1 122 W. Washington Avenue, Madison, WI John H. Ashley, Executive Director Phone: Fax: HAND DELIVERED July 9, 2015 The Honorable Scott Walker Governor of Wisconsin 115 East, State Capitol Madison, WI Dear Governor Walker: As you review the state budget bill as passed by the Legislature, and consider potential vetoes, there are several items the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) would like to bring to your attention on behalf of the more than 2,800 locally elected school board members throughout Wisconsin. There are a number of items that we support as well as several items of major concern. Some proposals in the budget bill move K-12 education in the right direction. At the same time, there are a number of other provisions in the bill that we fear may have the effect of jeopardizing the state s premier public education system. Items Supported by the WASB The WASB appreciates your strong support for restoring $127 million in Per Pupil Aid funding in the first year, and adding $100 per pupil to this aid in the second year. We recognize there are competing interests and demands on budget dollars alongside K-12 education and we appreciate your commitment and follow-through on restoring this funding even when hoped-for new revenues did not materialize. As locally elected officials tasked with putting together school budgets, school board members can empathize with the challenges you and legislative leaders faced as you worked to balance and prioritize competing interests and programs, while recognizing the burden to the taxpayer. Special Education Open Enrollment The WASB is pleased with the provisions that improve access to open enrollment for students with special needs. Unlike the approach offered by special needs vouchers, open enrollment into another public school district provides a student with a disability with an alternative to the special education program offered by their district of residence without sacrificing the due process rights of parents and students with disabilities or the legal entitlement of students with disabilities to receive the services outlined in the student s individual education plan (IEP).
2 Rural School Provisions The WASB supports the additional state support provided in the budget for sparsity aid, pupil transportation aid, high-cost pupil transportation aid. The WASB also supports budget provisions that authorize school districts to use whole grade sharing agreements to achieve greater economies as well as TEACH 2.0 provisions that will help school districts meet their technology needs (e.g., allow districts to request additional data lines and video links, allow the Department of Administration (DOA) to provide grants to school districts for telecommunications access, infrastructure, and teacher training). The WASB also supports provisions allowing the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to develop and implement a grant program for purchases of equipment used in fabrication laboratories (so-called fab labs ) for instructional and educational purposes by grade school, middle school and high school students. Course Options The WASB supports the modifications to the program but understands the criticism that it is unfair to pupils whose parents cannot afford the tuition. We support efforts to address this issue and to adjust the timelines associated with the program and make other changes. We look forward to working with your office on this. High-Cost Special Education Categorical Aid The WASB appreciates and supports the additional state support provided in the budget bill for high-cost special reimbursement categorical aid. While the additional $5 million provided increases the reimbursement rate to 70 percent, the WASB supports fully reimbursing school districts for children with low-incidence/high-cost disabilities. Prevailing Wage Reform The WASB supports budget provisions exempting school districts from the state s prevailing wage law. WASB Requested Vetoes Local Control Wisconsin has a long tradition of respect for local decision making and the WASB strongly supports and defends local control of schools by the locally elected school boards. Because of this, we are greatly troubled by the provisions creating an Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program within the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and a forced reorganization of how the Racine Unified school board members are elected. These are both examples of the State coming in and overruling the will of locally elected officials and, in our view, sets a troubling precedent for state interference in local affairs. Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program proposal was not subject to a public hearing or public input prior to being adopted. Such a sweeping transfer of MPS governance deserves a public hearing and public input, particularly given the unknown impact this change will have on MPS finances. Further, this proposal would disenfranchise Milwaukee residents, denying them a vote and a voice on the governance of those schools that are transferred to a Commissioner; something denied no other group of residents in our state. Our concerns about a lack of public input are heightened by the inclusion in the proposal of parallel provisions that would allow a similar commissioner to be established in other Wisconsin districts that meet certain specified criteria. As mentioned earlier, we are troubled by the message this sends to local schools.
3 We have also noted the fact that the OSPP proposal does nothing to address low-performing private schools that accept publicly funded vouchers, including a number of such schools that perform worse than any MPS school. Given that the Commissioner created under this proposal could pull the plug on a low-performing MPS replacement after three years, there is a greater safeguard against low-performance for the MPS alternatives under this plan than there is for low-performing voucher schools. We strongly suggest is not necessary to scrap the governance of the MPS school board in order to improve student achievement. The current MPS improvement plan appears to be working to raise student performance and narrow achievement gaps. More MPS students are meeting state reading standards. Reading proficiency for all MPS students improved 13 percent from to , compared to an overall statewide gain of three percent during that same time period. Graduation rates and attendance are up, suspensions are down, and MPS graduates are earning more scholarship money than ever before. We should give MPS and its new superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver a chance to see these promising efforts through and urge a full veto of this provision. Geographic Representation for Racine Unified School Board These provisions require the Racine Unified School Board to adopt a new representation plan for the election of its members by election districts that are geographically apportioned via a board resolution adopted before November 1, This proposal was not subject to a public hearing or public input prior to being adopted. It is not necessary for the Legislature to enact these provisions to accomplish the goal of apportioned election districts in Racine (or any other unified district). State statutes already provide for a petition process (see section (2)(b), Stats.) under which 500 district residents can present a representation plan specifying geographically apportioned election districts, which is then voted on by district electors. This measure targets one particular school district and dictates how it must run its board elections and what resolutions it must adopt. These provisions interfere with and impede local control by both the duly-elected school board and the residents of the district. We ask you to veto these provisions. Civics/Citizenship Assessment Requirement for High School Graduation School boards agree that we need laws to promote civic education; however, would prefer that this testing requirement be at the discretion of individual school boards rather than mandatory. We understand that to many, this graduation requirement may sound like a good idea. However, there is no evidence (and none was provided at the public hearing) that passing this test (consisting of a fixed set of 100 factual questions) promotes lifelong civic engagement or good citizenship. We believe we need young people who are committed to making their communities better and who can assess public policy proposals and make sound decisions at the polling place. We further believe locally elected school boards can make the decision about whether passing this test is the best way to encourage good citizenship among the graduates of the district s high schools. We urge you to veto this provision entirely or partially veto in a way that makes it permissive rather than mandatory or that removes the high-stakes nature of the graduation requirement.
4 Participation in Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities Athletics and other extracurricular activities are, as the name suggests, intended to supplement the school curriculum and are viewed as an extension of the classroom. These school-based activities are provided because they have educational value and create incentives for students not only to enroll in our public schools but to perform well enough in school to remain eligible to participate in those activities. Budget provisions requiring all public school programs to give equal access to homeschooled students would undercut these incentives. Those provisions ignore the institutional control that public schools exert over which students may participate in such activities (e.g., by requiring such things as school attendance, certain levels of academic standing or grade point averages, and adherence to codes of conduct) and that public schools are accountable for how those activities are conducted. In contrast, the home-based private education program (many times the parent) is only required to provide the public school with a written statement that the pupil meets the school board s requirements for participation in interscholastic athletics based on age and academic and disciplinary records. The provision prohibits anyone from making a false statement to the public school, but also provides that a school board could not question the accuracy or validity of such a statement or request additional information. This is a double standard to the detriment of the enrolled public school students and the lack of oversight with respect to homeschooled pupils could subject the school district to potential liability. We note this proposal is not supported by the Wisconsin Parent Association (WPA), which represents parents of homeschooled students, one of the major groups this provision purports to be aimed at helping. We urge you to veto this provision. Vouchers and Independent Charters The WASB continues to be troubled by the seeming priority and preference given to alternatives to our local public schools, especially considering the lack of evidence that they improve student achievement and educational outcomes. Private School Choice Program Expansion In our view, it defies logic to assume the state can sustainably add thousands of new students to the private school voucher program, adding additional costs, without negatively impacting public school funding, especially when nearly 86 percent of new voucher recipients already attend private schools. We are deeply concerned that under this new funding mechanism the role of local school boards will increasingly become one of raising property taxes to support students that are not educated in district schools students who will use public taxpayer-subsidized payments to attend private schools that are not governed by locally elected boards, and are not required to operate transparently (e.g., to hold public meetings or follow most public records laws). We are equally troubled that the new funding method will mask the true cost of the voucher program by eliminating the separate state appropriation that funds new vouchers and instead washing the dollars used to fund vouchers through the aid formula for public schools.
5 At a time when our state is having serious difficulty providing sustainable and predictable funding for the system of public schools the state is constitutionally mandated to support, we believe this proposal puts the state fully on the unwise fiscal path toward funding another system of publicly funded but privately operated voucher schools. This proposal is a radical change and deserves to be debated as separate legislation with an opportunity for public hearings and public input. We urge that it be vetoed from the budget bill. Special Education Vouchers Although well-intended, these provisions will deprive special education students and their parents of important due process rights as well as enforceable legal rights to be provided with special education services. Further, private schools would have no obligation to accept students with disabilities under these provisions. That decision remains entirely up to the private school. However, because of the funding structure this bill sets up, when private schools do decide to accept students with disabilities, it is unlikely that those private schools will accept students with significant disabilities. Because the amount of the voucher is fixed at $12,000 (as adjusted for inflation), there is a disincentive for private schools to accept students with significant disabilities that can be costly to educate. As a result, public schools would be likely to serve a higher concentration of students with significant disabilities. This proposal deserves to be debated as separate legislation with an opportunity for public hearings and public input. We urge that it be vetoed from the budget bill. Additional Charter School Authorizers Wisconsin school boards have been national leaders in the creation of charter schools, ranking in the top ten nationally of states that have instituted charter schools. The Legislature has provided school boards great latitude in designing, implementing and staffing charter schools, and school boards have worked with their communities to design charter schools that fit community needs. The WASB supports charter schools for experimental and innovative programs. However, the WASB does not support creating new authorizing bodies or granting charter authorizing power to other governmental units. We urge that the provisions relating to creating additional charter school authorizers be vetoed from the state budget and be taken up in a manner that includes a public hearing and an opportunity for input by the public and public school officials. Accountability and Assessment Alternative Assessments WASB members, through resolutions adopted by the WASB Delegate Assembly, have been clear about their expectations for assessments used in the state accountability system. Those resolutions articulate the principles that: 1) Private and parochial schools that accept state funding through taxpayer-financed vouchers must be held to the same statutory requirements, testing requirements and accountability standards as public schools, without exception; and
6 2) For accountability purposes, students who receive taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private voucher schools and students in public schools should be required to take the same state assessments and results should be required to be calculated the same way to ensure comparisons of the performance of public school students and students in private voucher schools are valid and fair. It is clear that the easiest, fairest, most accurate and most straight-forward comparison possible will occur when all students take the same test at the same time and under the same conditions. By the same conditions we mean that all students are given the same amount of time to complete the test, use the same test-taking modality (i.e., that all take the test online or all take the test using a paper and pencil test). Our interest in accurate comparisons outweighs our interest in flexibility for our members. Less uniformity in testing could also mean greater opportunities for schools to game the assessment process and select the test that they believe will place their students and teachers in the best light. As the prosecution of several Atlanta educators for cheating on standardized exams teaches us, the higher the stakes for associated with testing, the more extreme the ends to which some schools and teachers may resort in an effort to make themselves look good. We urge that the budget language allowing alternative assessments be vetoed from the budget bill. Other Provisions Cooperative Education Service Agencies (CESAs) These provisions eliminate state aid to CESAs and change the rules regarding participation by school districts. CESAs are member-controlled organizations that provide valuable services to our state s school districts. Management of CESA affairs is vested in a board of control comprised of members chosen from school boards within each CESA district. Each school district is free to contract or not with its CESA for services and virtually all districts use their CESA for something. Despite the fact that the territory each CESA serves is a defined area, CESAs are not governmental units or corporations with independent power to tax and spend. Rather, a CESA is an administrative device that enables school districts to perform certain tasks jointly and often more efficiently than they could on their own. The savings accruing to the state from eliminating state aid to CESAs is minimal in comparison to the benefits CESAs provide to school districts. We urge that all of the changes affecting CESAs be vetoed from the budget bill. Thank you for your consideration of our positions. If you should have any questions or require additional information regarding our positions, please call me at Sincerely, John H. Ashley Executive Director