October 22, 2014

Aid increases to about half of Wisconsin school districts

File photo

File photo

About half of Wisconsin’s 424 public school districts will get more general state aid than a year ago. Figures released Wednesday by the Department of Public Instruction show schools will share almost $4.5 billion in general state aid, an increase of 2.1 percent from last year.

Most of the state’s largest districts will see increases, with Milwaukee Public Schools up just under one percent and Madison up four percent. The Minong Northwood district is getting the largest decrease in aid, at almost 30.5 percent.

Independent charter and private voucher schools are also getting a bigger piece of the pie. The state budget approved by majority Republicans increases tax-funded vouchers for low-income kids by $768 per student in K-8th grades. Each high school voucher student is worth $1,400 more. Milwaukee’s voucher aid is about $61 million, which otherwise would have gone to the city’s public schools. Pewaukee is getting the biggest percentage aid increase, up 150 percent to about $3.3 million. It’s due to a six percent jump in enrollment and declines in the district’s property values.

UW Board of Regents approves report on System balances

UW System President Raymond Cross

UW System President Raymond Cross

The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents signed off Thursday on a report detailing the systems program revenues and campus reserve funds.

The report comes more than a year after a legislative uproar, when an audit revealed the UW System was sitting on program revenue balances of more than a billion dollars and officials also could not account for how much of that money was going to be spent. System President Ray Cross says the 250 page report delivered to the Board on Thursday is the result of a collaborative effort to manage the funds held by campuses and the System.

Cross told regents the report means “we can account for every dollar of our program fund balances at every single campus and institution within the entire UW System.” He added that, for the first time they also know the actual level of cash reserves at each System campus. The report shows that amount at over $174 million, spread across all campuses.

AUDIO: UW System President Ray Cross addresses the Board of Regents (:34)

Regents unanimously approved the full report Thursday, during a board meeting at the UW-Stevens Point. It now goes to the Legislature for review.

University of Wisconsin System enrollment holding steady

Figures released by the University of Wisconsin System show fall enrollment numbers holding steady compared to last year.

The preliminary numbers reflect an overall enrollment decline of 0.4 percent for the UW System from last year, for an overall headcount of about 179,000 students. Final figures are not expected until next year. Freshman enrollments system wide dropped about 2.2-percent.

The largest decline in the system was on the UW-Green Bay campus, which saw enrollment drop by 7.5 percent. The UW-Stevens Point also saw a large decline, at 3.5 percent. The biggest gain was a 1.1 percent increase at the UW-Whitewater. System officials noted that some of the early figures do not reflect factors such as late-enrollment, which could cause an increase as the semester moves along.

In a statement, UW System President Ray Cross said that “UW enrollment continues to remain strong despite the declining numbers of high school graduates and other economic factors impacting an individual’s decision to seek higher education. College enrollments often spike during economic downturns and then level off as the economy begins to rebound. This is a natural, expected trend.”

Superintendent Tony Evers unveils plan for addressing Wisconsin’s achievement gap

State Superintendent Tony Evers has unveiled plans for addressing the state’s achievement gap. The gap between white and black students here is the widest in the nation, and Evers has released recommendations from a task force. Evers said “cultural competency” is critical if parents are going to be supportive

“Not only about how culturally competent we need to be in our schools, but culturally competent so that we respect and honor cultures other than our own, and respect to the families that these kids are coming from,” Evers said. “We need to reach out, we can’t just assume that support is there.”

In his State of Education address, Evers said adequate funding continues to be a challenge for K-12 education in Wisconsin. “I’d say we pretty much aren’t meeting expectations there,” he said. Evers said the state “can’t afford to or three different public school systems,” with tax money being siphoned off to choice schools.

Many Wisconsin student ID cards will not work for voting

File photo

File photo

Wisconsin’s Voter ID law does allow the use of qualifying student identification cards to obtain a ballot at the polls. However, very few campuses in the state are currently using card designs that comply with the requirements of the law.

According to the state Government Accountability Board, a valid student ID for voting must include the student’s name, signature, and photo. It must also feature an issuing and expiration date, which cannot be more than two years after the ID was issued, and students must present documentation at the polls proving they are currently enrolled.

GAB director Kevin Kennedy says student IDs “continue to be a challenge,” although he notes that many students already have other types of ID that are valid for voting, such as a Wisconsin-issued driver’s license or a passport. A state issued ID can still be used at the polls, even if the student’s address is not current. If they are registering to vote on Election Day, they will need to have other documentation proving their residency though, such as a lease or housing contract.

The University of Wisconsin System has been working to make sure students have what they need to vote in November. They System has put up a website outlining voting information for multiple campuses. The UW-Madison has also announced that it will begin issuing free ID cards to students who request them, which can be specifically used for voting.

Kennedy says the key is for students to know in advance what they are going to need at the polls. He says “just like you give a lot of thought to who you’re going to vote for, give a lot of thought to what it takes to get a ballot.”