Governor to Hold Virtual Listening Sessions

By John Forester | March 8, 2021

From The Wheeler Report . . .

Governor Evers plans to hold six virtual listening sessions on Badger Bounceback. Each live session will have a subject matter.  (Please note, the listening session covering the Governor’s K-12 education budget initiatives will be held on April 8).

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DPI Candidates Discuss Issues at Forum

By John Forester | March 5, 2021

From …

Both state superintendent candidates said they want to reopen schools to in-person instruction as soon as possible now that teachers are getting vaccinated.

Pecatonica School District Superintendent Jill Underly and former Brown Deer School District Superintendent Deborah Kerr told a Disability Vote Coalition virtual forum last night the addition of teachers to the vaccination lists and increased availability of vaccines means schools can safely reopen soon.

Kerr said she wants to reopen schools across the state immediately because parents are fatigued and frustrated with having to juggle childcare and their jobs.

“And so, with vaccinations coming through with teachers, we can make sure this can happen, especially for all of our children with disabilities, because our parents need this support,” Kerr said.

Underly added that she is more concerned about kids’ social and emotional health, but those kids will also need to catch up on learning opportunities they might have missed out on during the pandemic.

“Everyone wants their schools open, the kids do especially,” Underly said.

The election is April 6.

They also both endorsed a 90 percent state reimbursement rate for special education classes.

The state is currently at 30 percent, and Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposes increasing that to 45 percent in the first year and 50 percent in the second.

Kerr and Underly said special education classes have suffered in school districts across the state as Wisconsin has offered to fund too little of those costly classes. They said that funding is needed to ensure students with disabilities can get jobs after graduation and receive the same high-quality education as their peers.

Kerr said she would strive for 90 percent reimbursement for special education classes to help schools provide robust special education programs alongside strong standard curriculums.

“Their needs are more unique and complex than ever due to the pandemic [and] due to the situation that’s going on in society,” Kerr said.

She added the funding increase would ensure schools could provide resources for students to deal with trauma and ensure they have food, housing and their living requirements are “adequate.”

Underly agreed, saying a 90 percent reimbursement would be ideal because it would also allow districts to save money for other priorities such as reducing class sizes, adding extracurricular activities and improving buildings.

“I would certainly advocate and continue to work with our Legislature and our families to fully understand the cost of special education,” she said.

Underly added that funding lag has been around for at least 20 years and her school district transfers at least half a million dollars per year to fund their special education classes.

They also called for reducing the use of seclusion and limiting the use of restraints in schools to address behavioral issues.

The two said using data to make decisions on how to limit those practices is the end goal because they are not as productive towards educating students with special needs compared to less damaging ones. However, they said those practices are necessary in certain circumstances.

“I do not believe in seclusion and restraint unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Kerr said.

However, she said schools need to work toward helping those students make better decisions and “handle themselves” better so seclusion and restraint don’t need to be used as often.

Underly said restraint and seclusion should only be used when “absolutely most needed and when a child is in danger of harming themselves or others.”

“Every effort should be made to prevent the need for use of restraint and for the use of seclusions,” Underly said.

She said understanding the needs of students with disabilities, improving early childhood intervention programs and implementing better coping mechanisms in schools will help reach that goal.

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LFB Memo on Evers’ Special Education Aid Proposal

By John Forester | March 4, 2021

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has produced a memo estimating the special education aid each district could receive under the Governor’s proposal to increase special education funding in his State Budget plan.  In crafting this memo, the LFB utilized assumptions consistent with their practice.  Actual aid will differ based on each district’s actual costs.

This information is extremely important to our ongoing advocacy efforts on the 2021-23 State Budget.

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Evers Continues Push for Two-Thirds Funding, Comments on Opening Schools

By John Forester | March 2, 2021

From …

Gov. Tony Evers said today he will continue to push for two-thirds funding for public schools despite GOP opposition and that he’ll work to close down some adult state prisons in the future.

Evers in a virtual luncheon today said he wants the state to return to funding two-thirds of public K-12 school budgets. He also said he wants to continue to decrease state prison populations while improving mental health resources and programs to reduce recidivism.

“All of those things together will dramatically decrease the number of people in our system and close prisons,” said Evers. Asked whether he envisions a day when an adult prison is closed, he said: “Absolutely, yes.”

Evers’ budget doesn’t call for closing any state prisons. Meanwhile, he’s proposing an increase in state funding to the Department of Public Instruction of $1.6 billion in general purpose revenue. That proposed investment is part of a plan that would restore the state’s commitment to funding two-thirds of public education.

The guv said his proposal to increase school funding has received bipartisan support in the past from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, adding “apparently he doesn’t know that.”

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state is picking up 65.2 percent of K-12 costs in the 2020-21 school year. The state repealed the requirement that it pick up two-thirds of costs in the 2003-05 budget.

Evers also said the state could save some money by improving educational programs to decrease the number of prison inmates who are released and end up back in prison.

“This is something that’s costly to the state of Wisconsin and more importantly it’s unfair,” Evers said, adding “we have to ensure that people that are in prison are there for a very serious reason.”

He said educational programs inside and outside prisons would help reduce the number of people who end up in prison in the first place while decreasing the number of inmates who end up back in prison, reducing the financial burden on taxpayers from the state’s prison system.

Also on education, Evers said Republicans’ proposals to incentivize schools to reopen by offering them more funding is “out of the question.”

The guv said CARES Act money Republicans are saying should be used to incentivize those schools has already been allocated to help increase testing and vaccination efforts at UW System schools. He said using that money for other things just won’t happen and schools need money regardless of where their students are taught.

“No. I mean it costs money to do it virtually, it costs money to do it in person,” adding “It’s out of the question.”

Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, tweeted during today’s luncheon that Evers was mischaracterizing what GOP lawmakers are asking.

“We asked the Governor to direct additional federal funds to schools that are already open. Parents want their kids in the classroom. They want a Governor who does too,” Born tweeted.

Evers said he’s willing to “look at all options” to reopen those public schools safely as soon as possible, even if it means changing laws.

The former state schools superintendent said he would be willing to change a state law that prohibits K-12 schools from starting fall classes earlier than Sept. 1 in order to get kids into classrooms and back up to speed as quickly as possible. He also said schools should be looking at creating “robust” summer school programs.

He added that he is hopeful about the future, but students who weather the pandemic will need more attention to make up for their loss of classroom time.

“It will mean that we’re going to have some real obligations to catch kids up, and whether that’s summer school or making sure that next year we maybe even start early, we have to look at all options, and I know school districts are already considering some of those ideas,” Evers said.

Evers added K-12 teachers in many of those schools don’t necessarily need to be vaccinated in order to safely reopen.

As long as those schools are following social distancing precautions, have adequate ventilation systems, have PPE for students and staff and everyone is wearing masks, Evers said K-12 schools can reopen for in-person classes.

“I know my teacher friends may disagree with me, but CDC says it’s not imperative,” Evers said of vaccinating teachers.

He said even if he could force those schools to open, the decision should be left to local schools rather than the state government because those schools know their districts and resources best.

“I cannot order schools to open; it’s not part of my ability as governor.”

Evers added he will work to help those schools reopen by improving the vaccination effort and getting more PPE for schools. “That’s my job,” he said.

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Kerr Hires New Campaign Management Firm

By John Forester | March 2, 2021

From …

State schools superintendent candidate Deb Kerr has hired Crossroads Solutions to run her race after her former campaign manager left last month, the campaign told

The firm, led by operative Chelsea Cross, was brought on board shortly after Brandon Savage left. Savage, who has exclusively worked with Dem candidates and groups, said he couldn’t provide Kerr the general election strategy she would need to win, believing she would have to appeal to Republicans and conservatives.

The election on April 6 pits Kerr, the former Brown Deer District superintendent, against Pecatonica Superintendent Jill Underly.

Cross and Crossroads Solutions previously worked on the campaign of Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams, another pro-voucher candidate who finished fourth in the seven-way Feb. 16 primary.

Cross last year led the campaign of Dem Tom Palzewicz for the heavily GOP 5th CD. She also last year worked on the state Supreme Court race of Ed Fallone, who ran as a progressive.

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GOP Asks Evers to Prioritize In-Person Instruction With GEER II Funding

By John Forester | March 2, 2021

From …

GOP lawmakers today asked Gov. Tony Evers to prioritize schools that have offered in-person instruction with $20.8 million in federal funding that the governor has sole discretion to distribute.

It’s the latest attempt by Republicans to place an emphasis on funding schools that have offered in-person instruction over those that haven’t, citing the additional costs they’ve incurred for cleaning, safety measures and transportation, among other things.

Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, told a news conference the issue likely will be part of the upcoming budget discussion on school aids.

Evers’ budget calls for a more than $1.6 billion increase in state funding for the Department of Public Instruction. Of that, Evers wants to pump $612.8 million into the general school aids formula, which is based on district property values and enrollment.

“Certainly in the current environment, part of the discussion will certainly be additional costs that are brought into schools in the pandemic,” Born said.

An Evers spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Dem Chair Ben Wikler said Republicans want the state’s hardest hit schools to “do more with even less” and questioned why they were trying to pressure districts into having in-person instruction rather than leaving the decision to local officials.

“Safely reopening schools should be a priority for all, but this hypocritical GOP approach would punish the very schools with the greatest safety concerns,” Wikler said. “Budgets are a reflection of values, and this stunt from Republican legislators makes clear they continue to value political games over our kids and teachers.”

Last month, the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee directed the state to use $68.6 million to reward districts that are providing in-person instruction this year. It was part of a larger $686.1 million federal package from a bill former President Trump signed in December with $617.5 million divided up based on a formula that accounted for the number of low-income students residing in each district.

The money Republicans targeted today is through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund created under the federal CARES Act. Wisconsin received $46.6 million in the first round of GEER funding, and Evers prioritized districts based on their remote learning needs and how much they’d been affected by the pandemic, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo. The criteria used to dole out that money included the percentage of students: scoring below basic on the state English language arts assessment, from economically disadvantaged families, and with no computer or Internet access.

The state is receiving a second round of GEER funding with $77.5 million going to private schools. That leaves $20.8 million that Evers can distribute to local educational agencies, institutions of higher learning or other education-related entities. In a memo to Born, LFB said the criteria for that second round of funding hasn’t been announced, and the guv would be allowed to award the money based on whether districts are offering in-person instruction.

Of the money schools received from the December bill Trump signed, Milwaukee got the lion’s share at $225.2 million.

Rep. Cindi Duchow, R-Town of Delafield, said with other federal aid, the state’s largest district has received more than $292 million even though it hasn’t offered in-person instruction. She said that works out to $4,000 per student, while Kettle Moraine School District in her Assembly seat has received $330,000, about $91 per student, even though it’s been in the classroom since September. She said the district has spent more than $2 million on costs associated with getting kids back into the classroom.

“We need the governor to help schools like that out. They can’t afford a $2 million hit to their budget because they aren’t getting that sort of crazy money that some of these other schools are getting,” she said.

Read the letter here.

See the LFB memo here.

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School District COVID-19 Immunity Included in Unemployment Bill

By John Forester | February 26, 2021

From The Legal Side . . .

In its most recent School Law FYI, the BoardmanClark Law Firm focuses on the Unemployment Compensation bill signed into law by Governor Tony Evers on Thursday, February 25th.  Media reports on this new law has largely overlooked the fact that the bill includes COVID-19 immunity from civil liability for school districts and other entities.  As you know, the COVID-19 immunity provisions were a major part of the SAA’s Statutory Flexibility Agenda.

The SAA regularly receives these legal updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of the BoardmanClark Law Firm.  The information in this update is no substitute for consulting with your district legal counsel, and we encourage you to do so.

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SAA News Release

By John Forester | February 17, 2021

The SAA issued this news release this morning regarding the introduction of the governor’s executive budget.

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Governor Evers’ Budget Address

By John Forester | February 16, 2021

Check out Governor Evers’ prepared remarks for his Biennial Budget Address here.

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Budget in Brief K-12 Education Highlights

By John Forester | February 16, 2021

The summary of Governor Evers’ K-12 education budget initiatives begins on p. 13 of the Budget in Brief.  Check it out here.

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