Democrats Criticize Rural Schools Report

By John Forester | May 8, 2014

Here is an interesting news story from the Wisconsin State Journal on the partisan sparring over the recommendations from the Rural Schools Task Force.

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Graduation Rates Continue to Climb

By John Forester | May 8, 2014

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) announced today that Wisconsin’s statewide public school graduation rate continued its upward trend, improving 2.3 percentage points between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 school years. The class of 2013 had a four‑year graduation rate of 88.0 percent, five-tenths of a point higher than the prior year.

Additional information is available in this news release.  District- and school-level graduation rate data is available here.

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Swearingen, Clark Each Issue Rural Schools Reports

By John Forester | May 7, 2014

Representatives Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander)  and Fred Clark (D-Baraboo), the chair and vice-chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools respectively, have each issued task force reports.  The SAA is heartened by the potential for real bipartisan support for addressing many of the issues highlighted in both reports.  We also thank Chairman Swearingen, Vice-Chairman Clark and the other members of the task force for their hard work and dedication in proposing solutions that will improve rural schools’ abilities to provide quality learning opportunities for all the children they serve.

The SAA is reviewing both reports to identify the measures we believe are in the  best interest of rural schools and rural school children.  Links to both reports appear below.

Swearingen Report      Clark Report

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Nass to Run for Open Senate Seat

By John Forester | May 7, 2014

Longtime GOP state Rep. Steve Nass will run for the open 11th Senate District, an aide tells

Nass is jumping into the race for the 11th SD after Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, announced yesterday he would not seek re-election to the heavily GOP seat in southern Wisconsin.

Nass, who was first elected to the Assembly in 1990, is expected to formally announce his bid this afternoon, aide Mike Mikalsen said.

He will become the 22nd member of the Assembly to announce plans to retire rather than seeking re-election, breaking the record that was set in 1983, according to data from the Legislative Reference Bureau that goes back to 1963. Another three members left the chamber last year for other jobs and were replaced in special elections.

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Please Complete DPI Technology Survey

By John Forester | May 1, 2014

In order for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to adequately plan for broadband and digital learning needs they are distributing a statewide survey through the CESAs to gather baseline data.  This spring the State Superintendent’s Digital Learning Plan is being updated to help coordinate budget proposals for the FY15-17 budget. The SAA is working with the DPI on school technology budget proposals, and we are asking for your support to gather information in regards to broadband, infrastructure, professional learning, applications and technology uses and 1:1 device programs.

It is extremely important that we collect good data from all of our school districts in Wisconsin.  Your time and attention in completing this survey is greatly appreciated.  We have linked a pdf of the survey that may help you to compile your data.  The survey data must be submitted online.  Thank you.

Access the online survey here:


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Lots of Senate, Assembly Retirements

By John Forester | April 29, 2014

Those senators retiring or running for higher office include GOP Sens. Mike Ellis of Neenah, Joe Leibham of Sheboygan, and Dale Schultz of Richland Center plus Dem Sens. John Lehman of Racine, Tim Cullen of Janesville and Bob Jauch of Poplar.

In the Assembly, 21 retirements are planned — seven Dem and 14 GOP members. Based on data provided from the Legislative Reference Bureau dating back to 1963, that number ties the record of retirements set in 1983.

Those Assembly members passing on re-election bids:


- Penny Bernard Schaber, Appleton

- Janet Bewley, Ashland,

- Fred Clark, Baraboo

- Sandy Pasch, Shorewood

- Janis Ringhand, Evansville

- Jon Richards, Milwaukee

- Brett Hulsey, Madison


- Garey Bies, Sister Bay

- Mike Endsley, Sheboygan

- Dean Kaufert, Neenah

- Steve Kestell, Elkhart Lake

- John Klenke, Green Bay

- Bill Kramer, Waukesha

- Dan LeMahieu, Cascade

- Howard Marklein, Spring Green

- Pat Strachota, West Bend

- Mary Williams, Medford

- Chad Weininger, Green Bay

- Erik Severson, Star Prairie

- Don Pridemore, Hartford

- Duey Stroebel, Saukville

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Congratulations. You Own It.

By John Forester | April 24, 2014

I thought you might be interested in the latest from the anti-Common Core crowd.

Here is An Open Letter to Wisconsin State Elected Officials on the Full and Imminent Implementation of Common Core State Standards,  signed by representatives of 45 anti-Common Core organizations throughout the state.  The letter was delivered to Governor Walker and every member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate yesterday.

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Interview: Olsen Unbowed By Pressure from Common Core Opponents

By John Forester | April 21, 2014

The following interview with Senator Luther Olsen was released by WisPolitics last Friday.

When Sen. Luther Olsen hears the word “recall” again, his response is fairly succinct.

“Bring it on,” Olsen said. “I went through Act 10.”

Olsen, the Senate Education Committee chair, tells he doesn’t fear opposition from anti-Common Core activists.

“If I’m the guy who is standing between getting rid of the Common Core and keeping it, I can go to sleep fine saying, ‘Yeah, I think it’s the right thing, and that’s not a problem,’” said Olsen, R-Ripon.

But other looming educational debates — such as school accountability and private school choice expansion — are far more complicated, according to Olsen.

The almost 20-year veteran of the Legislature spent most of his energy the past session focused on building a wide-ranging school accountability package, but the recall talk has begun because of his stance on the Common Core academic standards. A vocal minority in the GOP has called for his removal as Education chairman for what they feel was a lack of respect for those who say Common Core is wrong for Wisconsin’s school children.

In particular, they charge Olsen was too dismissive when he held a Senate committee hearing on a bill to institute Wisconsin-specific academic standards. When Olsen told reporters before convening the hearing that he opposed the bill, it angered bill author Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and others who had traveled to the Capitol to voice support for the measure.

Olsen said he felt the lengthy hearing was fair, and he heard from enough people afterward who said as much. But he acknowledges what Common Core opponents criticize him for — that he doesn’t take their concerns seriously.

“When the first discussion was there, people were saying, ‘Well, the standards weren’t rigorous enough,’” Olsen said. “Well, they couldn’t decide that. Then they were too rigorous. Then all of a sudden it was where they came from. Well now the last thing I read, if we have these standards it will be the end of civilization as we know it, because this is just taking over, mind control, changing our Judeo-Christian background and throwing out our history of our country and all of this stuff. And it’s like, where does this come from? Because it’s math and language arts. It’s two subjects.”

Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped Common Core only to end up adopting something similar anyway.

While he thinks that some groups are using the issue to “gin up” membership and hopes it will fade away after the 2014 elections, he also says the issue’s staying power will likely depend on how Gov. Scott Walker handles it.

“The governor put the money in the budget for the [Smarter Balanced] test, and I was asking him and his staff all along, ‘Is he going to stand strong on his position supporting this?’” Olsen said. “And all of a sudden, one day, he turned 180 degrees. ‘Well, we can do better.’ Well, I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘better’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘more rigorous’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what’s the problem is. It’s easy to say this stuff, but there’s nothing behind it. And when you say things like this, people believe it.”

A comprehensive accountability package for all publicly funded schools was similarly complicated, Olsen says.

After being tasked by Walker to come up with accountability standards along with Rep. Steve Kestell, Olsen unveiled his bill in the fall.

While the original bill featured timelines for sanctions on failing schools, it was roundly opposed by voucher proponents. After some changes, Olsen’s next draft moved up sanctions against MPS schools and closed failing schools or converted them to charter schools. While this turned DPI against the bill, it also wasn’t quite good enough for voucher school proponents.

“What we were trying to do was to say, ‘let’s see what happens,’ and people of good faith sat at the table to try and do this,” Olsen said. “But not everybody in my estimation were sitting there in good faith. I mean, we worked with the school choice people and gave them all the stuff that we could possibly give them in their area. But they kept moving the goal post and things like this. And finally we just got to the point where, ‘I’m sorry guys, we can’t go down there,’ because we would have a sham.”

In the end, Olsen and others working on the bill compromised on a bare-bones measure that set a date for mandatory school data reporting and set the stage for work on a more comprehensive bill in the interim. But while Olsen hopes for a broader bill next session, he’s not entirely optimistic it will truly deliver accountability for choice schools.

“Even if we do have a report card, what I see, and if you look at the test participation in the choice schools, they’re not participating very well,” Olsen said. “It seems like those schools are talking their parents out of having their kids take the test. So even if we have a good report card, the whole nine yards … if they don’t take the test, you can’t measure anything. So there’s a back door to this.”

This election season has seen the retirements of Senate Republican moderates Dale Schultz and Mike Ellis, but that doesn’t appear to be a consideration for Olsen at this point. He said he expects to run again for election in 2016, though he admits two years is a “long, long time in politics.” But if he does run again, he doesn’t have any desire to try and beef up his conservative credentials.

“Republicans or Democrats don’t win elections,” Olsen said. “It’s the people in the middle; it’s the independents. And if you are talking about things the independents are talking about and feel are important, you win elections.”

Listen to the interview here .

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SAA Pushes for Course Options Meeting

By John Forester | April 10, 2014

As member concerns over Wisconsin’s new course options law continue to pile up, the SAA has worked with Senator Luther Olsen, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, to schedule a meeting of legislative service agencies, the DPI, and relevant K-12 stakeholders to discuss our concerns and how to address them.  We greatly appreciate Senator Olsen’s leadership in setting this meeting for Tuesday, April 29th in the State Capitol.  By necessity, the participant numbers must be limited.  We are in the process of identifying a few SAA members to represent the membership at this meeting.

Confusion abounds about this issue.  We have received numerous reports that local legislators have told school administrators that the problem stems from a DPI rule that lawmakers can stop.  There is no DPI rule.  The problem is in statutory language dumped into the state budget bill late at night before the Joint Finance Committee and passed with little analysis and no scrutiny.

The SAA will keep members informed of any developments on this important issue.

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Schools to Receive $30.2 Million in Library Aid

By John Forester | April 10, 2014

The DPI announced today that public schools throughout Wisconsin will share $30.2 million in library aid which will be paid April 28 from the Common School Fund.  Aid is based on the number of children between the ages of 4 and 20 living in each public school district.  Funding is up from last year.  This year’s aid payment will be $24.95 (rounded) per child.

For more information including estimated district aid payments see DPI News Release.

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