84 Schools to Participate in Special Needs Voucher Program

By John Forester | June 13, 2018

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has posted a list of the 84 schools that have registered to participate in the Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP) for the 2018-19 school year. The list includes 56 schools that will be new to the program. The application period begins July 1.

For more information, see the DPI News Release here.

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Split Decision in Tuesday’s Special Elections

By John Forester | June 13, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

Dem Caleb Frostman won a special election Tuesday for the vacant 1st SD, flipping a seat in northeastern Wisconsin that Donald Trump won by 17.5 points two years ago.

Meanwhile, Republican Jon Plumer kept the 42nd AD in GOP hands, running close to the president’s 2016 performance in the district northeast of Madison.

Frostman, the former economic development director for Door County, had 51.4 percent of the vote over GOP state Rep. Andre Jacque, according to numbers WisPolitics.com collected from county websites. By comparison, Hillary Clinton won 39.8 percent of the vote there in 2016.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, noted it was the first time a Dem had represented the seat since Gerald Ford was president.

Frostman, who will replace Frank Lasee after the Republican resigned to take a job in the Walker administration, said his campaign worked the doors hard. He also said voters in Door County, where he lives, remember the things he accomplished on a non-partisan basis with Republicans, Dems and others.

“That resonated with folks, and they remember that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Plumer largely matched Trump’s performance in the 42nd AD as he beat Dem Ann Groves Lloyd.

Plumer pulled 53.9 percent of the vote, according to unofficial numbers collected by WisPolitics.com, though that tally doesn’t include votes for the independent candidate in the 42nd or write-ins. The results will not be official until after county boards of canvass meet.

Trump, meanwhile, took just shy of 53.9 percent in 2016 as he beat Clinton by more than 14 points with write-ins and third-party candidates included.

The final days of the race included stories about social media posts from both candidates and Plumer’s disorderly conduct charge more than two decades ago. The two will face each other in a November rematch for the seat northeast of Madison.

Plumer told WisPolitics.com in a phone interview he didn’t plan to change his message in the November race, though he expected the spotlight to shift to other races.

“At my age, this is what you get,” said Plumer, who owns a karate studio in Lodi. “I’m not going to change.”

Plumer will replace Republican Keith Ripp, who resigned to take a job in the Walker administration.

After Lasee and Ripp resigned their seats in the Legislature, Gov. Scott Walker declined to call special elections for either seat. But Eric Holder’s national Democratic Redistricting Committee filed a lawsuit that eventually led to an order for Walker to call the elections. Republicans briefly sought to change state law in an attempt to thwart a Dane County judge’s order to call the elections. But another Dane County judge and one from the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha County refused requests to delay the order to call the elections so lawmakers could debate the bill. The measure ultimately did not come up for a floor vote in either house.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, promised a competitive race in the fall for the 1st SD and complained the seats should have been filled in the fall election.

“With low turnout in the special election tonight, it proved yet again that this was a complete waste of taxpayer money,” Fitzgerald said.

Holder, meanwhile, hailed Frostman’s win. His group has pledged to play in legislative races this fall in an effort to help Dem candidates and reverse maps Republicans drew in multiple states in 2011 during the last round of redistricting.

“Scott Walker and his Republican allies gerrymandered this district for their own partisan benefit, but the citizens of Wisconsin are clearly speaking out this year to demand a state government that better represents their values,” he said.

Shilling said the results showed momentum is on the side of Dems headed toward the fall, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos argued Plumer’s win shows what Republicans can do with the right candidate and a good operation.

Insiders were watching both seats for signs of the political climate as the November elections approach after Dems won the 10th SD in a January special election, flipping a seat Trump won by 17 points, and watching liberal Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet win an open seat on the state Supreme Court by a dozen points.

Assembly Republicans immediately proclaimed talk of a “blue wave” this fall had slowed to a “blue trickle. But Shilling said the “electorate is turning” now.

The La Crosse Dem, who is on the verge of turning a 20-13 minority to start 2017 into an 18-15 deficit, said the win continues to expand the map in Wisconsin. She said a Dem has represented the seat for only six of the past 72 years and that her party was even competitive in the district shows a “massive” public opinion shift toward Dems.

“They are dissatisfied with the agenda that has been pushed for the last eight years,” Shilling said. “The electorate is swirling.”

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the state GOP poured resources into Plumer’s campaign in the final days of the race. A check of campaign finance reports shows the two combined to put $196,278 into Plumer’s campaign since May 29.

Vos acknowledge he put “all hands on deck” to hold the seat. The Rochester Republican said it’s the kind of district Dems would have to win in November in order to take back the majority, which will be back to 64-35 after Plumer is sworn in.

“Them not having a victory tonight goes to show the formula for Assembly Republicans of good organization, candidates and messaging works,” Vos said.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Plumer’s performance was short of the 58.6 percent of the vote that Ripp pulled in 2016 even as he ran on Dem issues.

“One of the things to look at is voters here elected a candidate who supports investments in public education, funding transportation, redistricting reform and protecting pre-existing conditions,” Hintz said. “So the blue wave happened. It just happened with a Republican who endorsed the Democratic agenda.”

See Wisconsin Public Radio coverage here.

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SAA Testifies At Blue Ribbon Commission

By John Forester | June 4, 2018

This morning, SAA Executive Director John Forester testified before the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding.  This was the Commission’s eighth and final public hearing.  The SAA attended every Blue Ribbon Commission public hearing and meeting, and we worked very hard to develop testimony that was representative of the entire SAA membership.  We hope you think it meets its objective.

If you should have any questions or require additional information regarding the SAA testimony, please contact John at 608-242-1370.

Stay tuned.  We will continue to keep the membership up to date on developments coming out of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

SAA Testimony

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School Law Update: Legal Issues Regarding Student Fees

By John Forester | May 31, 2018

From the Legal Side…

With summer school right around the corner, districts should be aware of the legal limitations in collecting and refunding summer school fees.   The Boardman & Clark law firm has recently issued a School Law Update on this topic.

The SAA regularly receives these updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of Boardman & Clark.

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SAA to Testify at Final Blue Ribbon Commission Hearing June 4th

By John Forester | May 30, 2018

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding will hold an informational hearing at 9:00 a.m. followed by a public hearing at 1:00 p.m. or immediately following the conclusion of the informational hearing on Monday, June 4th in Room 412 East, State Capitol.  This is the last of eight public hearings the Commission has scheduled.

During the informational hearing, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hear testimony from invited speakers, including representatives of the following organizations: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance, Education Commission of the States, and EdBuild. Following the informational hearing, members of the public are invited to testify and share their thoughts on school funding with the commission at the public hearing. To ensure the commission hears from all members of the public that would like to testify, public testimony will be limited to 5 minutes or less per speaker at the discretion of the co-chairs. The hearing will conclude at 5:00 p.m.

As a reminder, here are the SAA’s discussion points for the Blue Ribbon Commission.  The SAA’s testimony before the Commission will be based on these discussion points.  The SAA encourages members to use this information as well as examples from your district and your own expertise, in developing your communications to the Commission.

Stay tuned.  The SAA will keep members informed of Commission developments.

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Kitchens, Olsen Split on Major Funding Formula Overhaul

By John Forester | May 29, 2018

From WisPolitics.com . . .

After eight public hearings across the state in five months, the co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding are split on the extent and nature of changes they could propose to the formula.

Still, both Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Joel Kitchens say they’ll meet Speaker Robin Vos’ call to “be bold” in the group’s recommendations as they zone in on aiding districts with declining enrollment, addressing special education reimbursement rates and more.

The two also said in separate interviews with WisPolitics.com this week they don’t anticipate the commission will touch school choice or open enrollment, two topics they had said were on the table when the body was first announced in December.

Still, Olsen and Kitchens, who are also both chairs of their chambers’ respective education committees, said they were looking at some changes to the formula, although they differed as to how far the commission would go to alter it.

Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, left the door open to “completely overhauling it,” saying it’s “pretty clear there will be some fundamental changes we will recommend, but the extent of that is up in the air.” Olsen, R-Ripon, was more measured, emphasizing the need to provide more funding to districts with declining enrollments.

“I don’t see us overhauling the whole thing … (The formula) works really, really well for slowly increasing school districts. It doesn’t work so well if you’re stagnant, and it really works bad if you’re declining,” Olsen said.

Currently, as school districts lose students, the per-pupil revenue they get from the state decreases by around $10,500 on average per student, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Enrollment is calculated on a three-year, rolling average.

“Obviously your costs don’t go down by $10,000 when you lose a student,” Kitchens said. “So that’s, I think, one of the real key things — and I think that was one of the basic faults from the beginning in the system — is that districts that are losing students are really struggling because it’s just not fair.”

Roughly two-thirds of school districts are in declining enrollment, according to DPI. The districts range in size and demographics.

Kitchens said it was possible the commission would look at whole grade sharing as another way to address the issue. Under the practice, one district sends its students to another for instruction.

He added the commission should “look at some creative ways for districts to be able to combine services as well as to consolidate (districts).”

But Olsen said the body hasn’t “really had anybody come in to talk to us about that yet.”

Gov. Scott Walker last year nixed an Assembly GOP budget provision that sought to create grants to encourage the practice.

Kitchens also pointed to potentially creating a clearer path in state law to allow for the creation of more K-8 districts as an option to consolidate school services across declining enrollment districts. Currently, there’s no option to organize as a K-8 district, according to DPI, but it’s unclear whether that would hold up in court.

“Towns are so afraid of losing their identity if they lose their schools, but if you can do some of these things, then maybe you can allow those towns to still have their elementary schools then just share a high school,” he said.

Olsen also mentioned tweaking a component of the three-tiered equalization aid formula to better ensure districts that increase their revenue aren’t losing state aid.

“We have school districts that raise revenue through taxes. And they have to raise more than they are going to spend, because of their negative tertiary aid, so a percent of that they lose in state aid,” he said. “It’s a disincentive to increase their revenue.”

The tertiary aid tier of the formula seeks to hold in check those districts that spend a lot of money and aid others with extremely low property values.

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said if there’s no increase in state aid, the approximately 25 percent of districts currently impacted by negative tertiary aid would see a boost in state support and lower property taxes. But most other districts would see a property tax increase.

Olsen also said he’s open to making changes in the secondary aid tier. That tier’s cost ceiling is 90 percent of the statewide average cost across each district, a level Olsen said should be raised, possibly to 100 percent.

Bumping up the tier’s cost ceiling, McCarthy said, would mean some 95 percent of districts would see an increase through the secondary tier of the foruma, the primary driver for aid to districts.

Dem commissioner Rep. Sondy Pope, of Mt. Horeb, knocked the suggestions, saying the ideas didn’t go far enough to affect the formula’s fundamental problems.

“From what I’m looking at right now, we’re going to offer up a suggestion to further tweak a funding formula that has failed and I wanted more from this,” she said, after WisPolitics.com summarized Olsen’s and Kitchens’ comments to her.

Pope also noted much of the testimony the commission heard revolved around putting the brakes on the expansion of private school vouchers, adding she was “disappointed” the co-chairs seemed to have “taken off vouchers as part of the discussion.”

And she stressed the need to invest more money into K-12, saying “it is absolutely clear to me that the school districts and the public feel that we need to increase financial resources for schools.”

“If we don’t add considerably more financial resource to schools, I don’t think that we are really responding to what we heard because that was clearly asked for,” she said.

Meanwhile, on special education, Olsen said the commission has heard from many districts that are asking for an increase in the reimbursement rate after having to use regular education money, or Fund 10, to pay for special education costs.

DPI had previously requested an increase in the amount of money available to reimburse districts, with the intent to raise reimbursement rates to 28 percent in 2017-18 and 30 percent in 2018-19. The current rate, 26 percent, stayed static after those requests weren’t included in the budget.

Still, the budget did include an upper in the high-cost special education reimbursement rate. Under the change, if a district incurs more than $30,000 in special education costs for one student, the district would be reimbursed at 90 percent instead of 70 percent.

Neither Olsen nor Kitchens seem to have the appetite to go beyond a new plan to boost the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts. Under the sparsity aid law Walker signed earlier this year, districts now capped at spending $9,100 per year on students through a mix of property taxes and state aid would see that limit go up to $9,400 in 2018-19. The cap would then increase $100 annually to $9,800 in 2022-23.

“We really did that in the legislation, so I think we’ve got that covered,” Olsen said.

And Kitchens also said he could anticipate legislation from the commission to encourage retired educators to come back and substitute teach in schools, based on concerns surrounding the state’s teacher shortage.

Following the commission’s hearing in Madison June 4, Olsen and Kitchens are planning to sit down individually with each member along with representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see what legislation they’d like to come out of the body.

The 16-member commission includes nine lawmakers and seven education experts, including superintendents from Green Bay and Grantsburg, two representatives from Milwaukee-area Catholic schools, a UW-Madison professor, a member of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and a representative from Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6.

While the commission’s original plan was to slide the recommendations into the next biennial budget, Kitchens said it could ultimately be a combination of standalone bills and budget recommendations, depending on what provisions Walker would get behind.

Hear Olsen’s interview here.

Hear Kitchen’s interview here.

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DPI Releases Summary of 2017-18 Education Bills

By John Forester | May 15, 2018

DPI just released this summary of selected education-related bills that were enacted in the 2017-18 legislative session for your information.

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Walker Directs Agencies to Plan for Zero Growth Budget

By John Forester | May 15, 2018

From The Wheeler Report . . .

Governor Walker has given agencies directions for planning their 2019-21 budget.  Walker directed state agencies to plan a zero growth budget.  One of the exceptions to this directive is K-12 school aids.

Governor’s Letter

Major Budget Policies

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Rep. Ed Brooks Will Not Seek Re-Election

By John Forester | May 15, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

GOP state Rep. Ed Brooks, of Reedsburg, announced today he will not seek re-election, citing his health.

Brooks’ office said in a statement recent tests “indicated he needs to maintain control over the leukemia that he battled into remission last year.”

“I’ve been humbled and honored to represent the good citizens from the best Assembly district in Wisconsin for 10 years,” Brooks said. “All I can say to describe my experience is that it has been awesome!”

Brooks, 75, was elected to the Assembly in 2008 and has been a regular Dem target, though he won re-election in 2016 with 57.8 percent of the vote. He announced almost a year ago that he had been diagnosed with leukemia saying in a statement he planned to “fight it every step of the way.”

Brooks is 14th member of the chamber to decide against seeking re-election this fall. Seven members have announced plans to retire without seeking another office; five are running for another office; one has already won a local office and resigned; and one joined the Walker administration.

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Loophole in Wisconsin Parental Choice Program?

By John Forester | May 14, 2018

In case you missed this, check out this interesting article from the Baraboo News Republic about a loophole in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.

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