October 31, 2014

State says most voucher recipients came from private schools

File photo

File photo

New numbers from the Department of Public Instruction show many students receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers were already enrolled in private schools.

Supporters of a statewide expansion of the private school voucher program have argued it will allow more children to escape troubled public schools. However, DPI figures show only about 19 percent of the 538 students receiving vouchers for the first time this fall attended a public school last year. The rest were already going to a private school.

School Choice Wisconsin, a supporter of the voucher program, accused the DPI of only telling part of the story to make the voucher program look bad. The group says the state’s data does not reflect that fact that many of the students receiving a voucher who attended a private school last year were there because of scholarships. They contend the voucher program is now allowing new students to take those scholarships and attend a school of their choice.

The tax-funded voucher program has been in place in Milwaukee for years, and was only recently expanded to Racine and then statewide on a limited basis. Opponents contend it takes state aid away from already underfunded public schools. Republicans have indicated further statewide expansion is one of their goals during the next Legislative session.

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.