School officials rip state budget

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School District of Beloit Superintendent Tom Johnson and Beloit Turner Superintendent Dennis McCarthy along with 10 other regional school administrators met in Milton on Friday to discuss policies embedded in the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee’s (JFC) education budget.

After meeting they issued a joint press release voicing concerns over funding, private school voucher expansion, a proposal to ease teacher licensing standards, a proposed graduation requirement that all high school students must pass a 100-question civics test and more.

The release stated the reinstatement of the $150 per student categorical aid is giving districts back the funding they have this year, and is not an increase in funding.

Although Johnson said in an interview Friday afternoon that he doesn’t believe in “throwing money at problems” he said he’s also a realist.

“We need to keep up with inflationary costs and that is not happening,” Johnson said.

At a time when policies are laying the groundwork for funding a privatized education system, McCarthy said the Governor and legislators are unwilling to provide the necessary funding to support public schools.

“There are two direct sources that can be eliminated from this budget in order to move toward Consumer Price Index increases for our public schools. Eliminate the funding of private voucher education schools and stop increasing tax levy credits. These levy credits benefit only the richest districts in our state,” McCarthy said. “Districts in our area and in many areas throughout the state are struggling with poverty. Further defunding of public education serves as another barrier to students already in the greatest need.”

Although School District of Beloit Superintendent Tom Johnson said he’s in support of healthy competition, he’s opposed to creating two separate educational systems — one of which is not required to take the same assessments as public school systems and gets to “pick and choose” its students. He said Milwaukee had a voucher program for more than 20 years, but the public school system still outperforms voucher schools there.

The local school district administrators are opposed to a special education voucher proposal as students with special needs may not receive the same services and protections afforded to them by federal law if they attend a private voucher school. In addition, students with significant educational needs may actually not have the same access to private voucher schools, as the $12,000 special education voucher would not sufficiently cover their actual costs.

Administrators said the proposed state budget would allow Wisconsin students to enroll in an out-of-state school, with the home school district paying the tuition.

However, State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, stressed this is not a new policy item. These types of agreements are already permitted under current law. Under the new proposal, the written agreement would have to specify the amount of payment required, as opposed to current law which requires payment as though the pupil were enrolled in the school district of residence. The provision is intended to level the playing field along the Michigan/Wisconsin border where there have been some challenges.

The administrators said the proposed budget would allow Gateway Technical College in Racine County to set up independent charter schools in Rock County, with state funding going from local schools to the technical college instead.

Administrators are opposed to a proposal allowing for learning portfolios to satisfy up to half of a high school student’s graduation requirements; a proposal to ease teacher licensing standards; and a proposed graduation requirement that all high school students must pass a 100-question civics test.

They are also opposed to a proposal requiring school districts to allow any homeschool, private school, or virtual school student to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities offered by public schools.

Johnson said the superintendents have been writing to legislators about the proposed changes in education, and met with legislators in Madison two months ago. He encourages the public to get involved and to contact their legislators as well.

Johnson said there are several significant policy changes being proposed with no open debate or explanation of the motivation behind the changes.

McCarthy said he challenges local legislators to answer questions on the policies in a public forum.

“We simply do not understand why these proposals have not been discussed and debated in a public forum and instead are attached to the budget. I have yet to see any sound reasoning from our legislators, local or otherwise, as to why these agenda items are being pushed through in the budget,” McCarthy said.

The following district administrators attended Friday’s meeting: Bernard Nikolay, Cambridge; Randy Refsland, Clinton; Dennis Pauli, Edgerton; Jerry Roth, Evansville; Jeff Zaspel, Fort Atkinson; Karen Schulte, Janesville; Tim Schigur, Milton; Steve Bloom, Palmyra-Eagle; Eric Runez, Whitewater; and Dave Alexander, Yorkville J2.

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