Category Archives: Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution

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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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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“Do It Again?” Another Referendum for Salem


The Kinks, “Do It Again” (click to listen or download)

On Thursday, the Salem Board of Education voted to try again for an operating referendumOperating referenda for the district failed in June 2008, September 2008 and February of 2009.  The September referendum lost by a fairly large margin, but the June and February votes were 269 to 235 and 654 to 694.

Those working for the referenda must feel like Sisyphus forever rolling the stone up the hill, but never getting to the top, or Tantalus, with sustenance always just out of reach.  Unlike those mythological figures, the school supporters and the children of Salem have done nothing to deserve their cruel fate.

Their decision to go to referenda again indicates that they are unwilling to accept the devastating cuts in store for their schools.  I can’t blame them.

Whether this one passes or not, an inordinate amount of time and energy will have been spent trying to secure adequate funding for the district.  This is time that should have been spent educating the students.  That’s what happens when you live in a state with a broken system for funding education.  Sign on with the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and the School Finance Network to work to fix this.

Back to Salem.  Advocates continue to make a strong case, reminding all that strong schools are essential for healthy communities.

Proponents of the board have said that increase is needed to save programs and staff, to provide opportunities for children, and ultimately to protect property values in the community. If the school system goes into decline, they argue, the whole community will ultimately be affected.

“I’m scared too, we took a huge pay cut in my family. My wife was out of work,” said Scottie Washington. But he believes families will leave the community and home values will decline if programs are cut. “If this referendum doesn’t pass this is going to be a ghost town,” he said.

The ask this time will be for a three-year non recurring referendum at $1.16 million a year.  The vote will be at a special election on April 28.  This looks like the same measure that was voted down in February.

I haven’t seen a new presentation of potential cuts yes, but the ones form the earlier campaign are probably still in play.

clcik on image for pdf

click on image for pdf

There is much more Salem referendum related material here, including the slideshow embedded below.

It should be noted that the major issue in Salem is and has been class size.  Smaller class sizes is one of the “best practices” that almost everyone agrees helps all children learn and almost every agrees is particularly important for children from poor or difficult backgrounds.  When we know what works, we should make sure that the resources are there to do what works.

I admire the tenacity of the Salem Board and wish them the best.  Let’s follow their example at the state level and “get’r done” on school funding reform (again, join WAES, join SFN).

Thomas J. Mertz

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School Finance Network Releases Funding Reform Proposals


The School Finance Network (SFN), a coalition of nine organizations “committed to strengthening our system of public school funding,” will be presenting their plan to the public and the media today and Wednesday (2/3 and 2/4).  Their website is up.

Locally, there will be a press conference with Madison School Board Member Beth Moss and State Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts at today at 12:30 p.m., Glacier Edge Elementary School, Verona.

SFN has been at work on this for a long time.  They have produced a very good set of proposals.  Check it out, get involved, take action.

CAST is working with SFN coalition members and others to make sure that school funding is addressed in a positive way this legislative session.  Contact CAST:

More here from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and an earlier statement from Rep. Pope-Roberts here.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Referenda Results – We Are Not alone #24

Of the 12 referendum questions on the ballot yesterday —  8 operating and  4 to issue debt, — 8 passed (5 operating and 3 debt).  Of the operating referenda that passed, all were nonrecurring.  That means that when the authority expires, these districts will be headed “off the cliff.”  Thankfully, Madison had the wisdom to facilitate long-term planning with a recurring referendum.

One by one, in reverse alphabetical order.

A “big” win in Weston (after a close loss in April) — 482 to 308 — on a three-year non recurring in amounts for $210, 000 to $575,000.  This means that for the next three years Weston will survive and be able to ““keep the books and equipment in the budget year after year.” Got that — in order for a school district to have books, they need the approval of the voters at a referendum. Are you listening Governor Doyle? Are you listening State Legislators? Are you listening voters as you look toward your November ballots?  Click the links and try to get the ears of our elected officials.

Shawano got approval to go ahead with the $24.9 Million construction of an Early Childhood – Grade 2 facility and upgrades and additions to other buildings by a vote of 2,186 to 1,842.  “The children of Shawano won tonight,” said Lincoln Elementary principal Troy Edwards.

Bad news from Salem, where $1.16 Million recurring referendum went down 677 to 286.  Time for more cuts.

Board members will be forced to cut staff, said board vice president Larry Kamin. The layoff notices will go out in February…

Officials have said as many as seven full-time teachers could be cut, increasing class sizes above state-recommended minimums. Combined-grade classes could also become a reality, officials said.

Salem serves about 1,100 students.  The equivalent loss for Madison would be about 153 teachers.

Tiny Rubicon’s non recurring $150,000 a year measure passed 132 to 91.  See this previous post for a list of past cuts and what was at stake.

The news for Rhinelander was not so good.  Voters there defeated both the request to issue $23.35 Million in debt to renovate, add to and improve existing buildings and build a new facility (3,180 to 3,135) and a recurring referendum in the amount of $225,000 for operations ($3,204 to 3,105).  This was a scaled back version of a referendum that failed in April.  Prior to the vote The Rhinelander Daily News editorialized:

We believe this community needs to reinvest in our schools so that today’s students get an education that fits today’s world; so students get an education that provides them with options and opportunities. We need an educational system that students can take pride in and that the community can grow around.

and characterized the vote as “an opportunity to do great things, for the schools and the community.”

It is now a missed opportunity.  How many other opportunities have been missed in our state because voters don’t fully understand that providing quality education requires successful referenda?  How many opportunities have been missed because Boards of Education are reluctant to even ask the voters (or, as in case of Madison, are reluctant to ask for the funding required to maintain our present level or restore valued programs and services that have been cut in the past)?   How many have been missed because our elected officials lack the will to enact a way of funding schools that is based on educational needs? Way too many.

Neillsville voters understood what was at stake and approved five-year non recurring authority at $300,000 a year by a vote of 557 to 481.

A 959 to 866 victory in Montello means they can take a step back from the edge of do-or-die finances.  Failure of the two-year non recurring $950,000 measure would likely have set them on the road to dissolution.  This breathless video report from WISC-TV tells part of the story and doesn’t even tell that part very well.

I don’t know which is worse, breezy or breathless.  The details of school funding are complex (see here for an accessable introduction), but one fact is simple: Each year, without referenda,  the (nearly) mandated costs increase faster than the allowed revenues.  How hard would it be to convey that information every time referenda are the topic?  Apparently too hard for most local members of the fourth estate.  In addition to omitting that basic and essential information, the video report neglects to clearly state that when the non recurring authority runs out, Montello will likely be back on the edge and mis-characterizes consolidation as a panacea.  By most accounts, consolidation buys a year or two away from crisis while the erosion created by our “going-out-of-business” way Wisconsin funds education continues to eat away at the future of our children and our state.

The referendum in Mineral Point also went down.  The vote on the five-year non recurring referendum was 599-328.  For a guide to the damage this no vote will lead to, see here.

The story in Deerfield is much more encouraging.  The six-year non recurring referendum passed 422 to 265.  as I’ve noted repeatedly, the community involvement process in Deerfield was exemplary.

“We had a very active group of citizens that came together eight months ago and spent eight months looking at all the needs of the district. They were vital in terms of putting this plan together. They came to the board with the referendum plan and the board backed that plan unanimously,” [Superintendent Michelle] Jensen said.

Small class sizes will be kept, technology upgraded, plumbing HVAC and electrical work will be done and there will be a new track (replacing one built 30 years ago).  These are basic things that a district should be able to do without having to hold a referendum.

Colby will get the greenbacks for green schools they requested.  The vote on that debt measure was 696 to 287.  Another vote to refinance retirement obligations also passed, 738 to 228.  The Marshfield News Herald reports:

“These referendum questions are focused on a win for everybody, and I think that’s why they were successful,” said Colby Superintendent Terry Downen. “We certainly hope to save programs as a result of softening the blow of increasing costs by having these additional savings in place.”

[Neillsville Superintendent John] Gaier said if the state’s school funding formula remains unchanged, every district in Wisconsin, including Neillsville, will continue asking taxpayers for more money.

Madison media, pay attention.  Notice how simple it was to give some of the bigger picture by  including that quote from Superintendent Gaier.

Congratulations to all the winners, my most sincere empathy to the losers and to all, let’s fix the system that requires these referenda, let’s “Get’er done.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, Referenda, referendum, Take Action, Uncategorized, We Are Not Alone

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