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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Walker Signs SB 271 Into Law

By John Forester | April 9, 2014

Governor Walker signed Senate Bill 271, relating to privately-contracted special education substitute teachers and para-educators, into law yesterday as Wisconsin Act 255.

In recent years, increasing numbers of Wisconsin school districts have turned to contracting for substitute teacher and para-educator placements with private staffing services.  However, until now school districts could not receive state special education aid for the costs of contracting with a staffing service for special education substitutes.  Senate Bill 271, authored by Senator Olsen and Representative Kestell with the SAA’s strong support, solves this problem by explicitly authorizing school districts to contract with staffing services and makes the costs eligible for special education aid.  The provisions of this law become effective with aid paid in 2014-15 for expenditures made in the current school year.

Special thanks go to Senator Olsen and Representative Kestell for bringing the legislation forward and for allowing the SAA to participate in the bill development process.

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Walker Signs 180-day Bill Into Law

By John Forester | April 9, 2014

Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 589, relating to the number of school days and hours of instruction held in a school year, into law yesterday as Wisconsin Act 257.

Act 257 eliminates the 180-day requirement and retains the minimum instructional time requirement. The new law also ensures that a school district employing a flexible year-round instructional calendar can receive state aid for pupils during both summer school and interim session classes. In this fashion, Act 257 removes a current law impediment (loss of summer school aid) to school districts exploring innovative year-round schooling.

The removal of the 180-day requirement became effective with the Governor’s signature, therefore the 180-day requirement ceases to exist.  Districts can use this new calendar flexibility for this school year.

The SAA strongly supported this legislation from its inception.  Special thanks to Senator Luther Olsen and Representative Steve Kestell for bringing this legislation forward and for allowing the SAA to participate in the bill development process.

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Newsweek: Telecom Giants Drag Their Feet on Broadband

By John Forester | April 3, 2014

After making a big, bold promise to wire every corner of America, the telecom giants are running away from their vow to provide nationwide broadband service by 2020. For almost 20 years, AT&T, Verizon and the other big players have collected hundreds of billions of dollars through rate increases and surcharges to finance that ambitious plan, but after wiring the high-density big cities, they now say it’s too expensive to connect the rest of the country. But they’d like to keep all that money they banked for the project.

See the full article here.

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Really? You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me! (Part Two)

By John Forester | April 3, 2014

The head-scratching situation coming from the 6th Congressional District Republican Caucus continues.  Danny Krueger, of the Columbia County Republican Party, has issued an “Open Letter to Senator Scott Fitzgerald” in which he urges Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald to remove Senator Olsen from his position as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and appoint Olsen to a different committee.

What a brilliant suggestion!  Clearly, the Legislature’s foremost authority on education policy has no business chairing the Senate Education Committee.  What?

Even Mr. Krueger acknowledged that this situation “is no longer rational”, albeit for different reasons than I hold.  Nonetheless, I find it easy to take him at his word, literally.

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