July 6, 2015

Republicans dropping changes to Wisconsin teaching licenses

File photo

File photo

Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Thursday backed away from controversial changes to Wisconsin teacher certification rules.

The measure, added to the budget in May, would have allowed anyone with a bachelor’s degree to be licensed to teach math, social studies, science, or English in Wisconsin schools. Anyone with relevant experience, but not necessarily a degree, could teach other subjects.

A provision included in the final motion before the JFC, set to be considered Thursday evening, would remove the language from the budget.

Backers of the proposal claimed it was intended to make it easier for rural school districts to fill vacant positions, although education officials argued it would give Wisconsin the most relaxed licensing standards for teachers in the nation. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers called it “breathtaking in its stupidity” and urged lawmakers to remove it from the budget.

DPI estimates half of school districts to get less aid next year

dpilogoEstimates from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction indicate more than half of Wisconsin school districts will get less general state aid in the coming school year, but Republican legislative leaders called those numbers into question. DPI released projections on Tuesday, showing that 234 of the state’s 424 public school districts are projected to receive less aid in the 2015-16 school year. The DPI numbers also show 188 districts are expected to receive more.

State Representative Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains), the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said parents won’t be happy. “Now that they’ve realized that these Republican legislators are putting the governor’s presidential ambitions ahead of their children, they are mad, and there’s going to be a price to pay down the road for this,” Pope said. “I know we have said this before, but we’re at the point where we just can’t cut any more.”

Joint Finance Committee co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), said the numbers released by DPI are “misleading,” and the state budget plan “contains a significant increase” in school funding.

Wisconsin Democrats propose K-12 funding bills

barnes&kidsA coalition of public school supporters, unhappy with education provisions slipped into the state budget, rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday in support of Democratic legislation aimed at increasing per-pupil revenue limits for local districts, and increasing reimbursement rates for special needs programs.

For education advocates like Joanne Juhnke with the group Wisconsin Family Ties, there’s plenty to dislike in the budget. “Take special needs vouchers,” she said. “Take them and throw them out of the state budget.”

“In Wisconsin it does matter where you go to school,” said Jill Gaskell, a school board member in the Pecatonica Area Schools. Gaskell maintained that expansion of the state’s private school voucher program is going to hurt all public schools, by diminishing the amount of taxpayer support available to them. “Education is not equal in our state. The expansion of the private school voucher program included in this budget will hurt rural school districts, even though we have no private voucher schools in our area.”

“Lawmakers say private vouchers are a matter of choice, that they are parent driven,” said Kathryn Carley, a parent in the Green Bay School District. “How can it be parent driven when the number of parents asking and even applying for private vouchers is down? The parents of Wisconsin have made their choice.”

The bills proposed by state Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) will likely have difficulty gaining traction in the Republican-controlled state legislature. “If these two simple measures aren’t taken into account, who knows where we’ll be? We’ll be a Alabama or a Mississippi, a Tennessee, and Arkansas, a South Carolina,” Barnes said.

School Choice Wisconsin, which represents private and voucher schools, released a statement in response to Tuesday’s media event.

“Not surprisingly, a group of people directly and indirectly connected to the public education funding stream gathered today to ask for more money. With teacher union employees, public school teachers, retired public school teachers and public school employees all represented, the group complained mightily about the current funding increase in the budget as being insufficient.

They also railed against the expansion of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, even though the measured approach by the legislature would only allow for less than 1% of education funding over the next decade to go towards the program.

Their request was simple: more money, less competition.”

Sandy Whistler, with Citizen Advocates for Public Education, said the bills represent a broad consensus. “What we propose today is what districts and parents all over the state have been asking for all along,” she said.

Kind critical of funding cuts to UW, aims to protect ‘Wisconsin Idea’

UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Nearly half of Wisconsin’s 13 university campuses are located within U.S. Representative Ron Kind’s congressional district. The La Crosse Democrat is critical of deep funding cuts to the University of Wisconsin System, as proposed in the two-year state budget. He said he spends a lot of time on those four-year campuses. “I’m meeting with the students, the faculty, the professors, the chancellors … they’re already telling me, story after story, of the inability to recruit the talent on these campuses or hold on to them.”

The entire UW system is facing many changes, including tenure policies and more than $250 million in funding cuts in Wisconsin’s new budget.

AUDIO: (:47) When researchers leave the colleges, they take millions of federal research dollars with them, Kind said.

When researchers leave the colleges, Kind said, they take millions of federal research dollars with them. As a result, the entire UW System will suffer, including its reputation and educational opportunities for students. Kind is fed up with “deep draconian cuts.” He said, “It took many, many years to build up the reputation and the quality of our education system; it doesn’t take long to destroy it. That’s what this debate is about right now.”

Ultimately Wisconsin citizens make the final choice, Kind said, when they go to the voting booth.

The Universities of Wisconsin La Crosse, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Platteville, River Falls, and Stout are located in the 3rd Congressional District. Two-year campuses in Marshield and Richland are also in that district, as well as 15 technical colleges.

Meanwhile, the 3rd district congressman has moved to protect and commemorate the “Wisconsin Idea.”

The Wisconsin Idea is the principle that the University of Wisconsin should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. Kind has introduced a resolution to protect that idea. “The efforts earlier this year with the governor in his budget to roll that back right now I thought sent all the wrong messages and would lead us in a very bad place as a state.”

Back in February Governor Scott Walker attempted to change the century-old mission statement, but it has since been removed from his budget. Kind said if Wisconsin gets a reputation of de-valuing education, it will be tough to overcome, leaving the state less competitive for economic growth and job creation. “For many, many years in Wisconsin we’ve developed a very good reputation when it comes to the quality of higher education, of our education system generally, and now is not the time to go backward because it will be tough to recover from that.”

AUDIO: (:28) Though the Wisconsin Idea has not been changed, Kind argues his motion is not a moot point.

Though the Wisconsin Idea, ultimately, has not been changed, the La Crosse Democrat argued his motion is not a moot point. Kind said it’s important to have a greater discussion so this type of proposal does not come up again.

Kind introduced the resolution at the federal level, he says, because it’s a good idea nationwide. U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore have co-sponsored the resolution.

Opting out of standardized school tests

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt

A bill at the Capitol makes it easier for parents to opt out of having their kids take certain statewide tests at school.

Under the measure, schools would be required to send a letter to parents once per year — listing all scheduled state-mandated standardized tests, explaining the purpose of the exams, and detailing how to opt out.

Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) is the bill’s (SB-193) author and Assembly Education Committee chair. He says current law is confusing. “What I want to do here is lead the districts down the path of being more open with what it is they’re doing. Take the mystery out of it.” Thiesfeldt says schools would need to explain to parents why their kids should be taking the tests.

Dan Rossmiller is with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. He says the measure would need to be amended. “Complying with these notification requirements could be costly or burdensome. I like Senator Farrow’s suggestion about posting these on the Internet.” He says, “We note in our testimony that the budget bill itself contains at least four new notification requirements that schools must provide to parents or guardians.”

Thiesfeldt says he’s not trying to get rid of standardize testing. He says he’s aiming for clarity and tightening up inconsistencies in the process.

Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the proposal at the Capitol on Wednesday.