzzwords.  All good, but what these innovations are and how results are assessed matter.

On categorical aids, I’m a bit confused by the desire to consolidate and the related decision to push for poverty as a factor in equalization instead of as a new categorical.  I can appreciate the desire to streamline and simplify, but unless you go to a Foundation plan the Wisconsin school funding system will remain a Rube Goldberg machine.

I prefer a Foundation plan, but if that isn’t going to happen, I think more and better categoricals are the best way to get resources where they are most needed and will do the most good.  I get skeptical about proposals that are based the idea that you can better target by using fewer tools to aim.

Protecting Wisconsin students and taxpayers.
Ensure that no school district faces a drastic reduction in state school aid in any given year.

Sounds good, but again depends on what “drastic” means.  Right now the figure is a 15% cut (btw see Ed Hughes’ post today on why that 15% cap on cuts is important when funding is decreasing).  Obviously there has to be some “hold harmless” for any reform proposal to be viable.  Others I’ve seen are literally “hold harmless,” it worries me that even as a Framework this one is “hold from drastic harm.”

Maybe I worry too much.  As more details are put forward we’ll find out if I’m being chicken little.   I hope I am.  I hope that this all fits together in a way that puts our state back on track.  I know that is what Superintendent Evers wants too.  I certainly share and support that desire and appreciate his efforts.

Some links:

Wisconsin State Journal Story

School Finance Network reaction.

Tom Barrett, Scott Walker, and Mark Neumann responses.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Uncategorized

On the Agenda, MMSD Board of Education, Week of June 14, 2010

Note:  For a while, I’m going to be illustrating the “On the Agenda” posts with various graphs documenting achievement gaps in MMSD as revealed by the admittedly flawed and limited WSAS/WKCE results.  I think regular reminders may do some good.

Last week was Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Committee meetings; this week they meet as a full Board and (among other things) take votes on action items.  Prior to the open meeting there will be a closed session to discuss among other things a contract for Google apps (to replace district email with Gmail, this is also on the open meeting agenda with  a price tag, so I don’t know why it is part of  the closed session), the Superintendent Salary (I thought that had been done in closed and open sessions as part of the Budget) and the negotiation strategy for the budgeted pay freeze for support employees.

The open meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM, in the Doyle Building Auditorium.  It will be carried by MMSD-TV.

Most of the agenda items were before the Committees last week (video here).  I attended most, but not all of that meeting and rather than repeat what I wrote in the preview of that meeting will be just adding a few things.

The meeting kicks off with announcements and recognition of awards and service (full agenda here).  These include the recognition of Sarah Maslin at the end of her service and the installation of new Student Rep.  Wyatt Jackson.

The first policy item is dealing with the SAGE reconfiguration (an unposted document with more info can be found here) necessitated by recent legislation eliminating the waivers for SAGE Block (small classes for math and literacy only).  As I noted before, this has budget implications and should have been done as part of the budget process.  Because of time constraints, this was not discussed last week.

The administration recommendation is to go to 18/1 class sizes in the current SAGE Block schools (Crestwood, Gompers, Huegel and Muir) and make SAGE in the other schools “flexible” with allocations ranging from 17/1 to 15/1.  The allocations used for the recently passed preliminary budget included allocations based on the first, despite the fact that this was never addressed directly in any of the budget documents or open budget meetings.

I’m not 100% clear what “flexible” will mean in practice, but my guess is that initial allocations will be made at 15/1 but instead of new classes being added when September student counts go to 16/1, they will be added only if they go above 17/1.

I don’t like the 18/1 and I don’t like the flexibility.  I’ll add that I don’t like the lack of any consideration of expanding SAGE at any ratio to the three 30%+ poverty schools that do not have it (as allowed under the same legislation that eliminated the waivers).

MMSD can’t plead poverty as a reason to raise class sizes, not  after they left $13.5 million on the table; I’d like to see anyone with a straight face say that this would be a “do no harm efficiency.”  Some great comments on this on the WEAC site, where the Union’s positive spin was rejected by teachers and others.  I hope MMSD also rejects the spin and the changes.

Changes to Internet Access and Student records policies are next.

Then the Superintendent will present a “Protocol for the Evaluation of MMSD Programs.”  This is a step in the right direction.   A couple of things I really like are the collaborative work on research questions and design up front, with extensive Board involvement and that there instead of a promise of quick answers and fixes there is no expectation of any significant changes being implemented till year four of a six year cycle.   If done correctly this could be meaningful, useful and not just an exercise in “See, we are using data” public relations.   I know the Research and Evaluation team would like to do this correctly, let’s hope they are given the resources (along with outside partners), corporations and freedom form political exigencies to do so.

Speaking of public relations, it looks like Supt. Dan Nerad may have enlisted spinmeister James Woods (of Wisconsin Way infamy) to raise money for and draft a communications and engagement plan.  No question that Woods is good at this kind of thing, he has been able to keep a straight face for years while telling the people of Wisconsin that the likes the Realtors, WEAC and the Road Builders are civic-minded,disinterested parties selflessly seeking to change the political culture of Wisconsin for the benefit of all state residents, all the while these same parties have continued to expend obscene amounts of money to advance their vested interests, continued to be the sources of the corruption the Wisconsin Way pretends to want to change.  Yeah, he’s good.

I’d stay as far away from him as possible.   I know PR is PR, but education needs trust, not spin; transparency, not manipulation; honesty above all.  Speaking of honesty, I don’t want to hear anyone say MMSD can’t afford to hire a communications consultant.  They left over $13 million on the table; it was a choice they made not one they were forced into.

The High School Initiatives Report from the Committee meeting is next.  The reports from the individual schools were very positive and inspiring.  Many, many good things going on and more in the works.  Collaboration was a big theme.   The one thing I like the most is the expansion of AVID and the methods used by AVID.  The high school versions of the achievement gap at the top won’t change until “rigor for all” with supports is in place and AVID offers much along those lines.

Student Code of Conduct and Expulsions revisions follow.  There is some new material here on the Code of Conduct, a comparison grid (distributed at the meeting last week) here and a new appendix on expulsions here.  Based on the discussion last week and the new materials much of the discussion will focus on whether bullying is adequately and correctly addressed in the Code of Conduct.   The expulsion plan is based on offering educational services and transition help for students in the expulsion process.

The Annual Strategic Plan Review is next.   This is worth a look, especially for the progress that has and has not been made.   I had some more comments last week.  I want to add that I like there being continued community involvement, but an annual meeting is pretty minimal.  In Green Bay, under Dan Nerad, for a long time after the plan had been approved, there were monthly “strategic plan “work sessions.”

Last week I raised some questions about the budgeted but unspent ARRA items in the Monthly Financial Statements (next on the agenda).  Asst. Supt Erik Kass provided some informal answers.  I did read correctly, there are around $5 million in approved ARRA projects form 2009-10 that have not been implemented, so the money has not “flowed through.’  There are about another $5 million in projects slated for 2010-11 (much of it designated as the second year of a a two year budget).  These look to be good projects and the district needs to get moving on them.  In answer to my other question, it appears that the ARRA things are considered like special grants and are therefore outside the budget process.  I don’t like that and think you could make a very good case that it is a violation of the state statutes governing the budget.  I’m not going to push that case — all this was done in public I don’t think it is worth fighting that fight — but when the budget process spends time on things like food for receptions, I believe these substantial funds and significant initiatives should be included in the discussion.

Lots of bills, contracts, RFPs and the like come next.  Some are consent items, some aren’t.

There is also a revised Human Resources report.  I didn’t take the time identify the revisions.   I think I forgot to note previously that this confirms John Harper as permanent head of Education Services.  The recommendations for administrative non-renewals for Career and Tech Ed Coordinator, Asst. Director of Equity and Parent Involvement, Expulsions and Truancy Coordinator, Library Media Services Coordinator, Fine Arts Coordinator,  Public Communication Director and Legislative Liaison remain.  The budget-related pay freeze is also listed.  In a related matter, a one month extension of departing General Legal Counsel Dan Malin’s employment is recommended, because there is no replacement in place.

I started looking for job ads related to all this.  The General Legal Counsel is here (with a May 31 deadline), the Equity Director is here, Director of Building Services is here, I couldn’t find the new Chief Learning Officer posted (I hope that means that the search is well along), but I did see that the Talented and Gifted Coordinator search has been reopened.

Reports for the Student Senate and Common Council/Board come next.

Next up is the Legislative Liaison on stalled Education Jobs Act (which President Obama gave a belated push to this weekend).  To get involved in the effort, join the Speak Up for Education and Kids Facebook group and current education related Wisconsin legislative studies. I guess our elected officials have to look busy while they ignore the funding crisis they created and proposed remedies like Penny for Kids.

The Google thing/switch to Gmail is last

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Local News, Pennies for Kids, School Finance, Uncategorized


Eleventh Dream Day, “Testify” (live) — click to listen or download.

Via Progressive Dane (I am Co-Chair and education Task Force Chair, so this is via me too):

6/1 — Call for Action, MMSD School Budget Hearing

At the General membership Meeting last night PD voted support for the call for action below. Although the odds of great changes this school budget cycle are low, it is important that the voices of school supporters — those who think that some of the $13 million slated for property tax relief be used to make out schools better — be heard. As one person who testified earlier put it, the Board of Education needs to be reminded that they were elected to be the “guardians of the schools…not the guardians of the taxpayers.”

Please join me Tuesday. The meeting begins at 5:00, so you can stop by on your way to the Immigration Rally.

Distribute Widely!

Madison School Budget Hearing
Call to Action
June 1, 2010, 5:00 PM
Doyle Administration Building Auditorium

On June 1, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education will hold their fourth and final hearing on the 2010-11 Budget. After the hearing they will finalize and vote on a preliminary budget (the final budget comes in October, after student counts and state aid are certified). This is your last chance to stand up for schools and education and make your voice heard.

The Talking Points


  • Tax increases are better than cuts to school budgets; Invest in Education, Raise My Taxes.
  • School Budgets have been cut for 16 years; it is time to stop this trend.
  • The trend in taxes paid by property owners for schools has been down for the last 15 years; levying to the full authority would return the mil rate to about the 2004-5 level.
  • The 2008 Operating Referendum passed with 69% of the vote.
  • Madison schools are very good, but there is much that needs improvement.
  • For the benefit of all students, the Strategic Plan needs to be implemented, not “narrowed.”
  • The achievement gaps of over 30% points between low income and other students on standardized tests in every subject and in every tested grade are not going to be helped by budget cuts.

It is doubtful that any of the cuts that have already been initially approved will be rescinded, but there are places where some of the savings might be reallocated.

  • Specifics
  • I’ve proposed two budget amendments, one on information for decision making and the other on Equity.
    • Budget $250,000 for improved data collection analysis and reporting as required in the Strategic Plan, TAG Plan, and Equity Policy, Literacy Education Evaluation and elsewhere. This should include the creation of a position working with the Board of Education to determine and meet their informational needs.
    • Budget $2.0 million in Supplemental Allocations to high need schools via the Equity Resource Formula (or similar criteria) and aligned with purposes identified in School Improvement Plans and consistent with the Strategic Plan and Equity Policy. Since SAGE and Title I do provide resources to high need elementary schools, it may be advisable to disproportionately target secondary schools with these funds.
    • You can read more about these on the MadisonAmps blog.
  • Create a fund for Strategic Plan Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
  • Create a fund for Equity Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
  • Fund much-needed Facilities Maintenance.
  • Rescind the decision to seek pay freezes for some of the lowest paid employees.


Due to Wisconsin’s broken school funding system and cuts in state aid to schools, at the start of the budget process maintaining educational offering and quality would have required an estimated $28.2 million increase in locally generated revenue. This comes after over a decade when the trend ahs been reduced school property taxes for homeowners. After examining and voting on over 200 options for cuts and efficiencies, the Board has reduced this amount by about $13.5 million.

In 2008 over 68% of the voters approved a referendum to avoid cuts and bring about improvements. At that time the anticipated budget cuts for 2010-11 without a referenda were $9 million; now they are cutting $13.5 million from the levy despite the successful referendum.

Efficiencies are almost always good and most of the cuts will not have a significant effect on the breadth or quality of educational offerings. In many ways the Board has done a good job under difficult circumstances.

What they haven’t done is looked for ways that they could use some or all of that $13.5 million to improve our schools. Instead it has been designated for property tax relief.

There is much room for improvement. 17 years of cuts due to the state finance system have limited opportunities and support for all students. The achievement gaps remain a source of shame. On the most recent WKCE tests the gaps between low income and non low income students scoring proficient was over 30% in every grade for every subject.. African American and Hispanic students are more likely to drop out than participate in programs for the “talented and gifted.”

A big part of the 2008 referendum was the promise of a strategic plan to improve education in Madison. A plan is in place, but these self-imposed cuts have placed the improvements in jeopardy. Superintendent Dan Nerad recently cited “resource constraints” as the source of a “need” to “narrow the priorities within the [strategic] plan.” They have the resources to make big improvements, but would rather give tax breaks.

If you think, improving education and the futures of our children and community are more important than tax breaks, come to the June 1 hearing and show support or write the Board of Education at

For more information on the Madison Budget, visit the district Budget Page:

To get involved in fixing things at the state level, join the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools ( and sign the Penny for Kids petition (

I’d really like for the Board to hear from at least a dozen or two school supporters on June 1.  If they don’t hear from you, they can pretend you don’t exist.

Thomas J. Mertz

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WAES School-Funding Reform Update, the Week of May 24, 2010

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, the folks behind the Penny for Kids campaign.   Table of Contents below,  full Update in pdf form here.  This is a good issue, click the link and read the whole thing!

  • “A Penny for Kids” — It’s head-scratching time in Wisconsin

    School-funding reform calendar

  • Help WAES correct e-mail update glitch
  • Rural group’s work is primer on school-finance reform

  • WAES has work to do and needs your help to do it
  • Sales tax hike mentioned in Representatives survey
  • Funding crises deepen for Wisconsin school districts
  • Some things we’d like to hear Wisconsin’s new Governor say
  • WEAC, WREA pass resolutions pushing school-funding reform
  • One WAES member honored, another joins radio discussion
  • WAES has work to do and needs your help to do it
  • Rural group’s work is primer on school-finance reform
  • Help WAES correct e-mail update glitch
  • School-funding reform calendar

Thomas J. Mertz

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Great MMSD Budget Testimony

With three Madison Metropolitan School District budget hearings thus far (video of the first two here on the district Budget Page), all the Edgewater public testimony, the Dane County Immigration Task Force feedback session and more, lately I’ve watched or read a lot of examples of citizens making their case before government officials. Kathy Liska’s testimony from last Monday’s School Board’s meeting in the video above is one of the best I’ve witnessed.  Watch it, she’s as good as Megan Fox on school funding.

Ms Liska has testified at all three school budget hearings.  On Monday she was one of only five people to testify.  I had the pleasure of meeting her and talking a little,  she said she’d be back to testify at the June 1, 2010 hearing.  Will you be there? Do you care enough to be there?

I’ll be there, pushing my proposals for Budget Amendments which take money from some of the $13 million in cuts and use it to improve the district. It would be great if others would join me in supporting this, or offer their own ideas on June 1.

That’s Tuesday June 1, 2010, 5:00 PM, Doyle Building Auditorium.  This is essentially your last chance.  If you can’t make it, drop the Board a line at

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Taxes (and Schools)

From "Wisconsin's Revenue Gap," Institute for Wisconsin's Future

I’ve been known to chide Wisconsin’s lawmakers for their reluctance to enact or even talk about essential revenue reforms.  It is only fair to note when they do the right thing and the good they’ve done by doing the right thing.

Yesterday the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released the April 2010 tax collection data.  Two big pieces of good news here.  First, collections are only down 1% from last year and that means that there will be no need for a budget reconciliation and the cuts to shared revenues and state services it would surely bring.  Second, corporate taxes are up by 32.4% over last year.

Too many moving pieces and not enough info to know in much detail, but the closing of the Las Vegas loophole by enacting Combined Reporting in the last biennial budget  certainly contributed to this.  A very positive step in returning some balance to our revenue system and staving off further cuts to essential investments and services.  Good work.

As the chart at the top indicates, there is still more work to do.  There are other loopholes to close, and other places to look at the balance among taxes paid in Wisconsin.  As always, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future/Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin. is the place to start (these organizations also deserve much of the credit for pushing lawmakers on Combined Reporting).

In a related story, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Tom “No New Taxes (for now)” Barrett is not getting suckered into abandoning  Combined Reporting because of  ignorant attacks from those vying for the GOP and Tea Party mantle(s) (and here)..

On the national front, The Cap Times has a good follow up to the sales tax for education (read Penny for Kids) vote in Arizona, with your intrepid blogger offering some thoughts.  This also came up in the WORT diiscussi0n of school finance (listen here and try to make the WORT Block Party this Sunday ).  Also of note is the lawsuit over school funding in California and the continued need to advocate for the Harkin Education jobs proposal.

Above, I said there is still work to do.  It isn’t only because to the previous trends in corporate taxation it is because Wisconsin’s revenue and school finance systems are broken, and till they are fixed school cuts will continue all around the state.  Here are some recent examples:

Five Marshfield teachers cut to balance district’s budget

Manitowoc School Board OKs teacher, aide layoffs

36 teachers will receive layoff notices

Teachers under fire as districts deal with tight budgets

Budget, teacher cuts create turmoil for districts in area

School district bankruptcies seen as possible

Much more work to do.  Get started!.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Arizona Voters Approve Sales Tax for Education!

A referendum to increase the sales tax by 1 cent, with 2/3 of the revenue designated for education passed in Arizona yesterday, with a stunning 64% of the popular vote.

If conservative Arizona can do this, why can’t we even get Penny for Kids introduced in Wisconsin?  Sign the Penny for Kids petition and drop your legislator a line asking them that question.


New York Times report; Reuters reportExpect More Arizona (vote yes campaign).

Thomas J. Mertz

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