Category Archives: Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution

Senate Hearing Video — Ruth Page Jones


I have the honor of serving on the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools interim board with Ruth Page Jones. She also heads up Project ABC (Waukesha). She has been fighting the good fight on many fronts for many years.

Her testimony before the Senate Education Comittee speaks for itself (click here for the video). One thing I’d like to highlight is her remarks about guidance counselors, they reminded me of this recent quote of the day from Gloria Balton of Anacostia High School, Washington DC:

“You need more psychologists in the school. You need more counselors in the school, because when you can address the needs of the soul, then you can get them to perform.”

Ms Page Jones also had a great guest column in the Milwaukee Jounal Sentinel recently. Here is an excerpt:

The alliance champions an adequacy approach to reform because we put education and kids first. The Pope-Roberts/Breske resolution that was the topic of the recent Senate Education Committee hearing asks all members of the Legislature to do the same…

The resolution offers a road map to better education for our children. Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), Sen. Roger Breske (D-Eland), their 60 co-sponsors and innumerable supporters ask only that our elected officials commit to making a positive change. That means providing the resources schools need based on the actual costs of effective education while holding the line on local property taxes.

Numerous experts from across the United States have defined the resources necessary for schools to meet state and federal performance standards as well as addressing the diverse needs of districts and students.

Funding adequacy is a critical first step toward restoring educational excellence in Wisconsin, moving us all to a more prosperous future.

Video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Senate Hearing Video — Doug Mering

Doug Mering

There was a good story in the Baraboo News Republic on Doug Mering’s testimony before the Senate Education Committee so I thought I’d post the video (click here to watch). One of the most important things Mr. Mering has to say is that school finance should not be seen as a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, that districts, families and children want and deserve legislators who will look past partisan posing and get to work fixing what (almost) everyone agrees is broken. The News Republic story offers some hope that this may happen. Senator Luther Olsen (Republican, Ripon) is quoted as saying:

“I know that we will not come up with a formula that will make everyone and every school district happy, but I do think it is important that we look at the school funding formula.”

Olsen chaired the Special Committee on Review of State School Aid Formula, the materials on their web page are worth reviewing

Video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Senate Hearing Video – Mallory Massey

Time to hear from a student. Mallory Massey attends Pecatonica High School and she does her school proud. No long essay this time, but a quick observation that although there are good things about on line education and virtual schools, they cannot replace the the importance of schools as communities or to communities, nor can things like the forensics classes Mallory mentions (or science lab courses according to a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story) be taught effectively on line.

Video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here.

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To do list

From a Wisconsin State Journal editorial

In Wisconsin we can give thanks that the coming months will bring opportunities to live up to the state’s motto, “Forward,” in some important areas, including:

Financing of public schools.

Almost no one is happy with the state’s unfair system for funding schools, though change has been stifled because alternatives generate opposition, too.

However, public discontent is now moving lawmakers closer to reform. At a hearing this month before the state Senate’s Education Committee, 112 people favored changing how Wisconsin pays for schools. One was opposed.

Let 2008 finally be the year for developing a better plan for school financing.

Sounds almost like support for the Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Hope For the Future of our Schools

by John Smart

Two things happened recently that raised my hopes for the future:

The first was an assembly held at the Menasha High School on November 14th dedicated to learning about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, that region of Sudan where nomadic Arab militias covertly sponsored by the Sudanese dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, are ravaging the countryside, murdering, raping, burning villages and driving the indigenous people from their land.

Students in teacher Dean Boyer’s social studies classes were asked to select an international issue to study, and they chose the situation in Darfur. They researched the story thoroughly, and in the process became involved with the Darfur Action Coalition of Wisconsin, an organization working to support efforts to help the victims of this bloody conflict — and to end it. The students are selling tee-shirts and raising funds to send to the Coalition.

They also asked the Coalition for someone to come and speak to a student assembly at their high school about the Darfur crisis, and I volunteered to do so. They weren’t sure how many students would choose to attend, and we were all surprised when the handsome Menasha High School Auditorium filled almost to capacity – over 700 students!

The conversation — for that is what it was — lasted for an hour, and the students were attentive and involved, they asked informed questions and related serious concerns. They exhibited genuine empathy for the unfortunate people in that far-off, African land.

I was so exhilarated from spending time with those wonderful kids that I felt airborne to my next destination! If they are representative of the youth of our state and nation, and I hope and believe they are, the future of the state and nation is indeed in capable, caring hands.

I then went from Menasha to Madison, where, the next morning, I was one of sixty plus citizens who testified at a hearing of the State Senate Committee on Education.

The November 15th public hearing had to be moved to a larger room in the Capitol to accommodate the ever-increasing crowd, and they still had to have an overflow room with a television monitor so that attendees could follow the proceedings. The turnout clearly demonstrated growing public interest in doing something constructive to support our schools.

The purpose of the hearing was to examine Senate Joint Resolution 27, co-sponsored by Assembly Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts, of Middleton, Senator Roger Breske, of Eland, 14 other senators and 43 other assembly representatives. All but one of the people testifying were in support of the resolution.

The resolution calls for the legislature to recognize that the system we’re using to pay for our schools is not fair and equitable, and simply does not work — that it underfunds our schools while throwing too much of the burden on the backs of property taxpayers, who are understandably rebelling. The resolution refers to a number of new funding formulas that all deserve consideration, and it sets a deadline for the legislature to examine these, and any others, and pass a new compromise plan for school funding reform by a deadline date of July 1, 2009.

Several members of the committee, notably Senators Glen Grothman, of West Bend, and Mary Lazich, of New Berlin, insisted on attempting to debate the merits of one or another of the plans, asking how much they would cost and where the money was going to come from. They had to be reminded repeatedly that this resolution only sets a deadline and doesn’t endorse any specific plan.

What lifted my spirits was the enthusiasm of the people attending and the seriousness with which the senators responded. Many of us have struggled for a long time to get the legislature to recognize the problems that the current funding system is causing for our schools, and finally, it is beginning to look like that light at the end of the tunnel may not be an oncoming train!

The fight isn’t over though, not at all. It is probable that the resolution will pass the committee and the senate, but it is still a question as to whether or not the Speaker of the Assembly, Mike Huebsch, will allow this resolution to even come to the floor of that body for debate.

As usual, it is important for citizens to voice their opinions. Letters and phone calls to our legislators actually do have an effect. It is the voice of their constituents that has brought legislators back to this issue again, and more are needed. Please be a part of that “squeeky wheel!”

The students of Wisconsin, like those remarkable young people at the Menasha High School, deserve the best education that we can provide for them. It’s a question of priorities, and to my mind, they are on top of the list.

John Smart serves on the Park Falls School Board, is a member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the United Nations, the UN Association of the USA and Citizens for Global Solutions. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan from 1995 through 1998 and chairs the Democratic Party of Price County.

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Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution Hearing Report

Pope-Roberts and Breske
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, Middleton, and Sen. Roger Breske, Eland, testified before a packed house, Nov. 15, on Senate Joint Resolution 27.

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools
Message delivered to Legislature: Change the school-funding system

On Thursday, Nov. 15, comprehensive school-funding reform was before the Senate Education Committee. In 6-1/2 hours of testimony, 50 speakers from across the state urged the committee to back a, resolution — authored by Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, of Middleton, and Sen. Roger Breske, of Eland — to throw out the present funding system and replace it by July 1, 2009.

An additional 62 people registered their support at the meeting for Senate Joint Resolution 27. In their demands for reform, they joined 60 members of the Senate and Assembly who signed on as co-sponsors.

Testimony by Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, not a member of the Committee, highlighted the troubles the small schools in her district have under the current state financing formula. She said there is “a fundamental disconnect” between what drives spending and what drives revenue.

Vinehout framed the resolution as a “get‘er done” order for the State Legislature, not a specific plan. The Senator called it a needed first step.

Rep. Pope-Roberts said that “we have the opportunity to get it right, something we failed to do in 1993” when the Legislature approved the present formula that places limits on how much revenue school districts can raise. Several testifiers reiterated the point that the revenue limits have failed to keep pace with districts’ rising expenses.

Testifiers at last Thursday’s hearing came from urban, suburban, and rural districts. Speakers cited shortages of books and desks; crumbling buildings; and too few courses, librarians and counselors, sports, and after-school programs. Many said these problems have been compounded by increasing class sizes. Those districts hardest hit are the ones with declining enrollments, six out of every 10 school districts in the state.

“Instead of prescribing how the school-finance system should be changed, the resolution calls for a finance system that meets four criteria. It must be based on:

  • The actual cost of educating children;
  • Sufficient resources have to be provided to meet state and federal mandates;
  • Additional help to students and districts who have special needs; and
  • The equitable collection of and distribution of funds
  • Ruth Page Jones, president of a parent group called Project ABC-Waukesha, said “it’s time to trash this going-out-of-business plan.” Jones said the present system pits neighbor against neighbor as communities are forced to go to referendum in order to stop program losses.

    Talking to that point, Tony Evers, deputy superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said half of all referendums have failed in recent years. He said, basically, that geographic location is now the prime indicator of how good an education a child will receive.

    Page Jones observed that “districts have already fired administrators, delayed maintenance, slowed text-book adoption . . . and now in the last few years all that is left to cut are teachers.”

    Upcoming, the Senate Education Committee will determine whether to forward the resolution to the full Senate. No hearings have been scheduled in the Assembly. You can weigh in on both accounts. Click on the following links to:

    »Find out what you can do.

    »Read the testimony of those appearing on behalf of WAES, and others

    »Watch the entire hearing on SJR27 on Wisconsin Eye

    »Read the media coverage of the hearing:

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
    Wisconsin State Journal
    WISC-TV, Madison
    Wisconsin Radio Network
    Waukesha Freeman
    Wisconsin Public Radio
    WEAC Website

    Links to additional coverage:

    From a local blogger and sometime AMPS contributer: Democracy in Action.

    From Jennifer Morales of the MPS Board: Democracy is Sexy.

    And of course all the related posts on AMPS (including videos!)

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, Budget, Elections, Local News, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Take Action, We Are Not Alone

    Senate Hearing Video — Laura L. Vernon

    Laura L. Vernon

    Since the first video I posted was from a rural district, I thought it would be appropriate to make the second post from Milwaukee (video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here).

    Laura L. Vernon (click here for the video) from the Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association seemed like a good choice (it was hard to choose, check back to hear other important voices from Milwaukee and around the state).

    Defenders of our current system will say that it works for most districts or children (only those who have a weak grasp on reality would say it works for all districts and children). I don’t agree with that statement, but even if it is true our children deserve a system that works for all.

    At one point Senator Grothman speculated that the gap between high spending district and low spending districts has been shrinking (Senator Grothman did a lot of speculating and quoting questionable “facts”, apparently he’s too busy to railing against taxes to look at any actual research). There are many possible ways to assess this (data can be found here), based on a quick calculation it looks to me that since 2000 the standard deviation in per member spending has remained about 15% of the average, but shrunk slightly.

    All of this is interesting in an analytical way, but as the MMSD Equity Task Force (and many others) have concluded, equity does not mean equal. The diverse and very real needs of districts and children require different resources based on these needs that dollar for dollar comparisons do not capture.

    We hear about the uniformity in taxation clause of the Wisconsin Constitution as an impediment to school finance reform (although the current system is far from uniform and falls under one of the exemptions in Art. XIII, sec. 1), but we don’t hear so much about the uniformity of education clause in Art. X, sec. 3. Seven years ago in Vincent v. Voight the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the current system (barely) met this requirement, yet it is increasingly clear that when diverse circumstances are considered, each year the differences in educational opportunities based on residence continue to grow.

    My point is two-fold; the current system exacerbates the inequalities that public education is supposed to overcome and that a system that fails to provide the necessary resources to any district or child is unacceptable.

    Be it urban Milwaukee or rural Phillips, our current school finance system is failing many. It is past time to fix it!

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    Senate Hearing Video

    Randy Kunch

    The testimony at the Senate Education Committee Hearing on the Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution was beyond compelling. At times I was moved to tears. There was some anger too, but as I noted previously, the dominant theme was optimism, a belief that we (meaning the people of Wisconsin and our elected officials) can and will fix the shameful mess that is school funding in Wisconsin.

    In the coming days and weeks I am going to be posting video excerpts from the hearing(video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here). I chose Randy Kunch from the Phillips School District as the first post (click here to watch). Please take the five or so minutes to watch and listen to Randy and then sit down to write your elected officials or your local paper and tell them that someting needs to be done and the time is now!

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    Simple Majority Declares Victory for Kids and Schools…Let’s Do the Same!

    In the Election Roundup I wrote that the Simple Majority campaign in Washington State had lost. With more complete returns, victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat. Congratulations to the League of Education Voters and the people of Washington!

    I attended the Senate Education Committee hearing on the Pope-Roberts/Breske resolution today (more on that later), and I think there is a lesson from Washington for the Wisconsin legislature and the people of Wisconsin. In Washington, they fought against great odds and achieved a major and positive change is state school finance.

    Everyone I heard testify today agreed Wisconsin’s system is broken and that each year we move further away from providing the education our children deserve. Most of those testifying were passionate and optimistic — they believe we can fix this and are committed to doing just that. However, some (not all) of the Senators seemed to be primarily interested in the difficulties and obstacles and 1,000 reasons why we can’t do better. This is the wrong attitude and they need to know that if they’d rather make excuses than do the job the Constitution gives them and the people demand of them, we will elect those who can and will.

    The resolution itself, like the voters and advocates in Washington, rejects this kind of thinking. It simply asks for a commitment to try to do what almost everyone agrees is the right thing.

    Is this too much to ask?

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    You Haven’t Done Nothin’

    But we are sick and tired of hearing your song
    Telling how you are gonna change right from wrong
    ‘Cause if you really want to hear our views
    “You haven’t done nothing”!

    Stevie Wonder (listen)

    The state budget deal has been announced. There are some good things for the schools, but the basic structure — with all the problems it causes — remains. Madison will have about a $5 million annual gap between allowed revenues and the cost to continue the same services. The kids in Park Falls will still have to do without so much that that they deserve. Glidden will continue to experience “educational amputations.” Districts all over the state will engage in divisive fights about which cuts will do the least harm, while few will be able concentrate on finding ways to do more good.

    In my heart I know many legislators and probably the Governor want to do right by the schools, want to give Wisconsin a system that puts education first, a system we can be proud of. However, right now I look at the band aids in the much delayed budget and start humming “You haven’t done nothin.”

    Thomas J. Mertz

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