Category Archives: Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution

Been down so long it looks like up

The dbs – “Ups and Downs” (click to listen or download)

This story  — “Bonduel school taxes going down: Increase in state aid one of reasons,” by Lee Pulaski in today’s Shawano Leader made me think of Richard Farina’s novel Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me.  That’s what has been going on with school funding in Wisconsin and around the nation, the cuts have been so regular and difficult that any relief, no matter how small, appears like forward movement.  The reality,  — in the Bonduel district, in Wisconsin and in most of the United States  —  is that these small steps forward don’t come close to making up for the giant steps backward of the last few years.  The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal, Senator Scott Fitzgerald and others seize upon these small and local steps, but we can’t let their anecdotes distract from the big picture.  Wisconsin Sate Senator John Lehman has promised to convene the Senate Education Committee to “to examine how these 1.6 billion dollar cuts have hurt Wisconsin Schools.” That’s’ a good start, but more is needed.  We need more than examination, we need workable plans to fund our schools at a level and in a manner that puts the needs of our students first (see more on this below, at the bottom.  Update: The agenda for the hearing is out — August 31 is the date — and it looks like they’ll just be documenting the destruction and previewing future damage.).   The tools — if, as you should, you include in the tools the massive cuts in state aid to education which are central to the Fitzwalker game plan– aren’t working to provide students with the Opportunities to Learn that they deserve.

For the national scene see “New School Year Brings Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools,” By Phil Oliff and Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Here is one graph from that report.

Notice Wisconsin is the fourth worst state in this chart.  That may improve this year because of a one-time $50 per pupil aid.  But according to the July aid estimates from DPI, only 155 districts in Wisconsin can expect an increase in state aid the coming year, while 267 will see a decrease.  Bonduel is one of the lucky ones.  That’s what seems to be at the center of today’s story (it appears that they took a big hit last year and thatrevenues from 4K are kicking in too, like in Madison).

Peter Behnke, the district’s administrator, gushed good news for the taxpayers, who can expect a 3.3 percent decrease in their school property taxes due to an estimated $250,000 increase in state aid, to about $5.6 million.

“State aid is actually increasing for the first time in years, and that’s always a good thing,” Behnke said.

But what is missing is that the aid doesn’t come close to restoring state funding levels to what they were three years ago and leaves state aid per member for 2012-13 an estimated $671.55 belowwhat it was in 2007-08 (and in fact aid increased in both 2009-10 and 2010-11).

Here are some charts.  Note that the Bonduel district budget information is not accessible on the district website, charts were prepared using information from the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, found herehere here, here, here, here, and here.  For the 2012-13 per member, the 2011-12 membership was used to estimate.

The first is total state equalization aid to Bonduel.

The second is per member aid.

That anyone familiar with this history can “gush” over the 2012-13 projections is evidence of how far down we have been pushed.

 We need to push back, up and out of this hole..  State Superintendent Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future is a start,  but it won’t be enough unless it includes an influx of new state revenues.  That’s one reason why I think something like Penny for Kids is more necessary now than ever.  Penny for Kids would provide about $850,000 annually in new revenues for our schools.  I also think that Penny for Kids inclusion of a real aid to schools educating students in poverty is essential to addressing the gaps in achievement that plague our state and district (Fair Funding includes increased state aid to districts based on student poverty, but no new money or taxing authority only property tax relief, so this will supplant, not supplement).

After all the slings and arrows, the cuts, the failed recall, the still slow economy…I know many are like the District Administrator in Bonduel, ready to accept minor improvements as cause for celebration.  I think we can’t let down look like up, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, keep on pushing, not forget what is right just because it seems out-of-reach.  I hope Senator Lehman shares that attitude when he convenes his Committee, I hope he remembers the ideals of the Pope-Roberts Beske Resolution (he was a signatory).  Here they are as a reminder:

1. Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels;

2. State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country;

3. Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment;

4. A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes, derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income…

These are still things worth working for.  Just thinking about them lifts me up.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, Equity, finance, Gimme Some Truth, National News, Pennies for Kids, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Scott Walker

An Endorsement for Andy Heidt — #1 of 7 of the 48th Assembly District Candidates on Education

On July 12 the voters in the 48th Assembly District — covering the East side of Madison, Monona, McFarland and the Town of Dunn  (map here)– will choose a Representative to the State Assembly to replace now County Executive Joe Parisi.  The candidates are (alphabetical, linked to their web sites):  Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.

I don’t live in the District, but like all progressives in the state, I have a stake in the race.  Whoever is elected will be in a “safe seat” which means that they have the opportunity to do more than be a consistent vote; they can push the envelope by introducing and promoting significant progressive legislation, the kind of legislation that makes overly cautious party leaders uncomfortable.  With the Republicans in charge, the rhetoric from the Democrats has been heartening, but it should not be forgotten that when they controlled the state from 2008-10 they did nothing to reform school funding except cut $300 million and raise the levy credit, did nothing on the minimum wage, failed to pass the Green Jobs bill, didn’t finish the Union contracts when they could, did much to little in progressive revenue reform…the list goes on.   In this race I think people should look beyond opposing Walker to what kind of legislator the candidates will be when the Democrats are in control.There is no shortage in the legislature of “pragmatic progressives” who can find 1,000 reasons not to do the right things; there is a dire need for courageous leaders who will be steadfast in their advocacy both behind caucus doors and in public.   Andy Heidt will be that kind of leader, that’s why he has my endorsement and why I’ve been helping with his campaign.

To back up this assertion (and as a service to AMPS readers and voters in the 48th), I’m offering a series of posts  examining what the candidates have and have not said about education issues, especially the core issue of school finance, and to a lesser extent the related issues of revenue reform (based primarily on their websites and on internet searches).  In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that I’m acquainted with three of the candidates and believe I have met at least three others and that some things that I know about them or impressions that have not appeared in campaign statements or biographies are part of the analysis.  If anyone, including the campaigns has anything to add or dispute, please use the comments to bring it to my attention.  This time the order is  from who I consider the strongest to who I consider the weakest (Andy Heidt, Vicky Selkowe, , Bethany Ordaz, Fred Arnold Chris Taylor, Katherine Kocs and Dave de Felice — this may change as I do more research).

Andy Heidt

By my criteria, Andy Heidt is far and a way the best candidate.  Throughout his campaign — beginning with his announcement (covered here by John Nichols) — he  has done more than decry the actions of the GOP, he’s offered positive policy alternatives and pointed to the failure of other Democrats to enact these and other positive proposals.  As Nichols put it:

Heidt’s argument that we must do more than merely prevent Walker from implementing his agenda. We must recognize that the crisis Walker is exploiting has its roots in the failure of Republican and Democratic administrations and legislators to recognize that Wisconsin cannot maintain services and public education if our politicians keep giving away tax breaks to multinational corporations and the wealthy.

Nowhere has this been clearer (or in my head more important) than in his statements on education funding.  Heidt has issued one press release  a “Keeping the Promise” plan (and here, scroll down) for school finance reform ((I helped draft the plan) and a short video.

In the press release, Heidt recognizes the importance of education and shows a “can do” spirit:

There are no more important investments than those we make in our children. They are the future and each generation has an obligation to provide the next with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. With a fair revenue system, there is no reason we cannot return to the Wisconsin tradition of supporting quality public education.

He also notes past cuts to education under the Democrats  and the inadequacy of their recent counter-proposal to the Republican decimation of our schools.  No other candidate has been explicit on this.

More importantly, no other candidate has offered anything like the detailed “Keeping the Promise” plan, nor the pledges to action contained in that plan.

“Keeping the Promise” has two parts.  First it calls for “immediate action” to address the crises created by 18 years under a broken system, significant cuts in state funding in the 2009-11 budget and the recent Republican measures.  These include enacting the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Penny for Kids proposal, expanding sales taxes, shifting the levy credits to the equalization formula,  rolling back vouchers, fully funding SAGE, allowing for growth of the revenue limits based on CPI or the state GDP, taking the profit motive out of virtual schooling and reinstating educator union rights.   The second part build on this by initiating comprehensive reform based on “based on the shared principles of the WAES Adequacy Plan the School Finance Network Plan and the 2007-2008 Assembly Joint Resolution 35.” These are (from AJR 35):

  • Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels.”
  • State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country.”
  • Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment.”
  • A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income.

Heidt vows  to “work tirelessly” to see that this reform is achieved prior to the next biennial budget cycle.

The sad history of AJR 35 (see here for AMPS posts covering that history)demonstrates the need for someone like Heidt in the Assembly.   When the resolution was introduced, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Governorship, but not the Assembly.  Over 60 legislators signed on and the promise of comprehensive school funding reform was part of the 2008 campaign to “Take Back the Assembly.”  The Democrats did take back the Assembly and once they did AJR 35 and school funding reform disappeared.   Gone.  Silence.  When some of us who wanted them to keep their promises spoke up, we were told to be quiet because speaking or acting on this difficult issue might jeopardize their electoral prospects in November 2010.   I for one didn’t keep quiet, but I’m not taking the blame for the electoral failures of 2010.  Instead I’ll offer an alternative analysis — it isn’t  the people like me who called for action who are to blame, it is the legislators who didn’t act and didn’t want to be reminded of their failure to act (I said much the same well before the November 2010 elections).  Many of those silent, silencing  and inactive legislators are now supporting other candidates who share their priorities and outlook in the race for the 48th.  I’m supporting Andy Heidt.

[Note — I originally conceived this as one long post, covering all the candidates, but that didn’t work out, so I’m doing a series.  This is #1 of 7. — TJM]

Thomas J. Mertz



Filed under "education finance", Accountability, AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Scott Walker, Take Action, Uncategorized

The Losing Hand — Madison Schools and the State Budget

how-to-play-omaha-poker-1Susan Troller has a story — “Madison schools — the biggest loser” — on state and local school finance in today’s Capital Times.  I’m off to the “Books not Bombs” action being held in conjunction with President Obama’s visit this morning, so no time for extensive commentary.  Just some lengthy excerpts and a quick observation that although I miss the days when there were two daily newspapers and two reporters on the schools beat, I am glad to see the Cap Times doing some longer and bigger picture stories.  Read the whole thing.

When property tax bills go out in December, taxpayers will be hit with a $92 increase in property taxes on a $250,000 home, far higher than the modest $2.50 increase the board had predicted in May. Next year looks even worse, with a budget gap now predicted to be somewhere between $23 million and $25 million for the Madison school district, said Erik Kass, the assistant superintendent for business services. With the prospect of steep cuts in education as well as the potential for a new round of tax increases, the road ahead looks rocky.

What happened? How did a formula designed to “equalize” resources among disparate school districts in Wisconsin create some of the unkindest cuts for Madison, the state’s second-largest urban school district, with nearly half of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch? And where was the help from powerful Democrats in state government who had championed school funding reform when they were the minority party in the Legislature?

The swift turnabout in Madison has left Madison School Board members bitter and exasperated. They’re deeply frustrated with the arcane shared-revenue formula that hits Madison especially hard and with 15 years of revenue caps that have forced school districts to pass budgets that couldn’t keep up with the rising costs.

As Arlene Silveira, Madison School Board president, puts it: “We’ve been talking for years about how this system is horribly broken, yet no one seems able to really step forward to change it.”

Madison, with 24,496 students, 47 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, will this year get just over $51.5 million in general state aid. The district got hit especially hard this time around because, unlike much of the rest of the state, its property values remained relatively stable despite the slump in the housing market. It did have some company in this regard. The Middleton-Cross Plains School District in Dane County, property-rich districts around northern Wisconsin lakes, and suburban areas in the greater Milwaukee area were also socked with the maximum 15 percent reduction in state aid because of their high property values.

But unlike many suburban districts with high property values, Madison has other challenges, including a significant population of low-income students, English language learners and children with disabilities. The cost to educate these children is high, partly because of state and federal mandates that describe in detail what’s required to provide an adequate education.

Unfortunately for Madison, the state general aid formula doesn’t account for these high-needs students when calculating who gets what. Meanwhile, the percentage of funding available from government through “categorical” aids targeted at these students has been steadily dropping for more than a decade.

Madison School Board members are feeling particularly stung by this year’s budget cuts because, the economy notwithstanding, they thought this year might be different. After years of Republican control of the Statehouse, not only were Democrats in control of the Legislature and governor’s office, but Madison-area lawmakers were in charge of the budget process. As co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing panel, Sen. Mark Miller and Rep. Mark Pocan were arguably in the most powerful positions to influence the process.

But board members say they got little help from Democratic leaders, both on the specific problems surrounding the 2009-2010 budget and on broader questions about fixing the state’s long-term school funding.

“I understand that the economy is terrible, but for years we heard that the reason we had this school funding mess was because we had Republicans in charge who were basically content with the status quo,” says board member Marj Passman. “I had expected so much change and leadership on school funding issues with a Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature. Honestly, we’ve got Rep. Pocan and Sen. Miller as co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee and Democratic majorities in both houses! Frankly, it’s been a huge disappointment. I’d love to see that little beer tax raised and have it go to education.”

Adds Silveira: “There’s been a great deal of talk about the importance of education and improving the system but very little real action that really helps us do a better job of meeting both student needs and taxpayer needs.”

She says all local municipal officials bear a particularly heavy burden, forced to cut budgets and services and go back on their promises to hold the line on property taxes.

“By the time we found out about what a huge hit we were taking in aid from the state, we were already close to the end of our fiscal year and were locked into most contracts and programs for the school year. Basically, our hands were tied,” Silveira says. “The trouble with the politicians is that they tell us that they won’t raise taxes, but that we can. It puts us in a horrible position with our own community, which has been so supportive of our schools. It doesn’t seem fair.”

Although Pocan is sympathetic to the frustrations of Madison School Board members, he says he and other legislators must balance the needs of the entire state. He agrees with Silveira and others that the funding system needs a “complete overhaul” but says that kind of change would likely come with a huge price tag, which some school funding experts suggest could reach a billion dollars.

“Given the current economy, that’s not feasible,” he says. “I’d love to do something that helps Madison, but the system is so complex with 20 or 30 threads all together that if you just pull one, something else unravels.”

But when it comes to changing the law, little of substance has happened, reflecting the political difficulties of bridging deep divisions between what various school districts and communities want, as well as between various school stakeholders, from the teachers union to school board members to taxpayer groups.

Pope-Roberts has been involved with education issues, including funding reform, since she was elected to the Assembly in 2002.

She says Wisconsin’s current dismal economy constrains even those who are most committed to education and most dedicated to exploring a range of ideas.

“It’s very bad out there in the state. I think there may actually be some school districts that simply won’t have enough money to operate after this year.”

But Pocan and Pope-Roberts say they see glimmers of hope in some new, broad-based coalitions that are coming together to work on school funding reform.

For example, the School Finance Network includes representatives from the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association and the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, among others.

Despite political differences that often put them at fierce odds in the past, as a group they agree that the current funding system is divisive, unsustainable and the reason many school districts lurch from budget to budget, with expenses rising faster than allowable tax increases.

In its literature, the network notes that education has a profound long-term impact on Wisconsin’s economy and, that, if current conditions continue, it won’t be long before a number of school districts will be insolvent.

Thomas Mertz, spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, says the state funding system also has the unintended consequence of dividing communities instead of bringing them together through their schools. “Under the current system, the state shifts much of the tax burden and the blame to the local level,” he says. “Yeah, it’s difficult for anyone to raise taxes in this economy but the current system is broken.”

Mertz, who teaches at Edgewood College and is a Madison district parent and longtime observer of public school issues, says his group of parents and concerned citizens is advocating for a sales tax increase – a program it describes as Pennies for Kids. While the proposal is not in a final form, he says he is hopeful the state Legislature will consider a 1 percent hike in the state sales tax.

“A penny boost in the sales tax would bring us in line with surrounding states and would provide $830 million a year in aid for education,” Mertz says.

The extra pennies would surely be welcomed in the coming years. With approval of the 2009-2010 budget under its belt, the Madison School Board is already beginning to focus on ways to address the larger shortfalls predicted for the following year.

And so are other districts around the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that some suburban districts in the Milwaukee area are already hearing from residents unhappy about double-digit increases in local tax levies, and are considering potential program changes like combining athletic teams.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Uncategorized

3 State Senators and 3 Rolling Stones’ Songs

3 and 3

Statements by three Wisconsin State Senators on education in the 2009-2011 biennial state budget brought to mind three songs by the Rolling Stones, so I’m offering some special dedications.   Read, listen, think, act (click on their names to contact the Senators).

Before getting to the excerpts from the statements and the songs I want to say that whatever my opinion of the statements themselves, I want to applaud the Senators for talking about this in public.  It takes a little courage to address these difficult issues and if nobody is talking no progress can be made.

Senator Mark Miller:

“[T]he state’s complex school finance formula…can’t be changed easily.”

In the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Rolling Stones , “It’s Not Easy” (click to listen or download).

We all know it is complex and that change isn’t easy.  As noted in regard to Miller’s fuller statement, change requires work and that work is the responsibility of the State Senate and Assembly.

Senator Dale Schultz:

“I thought protecting education should have been the top priority in the budget, but instead students and property taxpayers are shortchanged with less state aid,” Schultz said.”…

“State school aid is important for our kids and for property taxpayers and it should have been a higher priority.”

State budget hits local schools and property taxpayers.

The Rolling Stones, “I Am Waiting” (click to listen or download).

Senator Schultz has been in his position since 1991; before that he served a decade in the Assembly.  By the standards generally applied to Republicans in Wisconsin, he has been considered a “friend of public education.”  This is mostly because he often says something close to the right things.  Words are nice: actions are needed.  Leadership would be even better.  I am waiting.

Senator Kathleen Vinehout:

“We don’t have the money to do school funding reform,” goes conventional wisdom around the Capitol. It costs money to fix the funding formula and money is in very short supply.

Given the state’s fiscal condition, many considered any reform of school funding impossible. But in our Senate District schools simply can’t wait….

As one man from Pepin said, “We have got to start somewhere and we have got to start right now.”

Fixing School Funding One Step at a Time.

The Rolling Stones, “You Can Make It if You Try” (click to listen or download).

This last song goes out to all the Senators and Members of the Assembly, but Senator Vinehout seems to display more of the “can do,” “get-er’-done” spirit than most who work at the Capitol (including elected officials, staff and lobbyists).  As the Miller quote indicates, many will always find reasons why progress and reform can’t happen.  I believe it can and must happen.  The first step is trying.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Worth Reading

Bernard Zakheim WPA Mural

Bernard Zakheim WPA Mural (click for more information)

The School Finance Network (SFN) and the Madison Board of Education released reactions to the education provisions of the recent state budget today. Both are worth reading.

The SFN release seeks “Truth in Budgeting” by presenting some “not-so-well-known facts.” The first should be familiar to AMPS readers:

Not-so-well-known Fact #1: The ongoing difficulty of school boards and administrators in making ends meet is not the result of a lack of oversight or innovativeness. Quite the contrary is true. Most schools are in trouble due to 16 years of revenue controls that have curtailed their ability to adequately deal with basic costs, such as fuel, textbooks, technology and utilities.

After 16 years of state-imposed budgetary controls and stagnant or declining state support, boards and administrators have had to make significant budget cuts. School boards are now in the position of having to eliminate critical educational programs, lay off more staff, and further defer necessary school maintenance projects in order to balance their books. These cuts will have long term negative consequences for our schools and our students, and for the state as a whole.

#2 delineates the combined effects of the 3.1% cut in state aid and the reduction in revenue cap growth.

The last three bring to light a little understood aspect of school finance in Wisconsin: The designation of state funding for property tax relief as school funding. I’m going to quote these in full:

Not-so-well known Fact #3: While most Wisconsinites take great pride in our state’s schools, in the last 15 years Wisconsin’s national rank for per-pupil expenditures has declined from 11th to 19th. This is partly because $800 million dollars that is distributed as state tax credits is categorized as spending for education, but it isn’t actually spent on education. So, while many think the state is picking up two-thirds of the costs of our schools, the level of state support has steadily declined, and today our schools actually receive only a little more than one-half of their support from the state. As a result,greater responsibility for funding our schools is being shouldered by local property taxpayers.

No-so-well-known Fact #4: If $900 million in property tax relief credits included as spending for public education were actually allotted to Wisconsin’s 864,000 school children, per-pupil expenditures would be $1,040 more than they are today, and the state would be ranked 12th nationally in per-pupil expenditures, rather than 19th.

Not-so-well-known Fact #5: To make matters worse, the most recently passed state budget added monies to a “poverty aid program” for schools, but schools do not get an additional dime from this, since the program is actually a tax relief program for residents in districts with low-income students.

More on the levy credits from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau here.

The Madison release is a letter to legislators, seeking understanding and aid for the situation the Madison Metropolitan School District must address due to the recent state budget. Here is their summation:

We are hard-pressed to find the silver-lining of the dark cloud of a budget that presents itself. A cut in the allowable revenue limit increase from $275 per pupil to $200 is a loss of nearly $2 million in resources for Madison classrooms. Additionally, the district will lose nearly $1 million in categorical aid.

More problematic is the $9.23 million loss in general school aids – a cut of over 15% when compared to 2008-09. A loss of this magnitude only re-emphasizes our call for comprehensive reform of school funding in Wisconsin.

The district has cut over $60 million in programs and services for students since the inception of state-imposed revenue limits. While we continue to examine all aspects of our local budget for efficiencies and improvements, the loss of nearly $12 million in resources from the state can not be made up by improving bus routes.

Our options are to eviscerate programs, eliminate more opportunities for students and untenably large classes, or use the local property tax levy to fill the gaping hole left by the state. Regardless of what we choose to do, in the final analysis, more cuts must be made.

Digging further into the details of the Madison situation reveals that the biggest problem under the current system is that Madison is a high spending, high property wealth district at a time when state investments in education are falling further behind costs. Because of this combination, the current system and funding levels hit Madison hard.

I believe in the concept of equalization, but the concept must start with a commitment by the state to provide a foundation of adequate resources for all districts and schools (not necessarily a “foundation plan,” but the equivalent in support; Wisconsin’s system has been called a “backwards foundation plan“).

Both the timing and the size of the adjustments Madison must make are difficult, to say the least.

SFN and the Madison Board close with calls for a comprehensive fix.


Throughout the state, there is a growing sense that something needs to be done to fix Wisconsin’s broken school funding system. We could start by getting the facts straight on school spending, including how much of that spending is supported by the state.

In these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever that our students receive a quality education, one that prepares them for their future jobs, and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The failure to provide our children with a quality education threatens not only their future, but the future well-being and prosperity of our entire state.

MMSD Board of Education:

Two years ago, every member of our delegation (and nearly every Democrat in the Legislature) supported Assembly Joint Resolution 35, which called for changes to the state funding formula by July 1, 2009. While the deadline has passed, the goals of AJR 35 remain laudable. We stand ready to work with you and other members of the education community to move our state’s K-
12 system forward.

As I said earlier this week, “time to get to work.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Take Action

Senator Miller Gets One Thing Right

finger-pointing-timeSenator Mark Miller (D-Monona) issued a statement giving his spin on education funding in the recently passed Wisconsin budget.  It is a confusing statement, in that Miller seems to all but  ignore the continued shift in funding from the state to local property taxpayers (the old 2/3 formula is long gone, we are now struggling to stay above 60% and if the levy credit is treated as what it is — property tax relief — the real level of state support is hovering a little above 50%) to concentrate on the last minute, behind closed doors insertion that was intended to limit the cuts in state aid to any school districts to 10% or less (Quadric Aid anyone?).

Things didn’t work out as planned,  resulting in some 100 districts (including MMSD) taking hits of 15% (see this editorial from the Appleton Post Crescent for more).  As far as I can tell the $4,519 in lost aid to MMSD that Senator Miller refers to is the portion of the loss due to the 10%/Quadric Aid legislation.  In total MMSD is experiencing a $9 million shift in funding that must be filled by local resources.

I hope to have a chance to write more about Senator Miller’s figures and other budget numbers soon.

For now I want to point to one thing that Senator Miller is correct about.  Here is the quote:

These large cuts are primarily a function of the school aid formula…

I’d add that they are also a function of the reduction in education investments and shifts to local property taxes, but all that can be broadly considered part of the “school aid formula.”

The good news is that Senator Miller as a co-sponsor of the Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution is on record saying that Wisconsin’s school funding system needs to be  changed and that it should have:

1. Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels;

2. State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country;

3. Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment;

4. A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes, derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income;

The current funding system is inadequate in all these areas and the recent budget moved us in the wrong direction on all of these.

Time to get to work.

All of us can point the finger at the  “school aid formula,” but only Senator Miller and his colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly have the power to change it.

Remind them, please.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Take Action

Walk on the Child’s Side Video Preview

The video is of Randy Kunsch of the Phillips School District testifying at the 2007 hearing on the Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution.  He was one of the organizers and participants in the first Walk on the Child’s Side in 1999 and will be speaking at the June 16th 10th Anniversary Rally.

Here is the full line up of speakers:

Here is the basic information:

What: 10th anniversary Walk on the Child’s Side

Who: All Wisconsinites who care about their public schools

Where: Walk from the UW-Madison Library Mall to the steps of the State Capitol

When: 11 a.m. on Tuesday , June 16; Rally at Noon , State Capitol

What: 10th anniversary Walk on the Child’s Side

More details here.

See you there.

Thomas J. Mertz

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

WAES School-Funding Update, the Week of May 11, 2009


Click on the image to visit the Wisconsin Alliance for Excelent Schools

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.  Headlines/index below, click here for a pdf of the full update, click on the linked items for related posts on AMPS

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Take Action

Schools, Prisons and Accountability


Since last week’s Assembly Education Committee hearing on the School Finance Network plan (video here, more on AMPS here), I’ve been thinking about schools, prisons and accountability.

Early in the hearing, Chair Sondy Pope-Roberts reminded the committee and the hundreds who packed the hearing room about the comparative direct costs of education and imprisonment. I believe she cited a figure of $30,000 per year to imprison an individual. The current cost of education per student is in the $10,000 per year range; the SFN proposals and other plans to preserve, expand and improve educational opportunities in Wisconsin would add at absolute most $1,500 per student, per year (I’ll argue from this high figure rather than quibble). Indirect costs and benefits should also be considered. As Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad has often said (paraphrase), “We need to consider what it actually costs to educate students and we need to consider what is costs to not educate students.” See also this letter from the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram about jail construction costs and school budgets and the work of the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University

Later in the hearing, the representatives of the School Finance Network were pushed hard on “accountability.” The SFN proposal includes some good guidelines to work toward a better accountability system and calls for a five-year review (pp. 11-12).

There was some confusion at the hearing about the confidence in the “what works/best practices” models that served as a basis for the SFN calculations and the reluctance to guarantee results. SFN attempts to direct resources to where they are most needed and will do the most good; it isn’t just a matter of “more money” it is sufficient money to preserve and extend “best practices.” Will this lead to predictable improvements on various benchmarks? Yes and no.

Very simply, there are no guarantees in education or social science research and implementation. You’d have to be a fool to ask for or promise a rise of x points on any standardized test or other measure.

We have good research and data on many things that have improved outcomes in the past; we have good research and data on many things that have harmed outcomes in the past; we have less good data on many things in both categories; we have no “this will work 100% of the time” guarantees.

The SFN team is confident that if the plan is implemented data will show improvements in many ways and welcomes a five-year review. This is as much as can be expected given the state of knowledge.

[Sherman Dorn’s recent post, “Margins for error in policy” hits some related ideas.]

There was also some talk at the hearing of five years being too long to wait for “accountability.” I don’t know how to respond to that, except to say that I believe five years is too short (see below for a little more).

As part of the budget process the Wisconsin Legislature is also considering changes in early prisoner release laws to save money. A recent report pegs the growth of incarceration spending in Wisconsin at $500 million in the last decade and attributes much of this to “truth in sentencing” laws .

All this got me thinking about some questions:

  • Why don’t we require “accountability” when we build a new jail, supermax prison or change sentencing laws?
  • What would that accountability include; how would you figure the costs and benefits?
  • How do you quantify “feeling safer” or even crime rates in dollars and cents?
  • How do you “cost out” the family disruptions and pain caused by incarceration in your calculations?
  • How do “cost out” the fact that prisoners are not contributing economically or otherwise to society?
  • How does recidivism fit in the analysis?

You get the idea. One more:

  • Why don’t we require “accountability” for every tax break, road construction dollar, loophole, economic development initiative, …war…like our elected officials always seem to want from educational investments?

I actually have one answer for the last. Elections are the accountability mechanism for most of these.

Too bad our state officials won’t take that responsibility with educational investment, just like they won’t take the responsibility to fix the broken school funding system they created; nor are they willing to give that responsibility to local elected school boards by lifting the revenue caps.

Last thought. I said above that five years is too short. Let’s implement the SFN plan and make incarceration rates in five years and 10 years and fifteen years and twenty years part of the “accountability” analysis. Let’s also reassert things like “democratic ideals and full individual development countering ‘individual economic rapaciousness’” in our educational goals and make those part of the “accountability” too.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, education, Elections, finance, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance

School Finance Network Assembly Hearing, Tuesday April 21, Be There!


The hearing is on the School Finance Network plan, but it is more generally an important opportunity to show support for comprehensive school finance reform.  The lawmakers need to know we care.  Be there if you can!

Details here and below.  The Basics: Tuesday April 21 at 1:00 PM at the Wisconsin State Capitol in room 413 north.

School Finance Network Reform Plan Subject of April 21st Hearing at the Capitol

Statewide coalition of more than 100,000 members announces support for changes to public school funding

Members of the Assembly Education Committee have scheduled a hearing for April 21st at 1 p.m., to consider the School Finance Network’s funding reform plan.

The meeting will be held at the Wisconsin State Capitol in room 413 north, and is open to the public. In addition to members of the SFN coalition, parents, students, educators, and taxpayers from around the state will speak.

The School Finance Network is a statewide coalition of educational, religious, and community-oriented organizations, committed to strengthening the funding system for our public schools.

The School Finance Network plan details how public school districts statewide would benefit through changes that help children with special needs, disabilities and from low income families. It also includes updates to the funding formula for rural districts and those with declining enrollment. The plan also helps maintain classes that help young people to learn skills that can benefit their communities.

The School Finance Network is made up of the following groups: AFT–Wisconsin, the Fair Aid Coalition, the School Administrators Alliance, the South-eastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and the Wisconsin PTA

What: Assembly Education Committee hearing on the School Finance Network plan.

When: April 21st at 1 p.m.

Where: Wisconsin State Capitol, Room 413 North.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized