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Education MI Research

October 2, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Data Release: School Choice Students Outperform Peers on ACT

Statewide proficiency on Forward Exam falls to 42 percent in English, increases to 44 percent in math

A new data release from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction shows that 42.4 percent of 3rd to 8th grade students are proficient in English language arts, and 43.8 percent are proficient in math.

Students improved in math by one percentage point over last year, when 42.8 percent were proficient. At the same time, they fared worse in English language arts. Last year, 44.4 percent of students were proficient on the same exam.

Students showed slight improvement in science, with 49.9 percent of students demonstrating proficiency. That’s up a hair from 49.7 percent last year. They also improved on social studies — 50.6 percent of students are proficient in the subject, up a full percentage point from last year’s result.

2018 marks the third year that students have taken the Forward Exam, after the state switched between three exams in three years.

The exam was taken by more than 715,000 Wisconsin students in public and private schools this past spring. Of the students taking the test, more than half are 3rd through 8th graders who take only math and English language arts. Another 196,100 students in grades four, eight, and ten take social studies. Finally, 130,100 students in grades four and eight take the science section.

Achievement gaps persisted in the data, especially between white and black students. The English language arts gap shrank slightly to 37 points, while the achievement gap in math increased from 39.8 points to 41 points.

Choice Students Outperform on ACT

The data release also showed that students in the parental choice programs outperformed their public school peers on the ACT for the third year in a row.

Students in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), also known as the statewide choice program, earned an average of 21.0 out of 36 points on the ACT Exam. Wisconsin students as a whole earned a score of 19.7 out of 36, lower than last year’s average of 20.0 points.

Participants in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) earned a composite score of 17.2 out of 36 on the ACT Exam. Economically disadvantaged students at Milwaukee Public Schools earned a score of 15.5, while MPS students as a whole earned 16.1 points.

Typically, outcomes in the choice programs are compared with economically disadvantaged students in public schools, since participation in Wisconsin’s choice programs is limited to impoverished students.

In the 2018-19 school year, families of four can earn a maximum of $73,800 annually to be eligible for the school choice program in Milwaukee or Racine — 300 percent of the federal poverty level. In the statewide program, the income cap is set at $54,120, or 220 percent of the federal poverty line.

Students in the Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP) earned an average of 19.4 out of 36 points on the ACT. Economically disadvantaged Racine Unified students earned a score of 16.0, while RUSD students as a whole earned 17.2 points.

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, celebrated the results in a statement.

“The school choice programs outperformed their peers for the third year in a row on the ACT,” Bender said. “Higher scores. Lower cost. The continued growth of the programs is good for students and taxpayers in Wisconsin.”

Overall, approximately 66,300 students in 11th grade took the ACT this spring, paid for by the state of Wisconsin. Before offering the exam at no cost to students, about 72 percent of Wisconsin graduates took the exam. Wisconsin now has one of the highest participation rates for the ACT in the country.

ACT Aspire Shows Mixed Results

Students also showed slight improvements on the ACT Aspire, a type of “pre ACT” exam taken by freshmen and sophomores in high school to prepare them for the full ACT that they’ll use on college applications. This year, 58.3 percent of students were proficient in English on the ACT Aspire, up from 57.5 percent last year.

The same was true on the math section of the ACT Aspire, where 39.7 percent of students are now considered ready or exceeding, up from 37.1 percent in 2017.

Students fared worse in reading, with 36.8 percent showing proficiency in that subject, down from 38.6 percent last year. Scores also fell slightly on the science section, with 35.1 percent ready or exceeding, down a tick from 35.5 percent in 2017.

A DPI press release described the results as holding steady, with “some promising gains in mathematics achievement across most grade levels.” Third graders, the youngest students to take the test, showed the most striking improvements over last year. In English language arts, 39 percent of third grade students were proficient, up from 41.1 percent last year. Those students also improved in math, with 49 percent showing proficiency, up from 47.3 percent in 2017.

The data comes just over a month ahead of the release of Wisconsin’s latest school and district report cards, which are slated for a November release.

September 12, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski and Anna Stoneman

Early College Credits in Wisconsin Save Parents $60 Million a Year

An increasing number of Wisconsinites are earning college credit during high school, slicing thousands of dollars off the cost of a college degree

Earning college credits at a fraction of the cost might sound too good to be true.

Believe it or not, it’s real here in Wisconsin. Just ask the thousands of Wisconsin high school students who saved at least $60 million on college tuition in a single year by taking advantage of dual enrollment opportunities.

Early college credit is a great deal for Wisconsin parents looking to save on the cost of a college education.

The estimated savings come from three programs: the Early College Credit Program, the Wisconsin Technical College System, and Advanced Placement exams. Through these programs, students can take college-level courses at their high school or at an institution of higher learning.

If they succeed, students receive college credit while still in high school. If every Wisconsin high school student participating in these three programs redeemed the credit earned, parents would save an estimated $101 million a year on the cost of a college education in the state. However, not every college credit earned by a high school student will be redeemed at the UW System. Some Wisconsin high school graduates will not utilize the credits earned. If 75 percent of graduates use their credits in Wisconsin, savings would total over $80 million.

For our analysis, we estimate that approximately 50 percent of the credits earned will be redeemed. The UW does not track or publish some of the information needed to know the entire scope of savings. For that reason, we use the conservative 50 percent credit utilization estimate. Under that scenario, Wisconsin students would have saved an estimated $60.25 million in credits in the 2016-17 school year through these three programs.

AP exams

Perhaps the most familiar path to early college credit is the Advanced Placement (AP) program. The highly comprehensive AP program offers high school courses ranging from Latin and economics to computer science and studio art. In May of each year, AP courses nationwide culminate in standardized tests on their material.

AP Exams are the most popular way that Wisconsin students earn early credit for college, and they’re becoming increasingly popular. The number of AP exams taken by Wisconsin high school students has increased by 56% since 2011.

In May of 2017, Wisconsin students took 73,169 exams to demonstrate their aptitude. With a 56 percent increase in the number of AP exams taken by Wisconsin high school students since 2011, the exams are becoming more popular – and for good reason. AP exams are graded on a scale of 1-5, and any score of three or higher can earn its test-taker a number of college credits.

In the University of Wisconsin System, AP exams often translate into three credits, but can count for up to 10 in cases such as AP Calculus and AP Physics. All schools in the UW System give a minimum of three credits for a score of three on an AP exam. That makes Wisconsin rather generous compared to many other colleges, which might only accept scores of four or five for credit.

In 2017, Wisconsin high school students passed 48,218 of their AP exams (65.9 percent) with a three or above. If every AP credit were transferred to a University of Wisconsin institution at a rate of three credits per exam, thousands of students would save $63.5 million altogether while still in high school.

The UW System does not publish specific records on the number of students with early college credits. For example, we know exactly how many Wisconsin AP exams were scored a three or higher. However, we don’t know how many of those credit-earning students went on to attend the UW System and redeem the college credits earned in high school. For that reason, some basic assumptions must be made about the number of AP credits successfully used by Wisconsin students at the UW System.

If all of the credits earned by Wisconsin high school students in 2017 were utilized at the UW System at a conversion rate of three credits per AP exam, families would see savings of $63.5 million overall.

Some AP exams are worth even more than three credits, pushing potential savings up even higher. Still, not all of those high school students stay in the state. Historically, about one-third of Wisconsin high school students immediately go into the UW System. If three-quarters of the AP exams were utilized in the UW System, families would see savings of $47.6 million.

Finally, a conservative estimate that assumes just 50 percent of the exams were translated into credits at the UW System totals $31.8 million in savings. That is a basic minimum estimate.

Even if the students don’t attend a UW school, they could still use the credits elsewhere, maintaining some cost savings.

AP courses are efficient and effective, but they certainly aren’t the only way advanced high school students can get ahead.

Early College Credit Program

Through the statewide Early College Credit Program (ECCP), high school students can take university-level courses for college credit. Depending on the type of course chosen, families are responsible for a fraction of the cost of each course taken for college credit.

Dual enrollment is a fast track to significant advancement and savings for families. Costs are largely covered by the university, school, and state in a cost-sharing agreement – all depending on the type of course the student chooses. Some classes in the ECCP are taught at Wisconsin high schools at a rate negotiated by the high school and university. Students then pay the deeply reduced credit cost, saving money compared to what they would pay at a traditional university for the same credit. In other cases, the cost is shared by the school district and the state, relieving families of any financial responsibility for the courses.

In 2016-17, according to the most recent data from the University of Wisconsin’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research, students jumped at the opportunity to get ahead.

In that year, 7,809 high school students attempted a total 40,308 credits in the University of Wisconsin System for a value of nearly $18.5 million.

Millions, that is, that students and families don’t take on as college debt.

As with AP exams and credits, some basic assumptions help solidify the total dollar amount saved by Wisconsin students and parents. The UW System does not publicly report how many ECCP students continue on in the System after high school. They also do not track how many of those students successfully attain credits – just how many credits students “attempt.”

If three-quarters of the students utilize their credits at the UW System, savings would total $13.9 million. If just half of all ECCP students go onto the UW System, savings on college tuition total $9.25 million. Given that students who are motivated enough to take early college classes while in high school are likelier than the average student population to attend college, we believe that 50 percent credit utilization is a safe estimate.

That means through just a single program, Wisconsin parents and students saved more than $9 million on college tuition in one year. Of course, it’s far from the only way students can earn college credit in high school.

Wisconsin Technical College System dual enrollment

Even greater savings can be found in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). WTCS employs qualified instructors to teach the WTCS curriculum at area high schools.

With programs ranging from business to manufacturing to public safety, WTCS dual enrollment allows students to rapidly advance through college or into the workforce.

The convenience of in-school instruction pays off. In 2016-17, over 36,600 high school students took dual enrollment courses through WTCS, earning 147,400 technical college credits valued at $19.2 million.

With millions in savings, it’s no wonder why dual enrollment participation has grown 57 percent in the past five years – and is still on the rise.

Unlike the ECCP and AP programs, WTCS publishes extensive data on its dual enrollment program.

In all, parents and students saved at least $60 million on college credits through the three programs in just the 2016-17 school year.

The total number is likely to be higher – if every student who participated in AP exams, the ECCP, and WTCS dual enrollment went onto the UW System, savings could total as high as $101 million. This figure doesn’t even account for programs such as International Baccalaureate (IB) and CLEP exams, driving overall savings even higher. Assuming that three-quarters of students utilized their early credits in Wisconsin, savings would add to more than $80 million.

Participation in these programs is on the rise, and for good reason. Outstanding student loan debt in America surpassed $1.5 trillion in early 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. In-state tuition at UW has been frozen since 2013 thanks to Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature, but the cost of college is still high. Budget-conscious students and families should familiarize themselves with the number of ways they can get ahead of the curve by earning college credit before receiving their high school diplomas.

September 6, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

The MacIver Institute's State of Higher Education: 2018 Edition

It’s back-to-school week across the state. Students in the University of Wisconsin System are heading back into their lecture halls for another year of sifting and winnowing. On Tuesday, we reviewed the state of K-12 education, and now it’s a good time to take a look at how students in Wisconsin’s universities and colleges are faring.

Postsecondary Enrollment

As we wrote earlier in the week, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released a large dataset for Wisconsin students in March of this year. Part of that data included figures on the percentage of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions after their graduation from Wisconsin high schools.

The trend is clear. Fewer and fewer students are choosing higher education.

Of all 2017 graduates, 55 percent are enrolled in a postsecondary institution. That’s down from 62 percent of 2016 graduates. The trend is even more clear when you look just a few more years back. Of 2013 high school graduates, 71 percent are enrolled in a postsecondary institution. That’s a 16-point swing in just a matter of a few years.

This figure measures the number of students who report being enrolled in an institution of higher learning today. That means the numbers are updated every year, and slowly tick up as students who take gap years end up in school down the road. The trend remains, however. More students are choosing not to move on to college.

This shift can be interpreted a number of different ways. A highly skilled, highly educated populace is a good thing, and college degree attainment almost always translates to higher wages. Yet, as the cost of college rises, more students are deciding that the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work in their favor. The job market has improved significantly since 2011, so more students may have jobs lined up right out of high school.

Students from different areas of the state are making the same types of choices. Of Milwaukee Public Schools’ 2017 graduating class, just 40 percent are enrolled in postsecondary institutions—down from 49 percent of the class of 2016. Of those who graduated from Madison Metropolitan in 2017, 63 percent are enrolled at a postsecondary institution, down from 69 percent of 2016 graduates. Farther north, Green Bay Area Public graduates are continuing the trend in even greater numbers than the state average. Fifty-two percent of the class of 2017 are enrolled somewhere today, compared to 71 percent of 2013 graduates.

UW System Enrollment

As fewer Wisconsin students choose postsecondary education, UW System enrollment is still increasing over the long term—174,516 students attended the system in Fall 2017. Enrollment in the system has slowly decreased since 2010, but has grown substantially since its inception.

Student enrollment trends vary greatly at different institutions. UW-Madison, for example, has seen its overall headcount increase by 4.4 percent since the 2008-09 school year. At the same time, enrollment at UW-Milwaukee – the system’s other doctoral university – fell by 13 percent.

Traditionally, approximately one-third of Wisconsin high school students enroll in the UW System immediately after graduation. In 2016, the most recent data available, that number was at 31.7 percent.

One of the biggest changes in UW policy in recent years has been the state-imposed tuition freeze. That began with Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-15 budget, and the policy has been renewed in every budget since. Read more about the UW’s current budget, which runs through 2019, here.

Remedial Education

We covered the issue of remedial education in yesterday’s State of K-12 Education, but the issue is important enough to revisit.

In the fall of 2016, according to the most recent data available, students from 184 Wisconsin high schools entered the UW System requiring remedial math or English. That’s an increase from 175 schools in 2016. What does that mean, exactly? It means those students graduated high school and were accepted into the UW while still needing additional help in subjects like algebra.

Fifteen high schools sent students to a UW school where 50 percent or more of their incoming class needed remedial math. Nine of those 15 schools are in Milwaukee. As for English, 27 schools had 10 percent or more of their graduating classes needing English remediation at the UW. According to a UW System report from 2013, more than 20 percent of new freshmen at the UW required math remediation.

In recent years, it appears that the UW System has worked more closely with K-12 schools to address the problem of remedial education. A June 2017 presentation to the UW Board of Regents showed new efforts to build bridges between the two educational systems. Goals include reducing the number of incoming freshmen who need remedial math, expanding the first year completion rate for remedial math, and expanding student success in first-year regular math courses.

Unlike many other states, Wisconsin does not require that high schoolers take four years of math. The UW System is now officially recommending that students take a fourth year of math in high school, noting that 20.7 percent of those who did not complete math their senior year were placed in remedial or developmental education. Just 7.5 percent of the students who did take math as high school seniors needed the remedial course.

It’s important to note, too, that remedial courses do not count for college credit. Students take remedial classes at the full price of tuition, but they earn zero credits. With all the discussion of college affordability these days, the prevalence of remedial education would be a good place to start.

The university system, by way of providing these courses, expends considerable resources to get students caught up to speed. Meanwhile, students and their families pay thousands of dollars for courses that should be their high school’s responsibility.

September 4, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

The MacIver Institute's State of K-12 Education: 2018 Edition

Back-to-school season is here, and it’s time to hit the books. Catch up on remedial education, AP score analysis, and all the rest you won’t see anywhere else.

Welcome back, everyone! It’s the first day of school for most kids across the state, which means it is time for MacIver’s annual look at the state of education in Wisconsin and how our children are faring.

In 2018, there are many—and we mean many—ways to track student achievement. There are, of course, other important issues to address as well, such as school choice participation and remedial class enrollment.

One of the most encouraging trends in Wisconsin education is AP Exam participation. The number of AP Exams taken by students has increased by a stunning 56 percent since 2011.

At the MacIver Institute, we always work to give our readers an unvarnished look at education. Much of this data— especially that on remedial education—is information you won’t see elsewhere. We believe that in order to make real progress on the state of education, you simply can’t sugarcoat the tough issues. Let’s dive in.

The Metrics: Student Performance

Every year, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) releases a slew of data measuring the performance of our schools in Wisconsin. The federal government and test-makers like the ACT also regularly release data. Let’s start with the newest-available data for this year.

ACT Scores

So far, the most significant data release of 2018 came in early March.

That data drop focused on the class of 2017, including ACT results. The ACT is a national, standardized exam that students use for college applications. The data show that Wisconsin’s class of 2017 scored an average of 20.3 out of 36 points on the ACT exam.

Compared to the class of 2016, test scores remained exactly the same for the overall composite score, as well as the subject areas of English, math, and writing. With 92.1 percent of public school students taking the ACT, participation also stayed the same compared to 2016.

Wisconsin is one of several states which pays for all high school juniors to take the ACT exam. 2016 was the first year the state did so, bringing a massive jump in participation. This particular data represent the average of all ACT exams taken by 2017 graduates, not just the exam taken their junior year.

Scores remained flat compared to the prior year in every subject area except reading, where the average score fell from 20.5 to 20.4. However, the percent of college-ready exam takers grew to 40.5 percent from 39.6 percent.

In English, students earned an average of 19.4 out of 36 points, while the percentage of college-ready students fell to 57.9 percent from 59 percent. In math, the class of 2017 scored an average of 20.3 points, and college readiness fell from 40.1 percent to 38.2 percent.

Scores varied significantly in Wisconsin’s largest public school districts. In Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), students scored an average of 16.5 out of 36 points, significantly below the statewide average. MPS’ class of 2017 fared better than the class of 2016 in every subject, though participation fell from 95.3 percent to 90.6 percent. Student college readiness improved in every subject over the previous year, though all scores are still lower than the state average.

Over in Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), students fared slightly better than the average, at 21.5 out of 36 points. Read more about the results in some of the largest school districts for the ACT, ACT Aspire, and graduation rates here.

AP Scores

Another part of March’s data drop was information on AP Exams. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level classes students can take in high school. AP classes are great for getting students accustomed to more challenging, faster-paced material. There are also significant financial incentives for students, who can choose to take the AP Exam at the end of their class in May for a chance at earning college credit.

The exams are scored on a five-point scale. Many colleges and universities give credit for scores of four or five – but the University of Wisconsin System is quite generous in its AP policy. All scores of three or better earn students three credits in the related field of study. That means students come into college already having earned credit, not only saving them and their families thousands of dollars but also getting a leg up on those 120 credits to graduate. Plus, at the UW, students enroll in courses based upon how many credits they have already attained. If they come in with AP credits, they get further ahead in the line for course enrollment.

Of all the AP Exams that Wisconsin students took in 2017, 65.9 percent of scores were a three out of five or higher. The student participation rate has steadily increased, which is good news for young Wisconsinites and their families. In 2017, 16.4 percent of all students took an AP Exam, continuing the trend of annual one percent increases in participation. We hope to see that number keep increasing.

The most encouraging number in the AP dataset is the sheer number of AP Exams taken in 2017–73,169 in all. That’s more than a 56 percent increase from 2011. Well done, high schoolers.

Graduation Rates and Achievement Gaps

Wisconsin has long struggled with significant achievement gaps in four-year high school graduation rates, as well as almost every other performance metric. The gaps between white and black students, in particular, have regularly been the largest in the nation. Students have made some progress in closing the gaps, but they still persist.

As a whole, 88.6 percent of Wisconsin students graduated high school in four years. That number has slowly trended upwards since 2011, with some ticks up and down.

White students have long posted the best graduation rates in Wisconsin. Of the class of 2017, 92.7 percent of white students graduated in four years.

Hispanic students have shown the greatest improvement in graduation rates—80.3 percent of hispanic and latino students graduated high school in four years in 2017, up by more than 8 points from 2011’s rate of 72.0 percent. The achievement gap between white and hispanic students has fallen by seven points since 2011.

The largest achievement gap remains between white and black students. Sixty-seven percent of black students graduated in four years in 2017, constituting a 25.7-point gap between the two groups. The black-white achievement gap has fallen by just 1.9 points since 2011.

Some individual school districts saw striking improvements in this area. Most notably, the achievement gap between white and black students at Madison Metropolitan fell to 18 points—down from 31 points in 2016. At MPS, the achievement gap is 14.9 percent, down from 17.1 in the prior year.

While 2016’s graduation rate data was released several months later than usual – and was laden with mistakes – 2017 numbers came earlier than expected. Zero school districts reported data errata in 2017, compared to 21 in 2016.

While achievement gaps and graduation rates have slowly improved, there’s another side to this coin. The next dataset we’ll examine shows that plenty of students graduating from high school simply are not ready for college.

Remedial Education

This little-known facet of education costs students and parents dearly. Before entering the UW System—usually the summer before freshman year—students take placement exams for English and math. If they don’t pass, they still get to start college in the coming fall, but they have to take remedial courses in addition to their regular course loads. Those are classes covering subject areas in which students should be proficient during high school, or earlier, such as algebra.

The state began tracking who needs remedial education, and from what high schools they graduate, in 2016. The second remedial report was released in December of 2017 regarding students entering the UW System in the fall of 2016. That’s the most current data we have today.

The data show that students from 184 Wisconsin high schools were required to take remedial math or English at the UW System as new freshmen. That’s an uptick from 175 schools the previous year.

Some high schools sent high percentages of students to the UW System needing remedial courses, raising questions as to how those students graduated high school, and why they were accepted into the UW System. Hence, this issue lives squarely between the K-12 and higher education systems.

Fifteen high schools sent classes of students off to the UW wherein 50 percent or more of the class needed math remediation. Of those 15 schools, nine are in Milwaukee. Nine of the ten schools with the largest percentage of students needing math remediation are also in Milwaukee.

Perhaps most shocking in this report is the fact that many of the high schools in question are touted as high achieving. Nine of the schools included in the data report had received five-star rankings on the state report cards that were released just a month prior. A full 40 percent of the high schools that “significantly exceed expectations” had graduates who needed math or English remediation upon entering the UW System.

The issue extends to other rankings, like the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the best high schools in Wisconsin. Of the top ten schools on 2017’s list, nine of them sent students to the UW needing additional math. Only one of the top ten schools on that list, Carmen High School of Science and Technology, did not appear on the remedial education report. Carmen is a charter school at MPS.

Many more high schools had issues with math preparedness compared to English, but some schools struggled with both. More than half—52 percent—of the 87-person graduating class from Beloit Memorial High School needed math remediation at the UW System, and 24 percent needed English remediation. Back at MPS, nearly three-quarters—73 percent—of incoming Alexander Hamilton High School graduates needed math remediation, and 60 percent needed English remediation.

There are several implications in this data, not least of which are financial. Students pay full tuition for these classes, yet they don’t count for any credits. That’s right. Students actually pay hundreds of dollars per credit, that they must take to graduate, but the classes don’t even count towards the 120 credits required to graduate.

Ever wonder why student debt has exploded and many students have trouble getting out in four years? Remedial education is part of the reason why.

Report Cards

School and district report cards are perhaps the biggest education data release at the state level every year. This massive release gives every school and district in the state scores on a five-star scale, from “failing to meet expectations” to “exceeding expectations.” The last report cards were released in November 2017 for the 2016-17 school year, which means new report cards are just around the corner.

The big picture? There appears to be a significant disconnect between student performance and report card rankings. In 2017, zero school districts received a failing grade, down from five districts in 2016. At the same time, however, the number of failing schools rose from 99 to 117—an 18 percent increase. As a whole, the statewide achievement score is just 66 out of 100 points. MPS posted the lowest overall score of any district, at 56 points, though it just barely missed the official “failing” mark.

More than three-quarters—77 percent—of schools received three of five stars or more, signifying that they are doing well. The vast majority—94 percent—of districts fared the same.

However, almost 50,000 students attend 117 failing schools. That’s a population bigger than the city of Sheboygan, and just under the size of La Crosse. Within MPS, just four out of 138 schools received the highest ranking. These schools enroll more than 1,550 students. At the same time, nearly 25,000 students attend the 45 schools in MPS that received a failing grade.

The report card scores are calculated based on several priority areas for students, including achievement, growth, closing gaps, and post-secondary readiness. Major weight is given to English language arts and math progress, but variables such as attendance and test participation are also taken into account.

Last year’s report card release was also the first time that private choice schools received report cards with accountability scores. Some private schools had received report cards for participants in the year before, but none received any official accountability rating because of a lack of data.

In 2017, 251 private schools received a report card. Twelve private schools enrolling 2,319 students earned five stars. Unfortunately, many more schools received a failing mark—25 private schools enrolling 6,138 students got the lowest rank.

At the same time, it’s important to note that enrollment in the parental choice programs is limited to impoverished students. When comparing similar populations of students, those in choice programs tend to have higher growth than their peers in public schools.

More than 200 public charter schools also received report cards in 2017, and many posted excellent results. Compared to other groups, charter students tend to outperform. A full 20 percent of charter schools ranked on the five-star scale earned top marks, while another 31 percent exceeded expectations. Nine percent of charter schools failed to meet expectations.

Worth noting, too, is that three of the top four best-rated schools in MPS are charters. This is certainly a group worth watching.

For last year’s full report card analysis, check out this read, and go here for a deeper dive into individual districts and school choice performance.

Forward Exam

As you can tell, Wisconsin students take a number of standardized tests.

When fewer than half of all young students are proficient in major subjects, there’s not much to celebrate.

One of the most important exams, and metrics for student achievement, is the Forward Exam. The Forward is administered to 3rd through 8th grade students every spring. The most current data we have for this exam is from the spring 2017 administration, which was made public in late September 2017.

Last year’s data release in this area was significant because it was the first time in many years that the public could directly compare results with the prior year. That’s because the state of Wisconsin changed the exam three times in three years. Comparing proficiency across different exams is a no-go—so we hope the state sticks with the Forward Exam for some time to ensure that we can accurately track the growth and achievement of our students over time.

The 2017 results show that 44.4 percent of students are proficient in English language arts, while 43.8 percent are proficient in math. Those results are slightly better than the year before, when 42.7 percent of students were proficient in English language arts and 42.5 percent in math. Fewer than 50 percent of students scored proficient in both science and social studies.

As a whole, student results on 2017’s Forward Exam were rather worrisome. When fewer than half of all students are proficient in all major subjects, there’s not much to celebrate. At the same time, bright spots can be found.

MPS students posted slight improvements in both English language arts and math. The math achievement gap between black and white MPS students shrank slightly, to 28.9 points. A meager 8.4 percent of black MPS students were proficient in math.

This data release was where private choice students really shined. Students in all three parental choice programs – statewide, Milwaukee, and Racine – outperformed their peers in every subject on the Forward.

As we noted above, it’s important to reiterate that the school choice programs impose income limitations. As a result, larger percentages of choice students are economically disadvantaged than typical public school students. For that reason, it’s more accurate to compare choice school students with economically disadvantaged public school students.

ACT Aspire

Another part of March’s dataset included results for the ACT Aspire. The relatively new exam is taken by high school freshmen and sophomores to prepare for the real ACT. That makes the ACT Aspire less critical than the ACT, but it still provides an opportunity to see if students are on track to be college ready. Unfortunately, ACT Aspire results were perhaps the most bleak dataset of the March release. Fewer students demonstrated proficiency on the ACT Aspire in almost every subject compared to the prior year.

Students fared the best in English, with 57.5 percent of exam takers “ready or exceeding.” The prior year, 60.4 percent of students had earned the same distinction. In math, just 37.1 percent of students were ready or exceeding, down from 38.9 percent in 2016.

Writing was the only ACT Aspire subject area where students improved over the year before, though it was a small increase—51.4 percent of students were ready or exceeding, compared to 51 percent in 2016.

At Madison Metropolitan, students did worse in almost every subject on the ACT Aspire compared to the year before. Fifty-five percent of students scored “ready or exceeding” in English—a full ten-point drop to just two years prior. Just over one third, 36 percent, of students were ready or exceeding in math.

MPS students struggled more, with 8.3 percent ready or exceeding in math and 24.2 percent in English. Racial disparities persisted throughout the data. Half of all white MPS students were ready or exceeding on the ACT Aspire, while 15.8 percent of black students fared the same. Both groups of students earned worse marks than the prior year, and the achievement gap between them grew from 32.9 to 34.4 points.

ACT Plus Writing

We’ve already covered a few different ACT-related datasets, so we won’t go too deep into this one. The state of Wisconsin pays for all high school juniors to take the ACT exam once. Another part of the data release from September of 2017 included the test results for spring 2017’s administration. The ACT results covered earlier in this analysis are the average of all exams taken by class of 2017 students.

On the ACT Plus Writing, students scored an average composite score of 20.0 out of 36 points. That’s a small tick down from the 20.1 points students earned in 2016. Average scores in English language arts fell from 18.6 to 18.3, while math scores fell from 20.1 to 20.0. At 20.4 out of 36 points, students scored the highest average score on science – but even that subject area was a retreat from the previous year’s 20.5.

Read more about this particular dataset here.

Before moving onto other indicators, here’s a preview of what’s to come in the next few months. As you may be able to tell, late fall is always a busy time for education data releases. This year will be no different. The achievement data drops through the rest of the calendar year are:

  • Spring 2018 Forward Exam results, slated for late September or early October
  • National ACT results with state-to-state comparisons, slated for mid-October
  • 2018-19 preliminary enrollment counts, slated for October
  • 2017-18 report cards, slated for November release
  • UW remedial education report for Fall 2017, slated for November or December release

Financial data will come out toward the end of the year, too. Speaking of finances, check out this analysis to get a refresher on last year’s budget, which set state funding levels for schools through 2019.

We’ve also done plenty of work on individual school district budgets, especially MPS. That district, and many others, will finalize their 2018-19 budgets this fall. Read our analysis on MPS’ preliminary budget, which was passed in June, here.

Still with us? Great. Let’s move onto other indicators of success. Test scores are important, but they’re not everything.

Enrollment

As a whole, Wisconsin’s K-12 student enrollment has stayed largely flat, while funding for education has trended upward. We haven’t seen a massive dip in the overall student population, but more students are opting out of the traditional public system.

Figures from 2017-18 showed that public school student enrollment fell by 0.41 percent, or 3,743 students. That continues a long trend of students leaving the traditional public school system for other options. Where are they going? That brings us to our next section…

School Choice in Wisconsin: Growth and Results

As we detailed earlier in this piece, school choice students tend to post stronger results than their peers. There are still too many schools that earned low scores on report cards, but it appears that students in these programs are trending in the right direction.

Aside from scores, Wisconsin has seen a remarkable increase in the number of choice participants in recent years.

Among parental choice programs in Milwaukee, Racine, statewide, plus the special needs scholarship program and public school open enrollment, 94,842 students across the state participated in a form of school choice last year. That’s a remarkable 71 percent increase from the 2010-11 school year.

Since the beginning of Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure, students trapped in failing schools have been given more and more opportunities to try alternative forms of education. Milwaukee’s parental choice program—the oldest in the country—has seen access opened up in a number of ways. The program no longer has any enrollment cap, is accessible for families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, and schools have no more geographic requirement. Milwaukee’s program is the biggest of the three parental choice programs, having enrolled 28,702 students last year.

The biggest and oldest form of school choice in the state is public school open enrollment. That allows students to attend a public school district outside of their home’s boundaries. That program has seen significant growth in recent years, with 69 percent more students participating since the 2010-11 school year.

The newest form of school choice in Wisconsin, the special needs scholarship program, is starting its third year. The program allows qualifying students to receive a voucher to attend private schools if they are not satisfied with their public school education. The program has seen stunning growth. This year, 84 schools are participating, including 56 that are new to the program.

This summer, the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau released a full audit on the SNSP. The report surveyed the parents of all 306 participating students. Parents were happier with the new schools. The survey reported decreased levels of behavioral problems and negative experiences as a whole compared to when their children had attended public schools. That’s great news for this young program. We hope to see similar results in the future.

State Comparisons: Enrollment, Graduation Rates, ACT, and Funding

While Packers fans know we’re the best there is (back to school, of course, also means back to the gridiron), Wisconsin doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s always good to know how we compare to other states, especially to our neighbors in the Midwest.

As it turns out, Wisconsin is in the middle of the pack when it comes to overall student revenue and spending. According to federal data from 2015, the most recent year available, Wisconsin spends $12,850 in revenue per pupil. That’s the median figure for the seven-state Midwest region, and is just below the Midwest and US averages.

At the same time, Wisconsin students achieve higher scores than their peers. Graduation rates are among the highest in the country, as are ACT scores for the class of 2017. Wisconsin is one of 17 states that tests all students on the ACT. Of those, Wisconsin’s average score of 20.5 out of 36 is the third highest behind Minnesota (21.1) and Colorado (20.8). (ACT’s own figures are slightly different from DPI’s ACT numbers that we discussed earlier in this piece.)

It’s important to note that Wisconsin can only be compared to other states that also administer the test to all students. In states where taking the ACT is purely voluntary, only the students who plan on going to college take the exam, pushing the average score upwards. That’s why we always expect to see a slight dip in scores whenever participation increases, whether it’s the ACT, AP Exams, or any other achievement metric.

Since the ACT began administering a new test every July for the first time this year, national comparisons will come out a bit later than usual. Look out for those numbers, and our reporting on them, in the coming months.

As for graduation rates in the Midwest, Wisconsin’s graduation rate of 88 percent is bested only by Iowa, where high schoolers posted a 91 percent four-year graduation rate. Those numbers come from the 2015-16 school year, the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics. That year, the national average was 84 percent, and the Midwest’s average was 85 percent. In the same dataset, however, Wisconsin showed the largest achievement gap – 29 points – between the graduation rates for white and black students. As a whole, Wisconsin has one of the best graduation rates in the country, but that’s clearly not true for all of our students. We simply have to do better, and that means all of us. Kids – time to put down the Fortnite and hit the books. School is back in session.

August 6, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Since Act 10, School Districts Have Saved $3.2 Billion in Benefits Costs

To say that the landscape for public sector health insurance has changed since Act 10 would be an understatement. Since the landmark bill’s passage, Wisconsin school districts have saved more than $3.2 billion in benefits costs.

Districts found savings by opening up bidding to new insurers for the first time in years, while others increased required employee contributions towards insurance plans. Overall, since 2011, districts have largely moved to more taxpayer-friendly health plans – freeing up more money for the classroom.

On the other hand, employees at more than 100 districts – approximately one-quarter of Wisconsin’s 422 public school districts – paid less than 12 percent towards their monthly health insurance premiums in the 2017-18 school year. Still, that’s a far cry from 2010-11, when 43 percent of all districts paid the the entirety of their employee premiums on single plans every month. Today, just 6.4 percent of districts pay employee premiums in full.

Across all districts, employee contributions towards premiums average 11.61 percent for single plans and 11.75 percent for family plans. Twenty-three school districts around the state, including Wauwatosa School District, New Berlin, and both districts in Lake Geneva, do not require employees to contribute anything to monthly premiums in either their single or their family plans.

That’s according to a new Department of Administration database, which consolidates district health plan information – the first time this information has been collected in one place. The dataset includes figures for 2017-18 employee health insurance plans, including employer and employee contributions towards premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and even out-of-pocket maximums for both single and family plans.

Introduced in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker’s landmark legislation required that public sector employees contribute at least 12 percent towards health insurance costs. Those “costs” were most commonly defined as insurance premiums, though increasingly popular high deductible HSA plans were also accepted under the spirit of the law.

Ultimately, the goal was to lighten the load on taxpayers, and that’s exactly what happened, according to the DOA. Its estimates show Act 10 saved taxpayers $3.2 billion on K-12 benefits plans alone, primarily in health insurance. That’s with only 74 percent of school districts complying with the 12 percent rule for premiums.

Figuring out who’s actually complying with the law has not always been easy, because the 12 percent covers total health care cost – not just premiums. However, using the state’s new database, it’s clear one-fourth of all school districts in Wisconsin offer healthcare plans that require employees to pay less than 12 percent of their monthly premiums. Three-quarters of all school districts require employees to pay 12 percent or more each month.

Of the 111 districts where employees pay less than 12 percent on premiums, 73 had reported their insurance data to the state in 2010. About two-thirds of those districts increased their required monthly premium contributions since Act 10 was passed. The rest kept the same levels, or in a handful of cases, lowered their required monthly premium payments for employees.

For example, in the 2010-11 school year, Middleton-Cross Plains Area employees paid zero percent towards their premiums. As of 2017-18, they pay 12 percent every month, or $72 under a single plan and $181 under a family plan. Employees receive a 3 percent reduction on premiums if they take an annual physical and health risk survey.

No matter the exact method of how districts get their employees to contribute towards their own healthcare expenses, taxpayers no longer shoulder the burden of covering premiums upwards of $1,000 for every district employee, every month, through their careers and into retirement. Prior to Act 10, benefits costs to districts had been increasing by 4.3 percent annually – a trend that, if it continued, would have taxpayers paying almost 60 percent more today.

That kind of money adds up, and in many cases, such as in Wauwatosa School District and Milwaukee Public Schools, freed up dollars went into the classroom, to building renovations, and to salary increases.

Even so – despite what organizations such as WEAC may say – these taxpayer-funded plans are still very generous. Many districts, including New Berlin and Port Edwards, make regular contributions to employee HSAs. Ten districts continue to have employees pay nothing towards monthly premiums, as they did in 2010.

Of the 111 districts where employees pay less than 12 percent towards their monthly premiums, 23 cover premiums in full every month for both single and family plans. More than half of those districts also offer high deductible health plans, which are typically coupled with health savings accounts (HSA). In those cases, employees set aside their own money, pre-tax, to spend on healthcare. That still meets the intent of Act 10 by ensuring public employees contribute towards their own health costs, saving taxpayer dollars and bringing standards closer in line with the private sector.

Other large districts whose employees pay less than 12 percent towards premium include Beloit, Madison Metropolitan, Milwaukee, Kettle Moraine, and several others.

As the MacIver Institute has previously reported, both Madison and Milwaukee Public School (MPS) employees use sliding scales for premium contributions. MPS employees pay between 2 and 14 percent, depending on salary and type of plan. In Madison, employees pay a percentage based on their role. Food service employees and educational assistants, for example, pay 1.25 percent of their monthly premiums, while teachers pay 3 percent. Administrators pay the most, at 10 percent. The only time employees may reach 12 percent is if they fail to take a district-required annual physical. Failing to do so adds a 7 percent penalty.

Some school districts are continuing their generosity at taxpayer expense by contributing to employee deductibles instead of monthly premiums. Thirty-five percent of districts contribute to deductibles, ranging from $150 on a single plan in Weston, to $13,900 on a family plan in Baraboo. On average, districts pay $624 towards single plan deductibles and $1,248 towards family plan deductibles, including all the districts who pay nothing.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, only a minority of districts seem to be testing the limits of the 12 percent rule. Two hundred and twenty school districts in the state – more than half – require employees pay between 12 and 13 percent of premiums. Of those districts that reported their health plans in 2010, just two of 145 had the same or higher employee premium levels back then.

Others require employees to pay beyond what Act 10 requires. Employees on Wilmot Union’s family plan pay 28 percent of their monthly premiums, while those in Westfield pay 22 percent and those in Neenah Joint pay 25 percent. All three school districts offer various levels of compensation for employees who participate in health screenings or who don’t use tobacco.

Health screenings or other wellness incentives are common in school districts. Dozens of districts use some type of wellness assessment to create a premium differential. Those incentives and how they’re structured also vary by district.

DePere, for example, uses a “carrot” approach: the district waives its required 12 percent premium contribution for employees and their spouses if they participate in a health risk assessment. Oshkosh Area, on the other hand, uses less of a carrot and more of a stick. Employees there pay 5 percent more if they don’t complete the health assessment.

Two-thirds of the districts that contribute to employee deductibles require that those employees pay more than 12 percent of their premiums.

Overall, 61 percent of all school districts offer one insurer, and 39 percent offer multiple insurers. Nearly three-quarters of districts are fully-insured, while 14 percent are jointly self-funded and 11 percent are self-insured. Preferred provider organization plans are the most popular, with 36 percent of all districts offering them. High deductible plans are the next most common, at 23 percent, followed by health maintenance organizations at 17 percent.

WEA Trust is the most common provider by far, covering 100 school districts. WCA Group Health Trust, Security Health, and Dean SSM Health are the next most popular providers.

In all, had health insurance spending continued along its trend prior to Act 10, taxpayers could be paying billions more for public sector health insurance and other benefits that far outpace private sector compensation. While certain gubernatorial candidates are running on increasing school employee benefits to their pre-Act 10 levels, taxpayers may want to take a look at how the game has changed.

Indeed, as the numbers show, the sky is not falling. In places like Wauwatosa School District, premiums have fallen by 0.32 percent in the past seven years, and the district still covers all of those premiums for their employees. Compare that with the so-called Affordable Care Act’s premium increases – a staggering 44 percent in 2017.

Healthcare in America is far from a free market. But as it turns out, opening up that market to even a little bit of competition has done wonders for district pocketbooks, and in turn, for all of Wisconsin’s taxpayers.

June 4, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

MPS Board Passes a Budget - and the Buck

Cuts to Central Office were long overdue, but the district isn’t out of the woods yet

Milwaukee Public Schools plans to cut millions of dollars from its central office, while other costs continue to spiral out of control in the district’s preliminary $1.173 billion budget passed late last month on a unanimous vote by the board of education.

The changes follow a contentious budget debate that included one hunger strike, one “go to hell,” and many more highly reported controversies. Former superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver’s budget would have made 5 percent spending cuts to schools and 15 percent cuts to Central Office.

Instead, new interim superintendent Dr. Keith Posley’s plan restructures and cuts 16.7 percent from Central Office, eliminating Driver’s proposed cuts to school accounts. Central Office is reorganized, cutting the Office of Innovation and merging its responsibilities with other departments, while eliminating almost 33 administrative roles.

In addition to the administrative changes, Posley’s budget differs from Driver’s proposal in a few small ways. The plan now include 50 new full-time supplemental teacher positions, which come with healthcare benefits. The district will begin offering part-time roles for hard-to-fill positions. Twenty more school safety aide positions are added, using money from the school operations account. And in a major win for the teachers’ union – and a loss for taxpayers – 75 new “substitute teacher on special assignment” roles are created. Those teachers will also get vision, health, and dental benefits as long as they work 30 hours per more per week, which is considered full-time at MPS.

The $13.2 million cut from administration amounts to a little more than a 1 percent cut from the entire budget. Put into a larger context, much noise was made about a relatively small percentage of taxpayer dollars. With no meaningful reform, the district does not move closer toward addressing its growing budget deficit. This detail is something taxpayers deserve to know.

In the end, the budget spends $10.9 million less than the prior year. Posley’s plan spends $2.9 million more than Driver’s plan because of increased federal aids. It retains the 2.13 percent salary increases for staff, and hastens the district’s path to a $15 per hour minimum wage from five to four years.

MPS’ teachers’ union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), called the budget an “amazing victory.” Union leader Alex Brower ended his 21-day hunger strike after the board voted to approve the new substitute teacher positions.

Administrative bloat has been a massive driver of MPS’ budget problems for years. Many of the positions at Central Office have astonishingly high salaries and benefits packages, especially when compared to school-level positions.

As the MacIver Institute has previously reported, 78 administrators at MPS’ Central Office earn an average of $111,624. Of the 336 publicly reported administrator salaries at the district, 156 individuals earn more than $100,000. Average fringe benefits for MPS administrators total $26,555.

Posley’s budget cuts almost 33 full-time positions from Central Office alone, plus two more each at the Office of Accountability and Efficiency and the Office of Board Governance. However, not all of those roles were actually filled – some were vacant, with money set aside in case of a new hire.

By failing to address cost drivers including MPS’ massive benefits package and its expansive, half-empty facilities, the district all but ensured the battle would continue into future years.

More Retirees, More Fringe Benefits

Budget documents show the district’s projected growth in benefits spending. From fiscal year 2017 to 2022, MPS is estimated to spend 23 percent more in benefits alone, while spending on salaries and purchased services both stay close to a 6 percent increase.

In its budget documents, MPS itself recognizes the structural challenge at hand. Spending on medical costs and prescription drugs is expected to grow by 5 and 12 percent, respectively. Following 2011’s Act 10, the district was able to redesign benefits packages and begin offering both high- and low-cost plans. Employees pay between 2-14 percent of their healthcare premiums, based on the type of plan they choose and how much they earn, but this is far below the 12 percent minimum set under Act 10.

Should they decide to, MPS could revisit its healthcare packages once more. The district is slated to spend $123.4 million on healthcare benefits in 2019. That’s an 11 percent increase in spending since 2016. Act 10 gave them the tools to search for new healthcare providers. The question is one of will.

MPS also increased the hourly threshold to receive benefits from 20 to 30 hours per week post-Act 10. Still, the 30-hour baseline is below the standard 40-hour week. For 2018-19, MPS’ fringe benefit rate totals 53.8 percent, a considerable increase from 43.2 percent in 2015-16.

Clearly, despite recent changes, the district offers a considerable benefits package, both for current employees and retirees. As the number of retirees continues to grow, related line items will increase and crowd out other priorities. Spending on healthcare for retirees, which makes up much of the “other post-employment benefits” line item, has increased by almost 7 percent since 2016, adding up to $52.3 million in 2019.

Budget documents show that spending on retirement has increased from $83.9 million in 2016 to $90.1 million in 2019, a 7 percent increase. That spending includes MPS’ pension plan, social security, and early retirement supplements. MPS’ own pension fund, separate from the state’s retirement system, will cost the district – and taxpayers – $39.7 million in 2019. That plan could also be ripe for reform, if the district has the will to take on the politically heavy lift.

Teachers hired prior to July 1, 2013 and certificated administrators and supervisors hired prior to July 2, 2003 can qualify for the supplemental pension benefit. The program allows for early retirement once an individual is 55 or older and has worked at MPS for 20 years. Though the plan is now frozen and newer hires are no longer eligible, spending on early retirement will near $11.0 million in 2019.

Spending on healthcare benefits, including medical, dental, prescription drugs, dependent care, and the health care opt-out bonus also increased in recent years. Those line items went from $110.9 million in 2016 to a projected $123.4 million in 2019.

The health care opt-out bonus allows employees to receive $50 per month or up to $500 per year if they choose to use a different health insurance provider while eligible for MPS’ coverage. That benefit will cost MPS $125,000 in 2019. The opt-out bonus is an attempt to get MPS employees to choose healthcare plans outside of MPS’ system.

The medical, dental, vision, and prescription coverage is generous in itself. Depending on the type of plan they select, employees can pay $20 co-pays for doctor’s office visits, $35 for urgent care or specialist office visits, and $150 for emergency room visits. In network, 100 percent of preventive care is covered.

Earlier this year, Driver had proposed increasing employee co-pays and charges for dependents to use MPS coverage, but was rebuffed by the board. Under Driver’s plan, doctor’s visit co-pays would have increased to $35, urgent care visits to $50, and emergency room visits to $175. Coupled together, those changes would have saved the district an estimated $4.3 million.

All of Driver’s cost-saving proposals were turned down, save one – the elimination of a long-term disability program that cost the district approximately $2 million since 2017, which just four individuals utilized.

MPS also pays for group life insurance for almost all of its employees, at no cost to the employee. The current program began in 2016 and cost $537,418 in that year. For 2019, the benefit will cost $2.16 million – a 302 percent increase from 2016.

Other smaller line items aren’t significant but add up over time. The district budgeted $380,000 for severance pay in 2019. Another $450,000 was allocated for tuition reimbursement, wherein the district pays for the continuing education of certain qualifying employees in order to promote professional growth.

The new interim superintendent should be applauded for proposing long-overdue cuts from Central Office, but his changes don’t go nearly far enough to address the major challenges MPS continues to face. While much ado was made about benefits for substitute teachers, much less was made about the needs of students who continue to underperform.

The needs across the district vary to a great degree. So, too, vary the needs of students. By continually trying to be all things to all people, MPS ends up underperforming for both students and taxpayers.

Faced with declining enrollment and increased competition from other educational options, MPS has to face the facts when it comes to their structural issues. Left unreformed, benefits and facilities will continue to crowd out spending in classrooms.

As for the 2019 budget, it will be finalized in the fall when final enrollment numbers are set. As always, stay tuned for future coverage.

May 15, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Public To Weigh In On Ugly MPS Budget This Week

Teachers contemplates a strike as they #fightforfunding, while board punts on savings

It’s showtime.

With school board meetings slated for Tuesday and Thursday evening, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) will move closer to finalizing its $1.17 billion 2018-19 budget this week. Tuesday’s meeting will bring formal board approval of a small employee benefits change, while Thursday’s agenda includes a budget public hearing that’s sure to be packed.

On the backs of a teacher protest and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate forum on education over the weekend, the debate is heating up – and sparks are sure to fly. That’s not to mention remarks by Gov. Scott Walker that it may be time to “shake things up” in the state’s most troubled district, an off-hand remark that sparked a half-dozen editorials.

Plus, of course, the hunger strike. Substitute teacher and union leader Alex Brower has made headlines for his hunger strike protesting the lack of healthcare benefits for MPS substitute teachers who work more than 32 hours per week.

Yet amidst all this high-profile drama, almost all of the so-called “tough decisions” before the board do little more than punt MPS’ financial problems down the road.

The budget document provides cost-of-living increases of 2.13 percent for most employees. It speeds up the implementation of the “Road to 15” that’ll have every MPS employee making a minimum of $15 per hour in three years rather than in five. It makes no significant changes to exploding benefit costs.

The board members know it, too. At the May 3 budget hearing, numerous board members said they weren’t happy with the document in front of them, and that more fundamental changes would need to be made next year. For the time being, they called on the public to join them in Madison to protest for more funding (that particular rally never happened).

While the adults put off tough decision-making until “next year,” another class of MPS students are graduating woefully underprepared for the real world. Why? Despite a billion-dollar budget, MPS can’t help but spend in all the wrong places.

On Tuesday, the board will approve a recommendation to eliminate the district’s long-term disability plan for employees. Just four people used the plan last year, costing the district nearly $2 million. That was one of several cost-savers put forth by outgoing superintendent Darienne Driver last month, but it was the only one that the board approved – leaving more than $15 million in savings on the table.

Per the district’s own summary of benefits manual, employees generally receive benefits once they work 30 hours per week or more. That’s a far cry from the standard 40-hour work week. So, too, are many of the other standard benefits at MPS.

For example, most full-time employees have the option to get a bonus of $50 per month or $500 per year if they are covered by another employer’s health insurance and choose not to go with MPS’ coverage.

The district offers three main plans for health insurance. Depending on what kind of plan an employee chooses and how much they make, MPS employees pay between 2 percent and 14 percent of their health insurance premiums. That appears to be in violation of Act 10, which required that employees pay 12 percent of their monthly insurance premiums.

MPS’ own projections show the district will spend hundreds of millions more on benefits in the years to come, far outpacing spending on classroom initiatives and, you know, the actual teaching of children. Medical costs are expected to inflate by 5 percent annually, and prescription drug costs by 12 percent. The district’s five-year forecast estimates a 14 percent increase in overall spending by 2022. More than one-third of that hike will go just towards benefits. Compared to that, additional pupil services and classroom spending barely make a dent.

Both the number of bureaucrats at MPS and their pay is unsustainable. MPS employs 356 administrators, with an average total salary of $100,253. Average fringe benefits total $26,555.

Of the 336 administrators with publicly-reported salaries, a whopping 156 employees earn salaries of more than $100,000. At Central Office alone, 78 administrators earn an average total salary of $111,624.

Besides its financial structural issues, the district has actual structural issues, as well. A facilities study unveiled last month showed that the district’s 15.8 million square feet far outpace its enrollment, especially when looking at other large, urban districts. While 42 schools are over 110 percent enrollment capacity, another 42 are operating at less than 70 percent capacity. At the same time, the district has spent more than $10 million on utilities of empty school buildings over the last decade.

The facilities study presentation writes, in clear, bold font: “too many schools, too few students.”

Without a major change, the problem will only get worse. One so-called solution, offered by the facilities study, is spending $969.5 million to upgrade every school to an “85” or “good” rating.

The administration continues to insist that enrollment has stabilized – but a long-term view shows the district has lost more than 10,000 students in ten years, even while the population of school-aged children in Milwaukee grew. For many reasons, families are choosing to send their kids elsewhere.

Why wouldn’t they? Kumbaya only gets you so far. To people outside bureaucrat world, there’s no excusing cutting 80 teachers while adding 9 administrators. Breaking ground on a $5.7 million stadium, like the district did this week at Vincent High School, is questionable. And giving Central Office administrators $100,000 in raises without board approval while services to schools are cut? Downright sad, if not simply angering.

Of course, MPS administration provided a well-worded excuse for every one of those spending decisions, not that it matters. Milwaukee students still perform among the worst of any similarly-sized school district in the country with just 15 percent of fourth graders proficient in reading and math.

So while the adults point fingers at each other – with one hand always protecting their own pockets – the kids wait. Yet again.

April 23, 2018 | By M.D. Kittle

Transparency Troubles Plague UW System Foundations

While last month’s legislative audit raised serious questions about the financial relationships between University of Wisconsin System schools and their private affiliate organizations, the system’s transparency troubles may be a bigger concern.

UW’s accounting system was set up “in such a way” that prevented auditors from accurately determining the total amount of payments that UW institutions made to affiliated organizations.

The difficulty state auditors had in obtaining financial statements only drives home the importance of an external audit, approved in the most recent state budget, one lawmaker tells MacIver News Service.

“There’s still more work to do,” said state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). “The University of Wisconsin is the largest employer in the state, bigger than Walmart … This (the UW System) is a multi-billion dollar company. You really need to have people focused on the details of this financial system.”

Kooyenga was a member of the Legislature’s CPA Caucus, the accountant-legislators that five years ago discovered the UW System held some $650 million in cash reserves (a slush fund, as critics have described it), even as system officials cried poverty.

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s 112-page audit, released in March, notes foundations and other affiliated organizations playing an increasingly prominent role in the operations of Wisconsin’s 13 public universities and 13 two-year colleges. As of last year, there were 90 such assisting organizations, ostensibly established to lessen the taxpayer burden. Two-thirds of those, however, were not primary fundraising foundations, the audit found.

Over a 10-year span, from Fiscal Year 2007-08 through 2016-17, UW institutions paid $258 million to the entities, $168 million of that to affiliated organizations that were not primary fundraising foundations or real estate foundations.

The legislative audit was conducted in the wake of last year’s UW-Oshkosh Foundation scandal, in which the system ultimately sued UW-Oshkosh’s former chancellor and business officer on allegations that the men improperly transferred $11.3 million to help bail out the troubled nonprofit foundation. At $14.5 billion in debt, the foundation led questionable investments, including two bio-digesters, a hotel, and a sports complex.

Blurred Lines

Auditors found the blurring of operational lines between many of the UW institutions and the foundations examined, with university resources – staff, office space, materials – committed to foundations.

“We found that UW employees also worked as the executive directors of 10 foundations associated with four-year universities as of June 30, 2017. UW institutions indicated that 6 of these 10 foundations did not reimburse them for any salary and fringe benefits costs of these UW employees,” the audit report states.

The audit shows incestuous public-private relationships between some of the affiliate groups and the universities, with little separation in operations.

Five of 11 cross-over employees, including those at UW-Eau Claire, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls, did not have statutorily specified position titles that required them to file statements of economic interests in 2017,” the audit states.

Statements of economic interest give the public critical information on financial connections of state employees that could potentially place them in positions of conflict. Auditors suggest the Legislature could pass laws requiring these employees to annually file the statements.

The commingling of resources is where many of the transparency problems show up.

Policy indicates any foundation allocated UW office space must pay rent or provide in-kind payments at a fair-market rate, according to the audit. As of June 30, 2017, foundations used office space at 23 UW institutions, 21 of which did not provide auditors with information indicating that the foundations paid rent or provided in-kind payments.

Auditors identified $81.6 million in payments, or $45.1 million more than the $36.5 million UW System administration included in their October 2017 review. Almost all of the additional payments involved $44.9 million that UW-Milwaukee paid to its foundation – student rent and fees associated with two residence halls.

Trouble With Transparency

Auditors noted that while UW System employees responded to many of their requests for information, the government officials indicated that some information “did not exist or could not be easily located.” When considering the $258 million taxpayer-funded institutions paid to their affiliate organization over the decade examined, such responses are troubling.

Some UW employees told auditors that governing boards of foundations directed them not to provide certain information to auditors.

“In some instances, UW employees took extended periods of time to fully respond to our repeated requests for specific information,” the audit states. “In other instances, UW employees did not provide us with all requested information related to our audit that they possessed, and to which statutes grant us access.”

Auditors encountered administrative resistance from the foundations, the benefactors of so much taxpayer-funded support. Some UW employees told auditors that governing boards of foundations directed them not to provide certain information.

“However, there is no exception to our statutory authority that allows an outside governing board to restrict a UW employee’s responsibility to comply with our requests for access to audit-related information that they possess,” the report states.

Something To Hide?

Faced with continual challenges in obtaining requested information, auditors met with UW System President Ray Cross and followed up with a request in writing on Nov. 6. They were subsequently provided access to much of the information, including documents that system employees had previously declined to share.

“However, we were not provided all requested information,” the audit states. Specifically, officials failed to turn over documentation on funds that UW-River Falls had submitted to its foundation in fiscal year 2016-17.

“In addition, six months after we had requested the minutes of all meetings held by the board of directors of UW-Platteville Foundation over a 10-year period, UW-Platteville provided us minutes of meetings that took place in less than 2 years of this 10-year period,” the report states. There were other cases where universities failed to fulfill the Legislative Audit Bureau’s information requests.

Missing Information

Beyond its failure to provide state auditors with records, system administration’s accounting system proved problematic. It was set up “in such a way” that prevented auditors from accurately determining the total amount of payments that UW institutions made to affiliated organizations.

“We also found that UW System Administration’s October 2017 review of payments from UW institutions to their foundations did not include $45.1 million in payments that UW System Administration should have included,” the report states.

Transparency problems appear to be built into the contracts between UW institutions and affiliate organizations. Five operational agreements executed in 2017 “did not consistently comply with (UW Board of Regents) policy,” the audit states.

“The agreements did not consistently indicate the specific services and payments that foundations were required to provide for the time that UW employees worked for them, require foundations that use UW office space to pay rent or make in-kind payments at fair-market rates, or indicate the specific services and payments that foundations were required to provide for UW assets,” the report states.

The audit found several curious expenditures, such as an estimated $11.3 million paid to UW Medical Foundation that included payments for “medical staff to support UW-Madison athletics…”

‘Proactive Steps’

The UW System offered a sanguine response to the Audit Bureau report. A press release declared that the audit found financial transactions between UW institutions and foundations to be “appropriate, consistent with the UW System’s review issued in October 2017.”

“UW employees did not provide us with all requested information related to our audit that they possessed, and to which statutes grant us access,” the audit states.

“The proactive steps we announced last spring are a step in the right direction in providing additional accountability and transparency in the UW System’s relationships with its fundraising and real estate foundations,” Cross said in the statement. “While we have made significant progress, we appreciate the feedback from LAB in assisting us in those efforts. We continually strive to ensure the ongoing integrity, efficiency, and transparency of these organizations.”

But the response doesn’t really address the transparency concerns, or a number of questions apparently unanswered in system financial statements. For instance, what did the UW System do with the reported “foundation funds” not reported on the UW balance sheet or public financial statements? In one case, the audit references that the University of Wisconsin gave football TV revenue to the UW foundation. But there doesn’t appear to be a disclosure of what the foundation did with that money.

And the Audit Bureau made several recommendations, from establishing unique vendor identification numbers to drafting specific accountability measures. In short, the agency recommends the institutions come up with new agreements and figure out if the partners are following the rules. What is the UW System doing to address those recommendations?

The audit gives system administrators until June 29 to report on the recommendations.

System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis noted that the Board of Regents last year outlined new requirements and standards governing foundation relationships, as the audit was being completed.

“We appreciate the work LAB did to help us focus and improve our processes and we believe this audit will help make institutional relationships with foundations more transparent,” she said in an email. “We look forward to updating the Audit Committee soon on our efforts to address the recommendations.”

Marquis did not comment on MacIver News Service’s questions on foundation funds in the audit that apparently were not reported on the UW balance sheet or financial statements.

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem Lakes), who serves as co-chairwoman of the Legislative Audit Committee, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month that strong policies are clearly warranted to “ensure taxpayers and students are protected.”

“In a snapshot, these relationships are historically clouded by smoke when what students, taxpayers and the Legislature want and deserve is absolute transparency,” she said.

National Problem

In many states, the relationships between foundations and the public institutions of higher education they were created to assist are “opaque and unaccountable,” according to Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a conservative higher ed tracker based in Raleigh, N.C.

In a piece last month headlined, “University Foundations Enable Waste, Fraud, and Abuse,” Robinson notes the sheer size of the larger foundations leads to transparency and accountability problems. At least 170 universities have endowments worth over $500 million, she notes. UW Foundation net assets topped $3.5 billion last year, according to the state audit.

Robinson points to several universities where a lack of transparency and accountability created an environment of fraudulent activity.

And that’s why advocates of the external audit of the UW System say the outside examination is so important. Failing to dig deep into the records of this massive state employer could be costly to taxpayers.

“I think it will raise more concerns, new issues that have not previously been disclosed,” Kooyenga said.

April 25, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

The Real Controversy Surrounding the MPS Budget Debate

Forget ‘Go to hell’ Bonds. Let’s talk about the union’s ultimate goal: $2 billion on the taxpayer tab

Milwaukee Public Schools budget discussions made headlines last week when MPS board member Michael Bonds told teachers’ union vice president Amy Mizialko to “go to hell.” The remark spurred instant outrage and put a spotlight on the annual budget process of the state’s largest school district, which is facing exploding deficits.

As an elected official, Bonds’ comment was out of line – but Mizialko’s remarks are the real controversy, and deserve much more attention and critique. As the union leader testified against Bonds’ idea to swap a proposed $2 million in cuts to student transportation for employee raises, she showed her hand.

“The $2 million that it will cost to do that is nothing,” Mizialko declares. “This is a billion dollar budget. But MPS students need $2 billion.”

Now we know the labor leaders’ starting bargaining position. To the union, nothing short of $2 billion in taxpayer funding for MPS will suffice.

Mizialko’s funding fantasy would wring taxpayers dry.

Amidst falling enrollment and a deficit that'll approach $200 million in just a few years from now, a union leader has called for a budget that rivals the size of districts two to three times larger than MPS.

To put the imagined $2 billion for MPS in context, Dallas Independent School District has a budget totaling just over $1.9 billion. Their enrollment approaches 158,000 students, double MPS’ 75,539.

Hillsborough City Public Schools, in Florida, spends approximately $1.9 billion on its 197,000 pupils, a student body 2.6 times the size of MPS. Broward County Public Schools, also in Florida, has a $2.3 billion budget – and student enrollment more than three times the size of MPS. It’s worth mentioning that recent test results showed Florida public students demonstrating stronger improvement than anywhere else in the country, including Wisconsin, where results stagnated.

Mizialko laments falling taxpayer support for the district, a myth in itself. She highlights the coming November election and says that the public will get to cast votes for “a governor who will proudly fund Wisconsin public schools.”

Never mind that Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle’s last budget was built on the back of one-time federal stimulus money. After Gov. Scott Walker’s first budget, every bill since then has increased K-12 funding, culminating in a record-breaking, largest-in-a-decade $636 million increase in school funding just last year.

Yet as MPS’ enrollment has declined – dropping by approximately 10,000 students in 10 years – revenue per student has gone up. In the 2007-08 school year, the district enrolled 89,110 students, bringing in $13,305 from state, federal, and local sources. Ten years later, district enrollment is down 15 percent and revenue per student is well over $15,000.

Educrats lament the loss of the funding that comes with each student’s enrollment. They fail to mention that when a student leaves MPS, the district no longer incurs the cost of educating that child.

It’s no wonder the district faces growing deficits. With a stubborn refusal to do anything about major cost drivers for the district – namely, pension and healthcare spending – MPS is staring down a $38 million deficit in the next year. That number balloons to nearly $200 million just a few years down the road. As board member Terry Falk said at a recent budget hearing – “We will be bankrupt in about a year and a half.”

In that context, Mizialko’s $2 billion wish is even more ridiculous.

In the last ten years, MPS enrollment has fallen by more than 10,000 students. At the same time, the district has doubled the number of supervisory office staff and guidance counselors it employs.

It is long past time for MPS to take a serious look at its finances. In the last 10 years, district spending on long-term debt interest has spiked by 34 percent. Spending on community services has ballooned by more than 50 percent. Outstanding pension debt alone totals nearly $190 million as of 2017. Classroom spending directly competes with the benefits accrued by the growing army of school district retirees who collect hefty checks every month.

The truth is, no amount of state aid will ever be enough to prop up such cost drivers and an establishment that is more focused on employment than students.

Just look at the case of MPS’ former Superintendent Mark Thornton, who saw this first-hand when he made a call for outside contractors to examine food service inefficiencies. One estimate showed the district could save up to $13 million a year – one-third of the entire food service budget at the time – by privatizing school meals. Both board and union rejected the plan, preferring to provide for jobs – and big-ticket government benefits – rather than kids and classrooms. Thornton lost the debate and was universally slammed for even suggesting the idea.

The school board has the tools – including Act 10 – to get costs under control. The only question is whether it has the political will to make these tough calls.

Bureaucrats have also accumulated like barnacles on the bottoms of boats, adding considerable costs. The number of officials, administrators, and managers alone has doubled since 2008, as have the number of guidance counselors.

These mid-level managers and paper-pushers are crowding out more important hires, including teachers. While the district continued to hire support staff, it chose to employ 27 percent fewer elementary and secondary classroom teachers compared to 2008.

As more Milwaukee families move outside the district – which had some of the worst scores in the nation for large cities on recent national test results – MPS’ problems will only get worse. Even $2 billion, as absurd as the number is, will never be enough to cover the coming wave of debt payments. Only with serious spending and benefit reform does the district have a chance at getting its head above water.

April 10, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Nation’s Report Card: Student Scores Mostly Stagnate, But Achievement Gaps Widen

Wisconsin eighth-graders score six points above national average in reading, four points higher in math

Performance in math and reading has stayed flat for most American students, according to a new national data release from the Department of Education. Students in Wisconsin scored above the national average in both subjects, with fourth-grade reading scores falling by one point and scores for both tested grades staying flat in math.

The results come from a statistically representative group of nearly 585,000 fourth- and eighth-graders across the country who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, in 2017.

Nationwide, the average reading score ticked up by one point for eighth-graders. No significant score change occurred for fourth-graders in reading, or for math in either grade.

A state-level analysis shows more stagnation in scores. The average scores for most states did not change compared to 2015 in either grade or subject. Wisconsin fourth-graders fared worse on reading than they did in 2015, while eighth-graders fared the same in reading, and math scores for both grades stayed flat. Despite the lack of growth, Wisconsin students fared better than the nation’s average, as they did in years past.

The average math score for eighth-graders in Wisconsin is six points higher than the nationwide average, and one point higher for fourth-graders. For both reading and math, Wisconsin eighth-graders tended to outperform most other states, landing in the top of the pack for state scores. However, the state's largest district, Milwaukee Public Schools, fared among the worst of all districts reported nationwide.

Fourth-grade Wisconsinites scored closer to the national averages. Forty-two percent of Wisconsin fourth-graders scored proficient or higher in math, not significantly different than the national average. Thirty-nine percent of Wisconsin eighth-graders were proficient or higher in reading, greater than the national average of 35 percent.

The data highlights a number of public school districts across the country, including Milwaukee Public Schools. MPS students in both grades and in both subjects fared worse than the state and national average.

Just 15 percent of MPS fourth-graders are proficient in reading and math, significantly underperforming other large urban districts, where an average of 31 percent of students are proficient across the board. Other large public school districts reporting results include Chicago, New York City, and 24 others across the country.

For both tested grades, MPS students received among the worst scores in the country in both reading and math, with only Detroit performing worse in every category.

MPS students did not take the exam in 2015, so the most recent data for comparison comes from 2013. Fourth-grade MPS students fared worse in math than they did in 2013. Scores were not significantly different for eighth-graders in either subject or for fourth-graders in reading, compared to 2013.

Not all MPS students or Wisconsin students take the exam. A sample of schools representative of the entire district and state is chosen, after which a random sample of students is selected to take the exam. Approximately 3,300 fourth-graders and 3,100 eighth-graders in Wisconsin took the exam.

At the national level, while overall scores stayed mostly flat, gaps grew slightly between the highest- and lowest- performing groups. High-performing eighth-graders – those in the 75th and 90th percentiles – improved their scores compared to the last test in both subjects.

Low-achieving fourth-graders in the 10th and 25th percentiles saw their scores fall compared to 2015 in both math and reading.

NAEP percentile scores show that the gap between top performers and low performers is widening.

In reading, eighth-graders in public schools and in suburban schools increased their scores. Other groups with score decreases in mathematics included fourth-graders in urban schools, students with disabilities, and students eligible for the free lunch program. Those groups did not see a significant score change in reading.

Achievement gaps between ethnic and racial groups persist. The largest reported gap between any student group was for eighth grade math, where white students scored an average 32 points higher than black students. The fourth grade math gap between white and black students is smaller, at 25 points, pointing to growing disparities.

Those gaps have existed as long as the test has been administered, with the 1990 exam showing a 32-point gap in fourth grade math between white and black students. Nearly 30 years later, a 25-point gap between the same group of students exists today.

Scores in both math and reading have improved since the tests were first administered in 1990 and 1992, respectively, but have flattened out in recent years. Students in the fourth grade testing for math skills have improved the most since 1990, with a 27-point increase in the average score. In reading, the same group has seen a 5-point increase since 1992.

State Superintendent Tony Evers released a statement highlighting achievement gaps in the results. “Wisconsin’s NAEP results, and those of the past decade plus, show how desperate the need is for us to work together to close opportunity gaps for our kids,” Evers said. “As our population continues to diversify, we cannot afford to leave large numbers of our students behind their peers and expect the Wisconsin economy to continue without disruption.”

April 9, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Spring School Referenda Raise Taxes $563 Million Statewide

Voters approved more than 80 percent of proposed school district referenda, raising taxes and issuing debt to pay for school projects across the state

Voters across the state agreed to raise taxes by $563 million during Tuesday’s spring election. Of a proposed $667 million overall tax hike, the vast majority – 84 percent – were approved.

A data release from the Wheeler Report compiled the results of the 66 referendum votes. Fifty school districts came to voters asking for more money for various projects, including the construction of brand new schools, building repairs, operations, staff raises, and other expenses. On Tuesday, voters approved tax hikes in 43 school districts.

The majority of tax increases approved Tuesday came in the form of new debt. Twenty-two districts will issue new debt or bonds totaling $438.7 million – 82 percent of the proposed new debt put before voters.

Voters approved 55 of 66 school district referenda in the 2018 spring election, hiking taxes by over $563 million statewide.

School districts have state-imposed revenue limits that protect Wisconsinites from constantly-increasing property taxes. However, districts can still ask voters for more by coming to them with referenda during regularly-scheduled primary and general elections.

In the past, districts could propose referenda during special elections and could repeatedly propose the same project in consecutive elections. Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature have shared a commitment to lowering property tax burdens, spurring referendum reforms to ensure more voters have a say in matters of large tax hikes.

The largest increase in any one district is in Chippewa Falls School District, which will issue $65 million in debt to build a new elementary school, update the middle school and add a new laboratory onto the high school. The district plans to pay off the debt over 20 years.

Residents of that district will see a $1.25 property tax increase for every $1,000 of total tax assessed value on their home. The owner of a property valued at $200,000 will see a $250 per-year tax increase.

After Chippewa Falls, the next largest new debt will be issued by DC Everest Area, where voters approved $59,875,000 in debt for a school building and improvement program.

River Falls voters approved two separate asks – one bond for $45,860,000, and another for $2,100,000 – totaling just under $48 million in debt. The larger bond will fund various upgrades and renovations in school buildings, while the $2 million bond will pay for new turf, outdoor lighting, and parking. Area taxpayers will pay off those bonds for the next 19 years, through 2037.

Sixteen school districts offered multiple referenda, splitting their “asks” into two questions. Of the 16, voters in just one district, Kiel Area, approved one while denying the other, showing that relatively few voters split their votes and tended to either approve or deny all proposed spending.

Voters in Alma, Benton, and ten other districts approved issuing debt for projects across two different referenda. In Delavan-Darien, Frederic, and Peshtigo, voters rejected both referenda proposed by each district.

A smaller proportion of the new tax hikes, $123.4 million overall, will come in the form of one-time spending, also known as non-recurring spending. Just two of 25 referenda failed in that category, with voters approving 97 percent of the total proposed $126.7 million in spending.

Howard-Suamico School District got voters’ approval to exceed the revenue limit for five years, beginning in the 2018-19 school year, to reduce class sizes, provide employee raises, and maintain facilities. That’ll cost area taxpayers $5.85 million every year for five years, adding up to more than $29 million. The district estimates that local property taxes will not increase because of old debt retiring at the same time.

Voters in La Crosse also approved a spending hike totaling more than $20 million over revenue limits. The debt is considered one-time spending, but the district is asking voters to extend a current levy limit override for another five years. Had they voted no, owners of a home worth $100,000 would have seen a $96 annual decrease in property taxes – but the referendum passed, keeping taxes at the same level. The district will use the money to maintain current operations and make various facilities upgrades.

Just six of the 66 referenda on the ballot Tuesday asked voters to approve recurring, ongoing spending increases over state-mandated limits. Four of them – in Alma, Almond-Bancroft, Benton, and Shullsburg – passed, totaling $1,250,000 in new spending overall. Those districts will begin exceeding their revenue cap, spending more than the limit beginning in the coming 2018-19 school year.

Last year, 40 of 65 school district referenda passed, totaling almost $700 million in tax increases. The MacIver Institute covered the votes here.

Stay tuned for continued coverage on school district referenda affecting taxpayers across the state.

Referenda data was provided by the Wheeler Report.

March 28, 2018 | By Abby Streu and Ola Lisowski

School Districts Want to Raise Taxes $667 Million on April 3rd

Across Wisconsin on April 3, 66 Wisconsin school districts will hold referenda asking local voters to raise property taxes. Voters will have to decide if they want to increase taxes by up to $667 million outside of regular revenue limits.

Data obtained from the Wheeler Report shows the extent of the financial burden that could be caused by these referenda if passed. The majority of the referenda would issue debt to taxpayers totaling $535.9 million. About 40 percent of the referenda up for votes would raise taxes on a one-time basis, totaling $126.7 million. Six others would raise taxes on an ongoing basis, adding up to $4.75 million per year.

School district spending projects would increase property taxes for the construction of new schools, gymnasiums, performance arts centers, weightlifting facilities, and other facilities upgrades. Others would raise money for general operations, education programming, and salary increases.

In the past, school districts could hold referenda during any election, and could repeatedly put the same project up for a vote in consecutive elections. Now, referenda can only be held on regularly scheduled general and primary elections.

Some projects would raise funds for basic safety measures, including one at Montello School District that would issue $3.75 million in debt to remove asbestos, replace parts of the roof and air conditioning systems, and bring the fire alarm system up to code.

Area families will need to choose whether or not to increase taxes to fuel spending for local school districts – but the increased tax base will also affect the rest of the state. Issuing additional financial strains in one area of Wisconsin raises the overall tax levy statewide.

Wisconsin lawmakers have worked to reform the referendum process to alleviate the burden on taxpayers. That goal has the support of Gov. Scott Walker, who has committed to lowering the average statewide property tax levy.

In the past, school districts could hold referenda during any election, and could repeatedly put the same project up for a vote in consecutive elections.

Now, referenda can only be held on regularly scheduled general and primary elections. The 2017-2019 Wisconsin State Budget further reformed referenda, limiting votes to regular general and primary elections to ensure more voters would have a say in local spending increases.

Thirty-five referenda totaling $535.9 million would issue debt to taxpayers.

Chippewa Falls School District is seeking $65 million – the biggest potential tax increase out of any one referenda up for a vote Tuesday. That money would build a new elementary school, update the middle school and add a new laboratory onto the high school.

DC Everest School District is seeking nearly $60 million for a district-wide school building and improvement program. In Plymouth, voters will consider $32 million in debt for a wide range of facilities and security upgrades, including a gymnasium, cafeteria, and academic additions, remodeling, roof replacement, and HVAC upgrades.

Beloit Turner is asking voters to approve $27 million in debt to construct a new elementary school and make additions and renovations to FJ Turner High School.

Twenty-five school districts, or 38 percent of the referenda up for consideration Tuesday, seek to exceed revenue limits on a one-time basis totaling $126.7 million.

The largest amount asked for is $29,250,000 by Howard-Suamico School District to reduce class sizes and increase employee compensation. The school district would raise taxes over revenue limits for five years, from the 2018-19 school year to 2022-23, by $5.85 million every year.

The La Crosse School District is asking voters to raise taxes by almost $21 million over five years. That additional money would go toward maintaining academic programming, facilities, and upgrading technology.

Six referenda will ask voters to raise taxes on a recurring basis. The lowest amount being sought on a recurring basis is $25,000 per year for Alma School District.

The highest is $3,000,000 per year in Darien-Delavan School District to maintain education programming. The school district is asking voters to approve two separate referenda on the same ballot. The other ballot question seeks $1.5 million in one-time spending for a new football and soccer turf field, improvements to the stadium, and new academic and vocational programming at the high school.

Last April, 65 referenda were put to a vote across the state. In the end, 40 passed, costing Wisconsin taxpayers nearly $700 million. The MacIver Institute compiled the data here.

Two-hundred-eleven referenda were brought to the ballot box between October 2013 and November 2015, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. Voters approved 142 of them. In April 2017, the Journal Sentinel reported that school districts in Wisconsin have passed $12 billion-worth of referenda since 1990. More than half of these referenda have occurred in the last decade.

Stay tuned for updates on referenda results on Twitter at @newsmaciver and @maciverwisc.

Referendum data was provided by The Wheeler Report.

March 14, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Performance in Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay: A Deeper Dive

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recently released a massive amount of data on student performance across the state. The new data cover a slew of metrics from graduation rates, to the ACT scores of the class of 2017, to the ACT Aspire, to AP exams, and then some. We first covered the results here, but there’s plenty more to examine.

Achievement Gaps

Wisconsin has long struggled with significant achievement gaps in four-year graduation rates and other performance metrics, often posting the largest gaps in the nation. For the class of 2017, those gaps largely persisted, though the data shows some improvements.

White students graduated high school at the same rate as the previous year – 92.7 percent – while the rate for black students increased by 2.8 points to 67.0 percent. The four-year diploma achievement gap fell to 25.7 percent in 2017 from 28.5 percent in 2016.

The diploma achievement gap at MMSD now stands at 18.1 points, down from a 31-point gap in 2016.

The gap between white and hispanic students has closed at a much faster rate. While the diploma gap between white and black students was 27.6 points in 2011, it is just 1.9 points lower today. In the same time, the gap between white and hispanic students shrank by seven points. The achievement gap between white and hispanic students fell from 19.4 points in 2011 to 12.4 points in 2017.

Students at Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) saw striking improvements, though overall rates remain low. While the graduation rate increased by 1.2 points to 90.7 percent for white students, black students saw an impressive increase of 14.1 points to 72.6 percent. The diploma achievement gap at MMSD now stands at 18.1 points, down from a 31-point gap in 2016.

MMSD’s 18-point achievement gap between white and black students is smaller than the gap at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the state’s largest school district. At MPS, the achievement gap between white and black students is now 14.9 percent, down from 17.1 a year ago.

Though MPS’ achievement gap between large ethnic and racial groups is smaller than the state’s average, overall graduation rates are significantly lower. The district’s average graduation rate is 62.2 percent, with 58.4 percent of black students and 73.3 percent of white students graduating in four years.

The ACT Suite Exams

Standardized testing has gone through considerable changes in recent years, and the ACT is no exception. Last year was the first that the state of Wisconsin paid for all high school juniors to take the ACT, drastically bringing up participation rates from 63.5 percent to 92.1 percent statewide. In 2017 both the participation rate and average composite score of 20.3 out of 36 remained the same.

At the same time, students have begun taking the ACT Aspire, a new exam for freshmen and sophomores in high school. The ACT Aspire gauges students’ preparedness for the full-fledged ACT used for college applications. While ACT scores remained flat, ACT Aspire scores fell across the state.

At Madison Metropolitan, students did worse in almost every subject compared to last year on the ACT Aspire. Fifty-five percent of students were ready or exceeding in English and just 36 percent in math. The percent of students considered ready or exceeding on the ACT Aspire English section fell by ten full points from just 2015 to 2017, to 54.9 percent. That was more drastic than the nearly 8 point drop at MPS, or the 3.3 point drop statewide during the same time period.

MPS students struggled even more, with just 8.3 percent ready or exceeding in math. Just 24.2 percent of MPS students were ready or exceeding in English – less than half of the statewide figure.

Racial disparities persisted throughout ACT-related data. While 50.2 percent of white MPS students were ready or exceeding on the ACT Aspire, just 15.8 percent of black students fared the same. Both groups of students fared considerably worse than the prior year, and the achievement gap between them grew from 32.9 points to 34.4 points.

MPS graduates of the class of 2017 fared better on the ACT than the class of 2016 in every subject, though participation fell from 95.3 percent to 90.6 percent. Student college readiness also improved in every subject, with the biggestincrease occurring in the reading section, where 16 percent of MPS students are now considered college-ready, compared to 13.7 percent last year. Still, 16 percent is a low bar, and it’s far below the state average of 40.5 percent. While 35.9 percent of students statewide were considered college-ready in science on the ACT, just 10.9 percent fared the same at MPS.

While MPS students improved proficiency across the board – though scores were still lower than the state average in every subject – MMSD students earned the same or lower scores in some subjects. The average composite score at MMSD was 21.5 out of 36, a sliver higher than last year’s 21.4. Students’ reading score fell to 21.7 out of 36 points, and stayed flat at 21.3 in math. Scores in English, science, and writing all increased.

Students at GBAP fared worse on the ACT than their MMSD counterparts, with an average composite score of 18.4 out of 36, down slightly from 18.7 the prior year. The participation rate also fell from 86 percent in 2016 to 82.8 percent in 2017, raising questions about why both the participation rate and the average score fell. The percent of college-ready students fell from 42.4 percent to 38.9 percent in the English section, and from 33.5 percent to 28.7 percent in math. Neither Madison nor Milwaukee saw that kind of drop.

The full ACT is a much more important exam that carries significantly more weight than the ACT Aspire. While students are taking more college prep exams, they’re also taking more college prep courses.

Advanced Placement Exams

In high school, students can take Advanced Placement (AP) classes that are typically considered college or near-college level. AP classes are challenging and a great way for students to learn how to study – plus, they can choose to take the AP exam at the end of the course.

The exams themselves offer a chance at saving real money in college. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, offers a minimum of three credits for a score of three or higher on any AP exam. If students know they want to move on to higher education, AP classes and exams are a great way to get a head start.

AP exams scores, student participation rates, and the number of exams taken in Wisconsin all increased in the last year. The participation rate is a particularly promising trend – just 16.4 percent of students took an AP exam, but that number has increased by a full percentage point every year for three years in a row. The number of exams increased by 7.9 percent in just one year, showing that more students are taking more than one exam.

MMSD students in 2017 took 23 percent more AP exams than they did the previous year, a stunning one-year increase. Nineteen percent of students took an exam, up from 16 percent in 2016. The only negative trend for AP exams in Madison was that the percentage of exams scored three or higher fell from 79 percent to 77 percent – but a score drop is almost always expected with such a massive increase in participation. The scores are also higher than the state average, showing that AP classes are by-and-large sufficiently preparing students for the big exam that actually gets them credits.

Up in Green Bay, more GBAP students took AP exams than last year, with a 12.6 percent participation rate in 2017, up from 11.1 percent in 2016. Scores are slightly higher than the state average at 68.7 percent of tests scored three or above. That’s an increase from last year, but overall, scores have stayed largely flat over the last few years.

Of the larger school districts, MPS students struggled the most on AP exams. Just 19.2 percent of exams earned a three or higher, far below the 65.9 percent statewide average. Just 9.5 percent of MPS students took an AP exam in 2017, up a hair from 9.1 percent in 2016. One shining light in MPS’ statistics – the one-year increase in the number of exams taken was 8.6 percent, higher than the state increase of 7.9 percent.

College Attendance

DPI also reports on the percentage of Wisconsin graduates who are enrolled in postsecondary institutions. These numbers are updated every year, so they slowly tick up as students who take gap years end up in school down the road. Even considering that, however, a trend is emerging: students are choosing not to move on to college. Just 55 percent of 2017 graduates are now enrolled at a postsecondary institution. In 2013, 71 percent had done so.

This number can stem from a lot of different things and could be spliced in different ways. A highly skilled, highly educated populace is certainly a good thing, and college degree attainment almost always translates to higher wages. However, costs have skyrocketed in recent decades, and the rate of return isn’t what it used to be. Students must now consider how and where they go to college perhaps a bit more carefully than the high school graduates of the 80s and 90s. As the job market improves, it’s also possible that more students are choosing to go right into the workplace rather than getting degrees.

Large school districts across the state saw a similar trend occur. Of 2017 MMSD graduates, 63 percent are enrolled at a postsecondary institution, down from 69 percent of 2016 graduates. Forty percent of 2017 MPS graduates are enrolled, down from 49 percent the year before. GBAP saw an even larger drop in postsecondary enrollment than the statewide average – 52 percent of 2017 graduates are enrolled somewhere today, compared to 71 percent of 2013 graduates.

Enrollment, Attendance, And Dropouts

Public school enrollment has been declining for years, driven by a mix of factors but largely by the fact that families are choosing alternative schools. As public school enrollment drops, private school enrollment increases year over year. Remember – the data reported here only applies to publicly funded students or those at public schools. Over 120,000 students attend private schools in Wisconsin today.

From the 2016-17 school year to 2017-18, public school enrollment fell by 0.43 percent, or 3,743 students. At the same time, funding for schools increased by over $600 million in the 2017-19 biennial budget – a historic increase.

The statewide dropout rate has held steady, at 1.5 percent in both of the last two years. Attendance fell slightly to 94 percent, from 94.9 percent.

Certain districts strayed from the norm – MPS’ dropout rate fell from 7.2 percent in 2016 to 6.2 percent in 2017, a considerable drop, but still much higher than the average. At 88.3 percent, MPS’ attendance rate is also considerably lower than the state average, and it fell by 1.1 points from the prior year. MMSD’s dropout rate ticked up a hair to 2.0 percent from 1.7 percent, while attendance fell slightly to 93.5 percent. GBAP’s dropout rate fell to 2.5 percent, trending downwards from a rate north of 3 percent for the last several years.

Worth noting is the issue of the Obama-era Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter to schools and districts regarding dropout rates. That letter instructed locals to watch for racial disparities in suspensions, expulsions, and dropouts, potentially leaving federal funding on the line. Since then, reports such as Dan O’Donnell’s Blood on the Blackboard have revealed how violence in classrooms has increased as school officials refuse to remove violent students from school in fear of affecting suspension rates. As the Governor and legislative leaders call for a special session on school safety, the issue could become more prevalent.

March 8, 2018 | By Ola Lisowski

Education Data Release: More Wisconsin High School Students Graduating in Four Years, but Proficiency Rates Down Slightly

A large data release Thursday revealed generally poor trends for students as proficiency, college readiness continue to fall – but more students are taking AP exams, a clear positive

[Madison, Wis…] More Wisconsin high schoolers are graduating in four years and the number of students who drop out is staying steady, according to an extensive new dataset released Thursday by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The data also show that the average ACT composite score and participation rate remains generally unchanged compared to last year, but more high school students are opting out of attending college.

The data, mostly focusing on the class of 2017, offers a mix bag of results. The release shows that 88.6 percent of students graduated in four years, up from 88.2 percent in 2016. The percent of students who dropped out of high school – 1.5 percent – was the same percentage as last year.

2017 graduates on average scored 20.3 out of 36 on the ACT exam, equal to last year’s average score.

Overall public school enrollment for the 2017-18 school year was down, falling by 0.41 percent, or 3,743 students. The percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions plummeted to 55 percent, a drastic drop from 71 percent in 2013.

ACT results for the class of 2017 were positive, though not groundbreaking. The scores, which are the average of all ACT exams taken by 2017 graduates, stayed exactly the same for English, math, writing, and the overall composite.

The participation rate also stayed steady at 92.1 percent, the same as last year, which was the first year that the state paid for all students to take the exam. Last year, the average score fell by 1.8 points, but nearly 46 percent more students took the exam compared to the year prior. This time around, both participation rates and overall scores stayed mostly steady.

In English, students earned an average 19.4 out of 36 points, the same as last year. The percent of college-ready students fell from 59 percent to 57.9 percent. In math, the average score was 20.3, also the same as last year, but college readiness rates fell from 40.1 percent to 38.2 percent.

The average score in reading fell from 20.5 to 20.4, but the percent of college-ready exam takers grew to 40.5 percent from 39.6 percent. Students stayed steady in science, earning an average 20.7 of 36 points with 35.9 percent marked college-ready, both the exact same results as last year.

In the writing section, students earned an average of 6.1 out of 12 points, the same as last year. There are no college readiness benchmarks for the writing section, but participation in the ACT + Writing grew from 71.1 percent to 76.1 percent last year, a good sign.

Another good sign for students came in the data on Advanced Placement (AP) exams. High school students can take AP exams to earn college credit, with many schools – including the University of Wisconsin-Madison – providing general education credits for a score of three or higher.

The participation rate among high school students taking an AP exam grew by a full percentage point in the 2016-17 school year, from 15.4 percent to 16.4 percent. The percent of exams graded three or higher also increased from 65.6 percent to 65.9 percent. Compared to last year, 7 percent more AP exams were taken in the state of Wisconsin. More students are considering these exams as a legitimate way to get ahead on general education credits and save money on future college expenses. While 16.4 percent is still a low participation rate, the year-over-year trend is promising.

While ACT and AP score results showed positive news for students, ACT Aspire data showed some retreats. Fewer students demonstrated proficiency on the ACT Aspire in almost every subject compared to last year. That exam is taken by 9th and 10th graders as they prepare for the full ACT exam that they submit with college applications.

With 57.5 percent of exam takers “ready or exceeding” in English, students fared the best in that subject area. Last year, 60.4 percent of students earned the distinction. In math, just 37.1 percent of students were ready or exceeding, down from 38.9 percent last year. Readiness in reading and science also fell, from 39.4 percent proficiency in reading last year to 38.6 percent now. Just 35.5 percent of students are proficient in science, down from 36.9 percent last year.

Writing was the only ACT Aspire subject area in which more students were proficient over last year, albeit by a small amount – 51.4 percent of students were ready or exceeding, up from 51 percent in 2015-16.

Last year’s data release on graduation rates was marred by questionable, asterisk-laden numbers. The department released 2016 graduation rates months after they were expected, and 21 school districts submitted “data errata” letters showing that their submitted data was wrong. For that reason, DPI warned the public to consider the data carefully as it reworked the numbers for the November report card release. DPI had originally published a four-year graduation rate of 88.4 percent, but that number later fell to 88.2 percent as corrections were made. Zero school districts submitted data errata letters for this release.

Another strong trend emerged in the data, showing how students are making different choices than those just a year or two before them. In the 2016-17 school year, 54.9 percent of graduates were enrolled in a postsecondary institution, down from 61.6 in 2015-16. That continues a steady drop in the percent of postsecondary enrollments among high school graduates – just five years ago, in the 2012-13 school year, 70.9 percent of students were enrolled in a postsecondary institution upon graduating high school. The 15-point swing is perhaps the single largest change in any measured indicator of Wisconsin students.

Declining public school enrollment continued a longstanding trend as more students choose K-12 schools outside the traditional public school system. In the 2017-18 school year, 860,138 students are enrolled, down from 863,881 the year before, a 0.41 percent decrease.

Students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the state’s largest public school district, generally fared worse than the state average, but showed some areas of improvement. The four-year graduation rate at MPS rose to 62.2 percent from 59.7 percent last year. That rate is considerably lower than the 88.6 percent statewide average. On the ACT Aspire, 24.2 percent of MPS students scored ready or exceeding in English, down from 31.7 percent last year. That’s less than half the statewide figure. In math, just 8.3 percent of MPS test takers scored ready or exceeding, down from 10.2 percent.

MPS graduates of the class of 2017 had a lower ACT exam participation rate than the class before them, with 90.6 percent of students taking the exam compared to 95.3 percent. That drop in participation could partly explain the increased average composite score, which grew from 16.1 out of 36 to 16.5. English composite scores increased from 14.7 to 15.1, and math scores increased from 16.3 to 16.4. The percent of students considered college ready also grew accordingly.

While fewer 2017 MPS graduates took the ACT exam, more took the ACT + Writing. That participation rate grew from 72.1 percent last year to 80.3 percent this year. At the same time, the average writing score increased from 5.3 out of 12 to 5.5, a commendable increase considering the large growth in participation.

MPS’ attendance and dropout rates both fell compared to the prior year, and both were notably higher than the statewide average. In 2016-17, the dropout rate was 6.2 percent, down from 7.2 percent the prior year. Attendance stood at 88.3 percent, down from 89.4 in 2015-16.

February 12, 2018 | By Abby Streu

UW Student: Hip Hop Social Justice Class "Is An Absolute Joke"

MADISON, Wis. – Should Wisconsin taxpayers pay for a class taught by a “radical socialist” that believes “HipHop culture can help make the world more just?”

As first reported by Vicki McKenna on WIBA on Feb. 5, UW offers a class called “Global HipHop and Social Justice,” which aims to study how HipHop has influenced political movements across the world.

The class is taught by Professor Damon Burchell-Sajnani, also known by his rapper name, ProfessorD.us. Apparently, his rapper name is also a website domain name. ProfessorD.us has been an assistant professor at UW-Madison since Fall 2016. ProfessorD.us also teaches “The Problem of Whiteness,” a course that’s drawn controversy.

"ProfessorD.us warned students, 'don’t write about how I’m forcing my liberal views on you–I’m a radical socialist. At least get that right.'"

ProfessorD.us explains in his course syllabus that the class “explores how HipHop, a quintessential manifestation of African American culture, is adopted and adapted by African youth to fight for social justice and democracy in their local contexts.”

The class sets out to answer some of the greatest questions facing humankind.

“We begin by asking what is ‘HipHop,’ what is ‘social justice,’ and what is their relationship.”

Some, however, are not thrilled that taxpayers’ support of the University of Wisconsin system is being used to offer this course.

“Why are you paying for it? Why am I paying for it? Why does the Legislature refuse to address this problem?” asked conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna.

A student enrolled in ProfessorD.us’ class shared with MacIver what students experienced during the lecture.

“Professor Sajnani made it clear on one of the first days of classes that if you had a problem with his teaching that you should just write it on the teacher evaluation form at the end of the semester. [He also said] “don’t write about how I’m forcing my liberal views on you–I’m a radical socialist. At least get that right.”

The mother of a student enrolled in the class also questioned the appropriateness of the class. “They should then pull funding or any costs provided by taxpayers for such courses,”

The MacIver Institute is not naming the student or the parents because they fear there will be retaliation if they speak out. The student is afraid to speak out because there are many on campus “who are not shy about bashing anyone and anything conservative or Republican.”

This is not the first time that a class at the UW has been questioned as a waste of taxpayer money.

During deliberations over the past state budget, the MacIver Institute published the “Top Five Wasteful Classes in the UW System.”

UW student and MacIver intern Jessica Murphy, the author of the article, was threatened online for daring to question such classes as “Teaching for Social Justice” and “Exploring White Privilege.”

Students enrolled in “Global Hip Hop and Social Justice” are required to purchase ProfessorD.us’s album as class material, and it is recommended that they purchase the CD from his website. The website also sells t-shirts stating “Bush is the real terrorist.”

ProfessorD.us has worn a t-shirt in class with the words “Not My President” and the Republican Party elephant with Trump hair on it.

In addition to exploring the professor’s own political beliefs as expressed in his music, the class also takes an entire week to scrutinize the cultural appropriation of white and non-black artists who dare perform HipHop.

Professor Sajnani was paid nearly $78,000 in his first year as an assistant professor of UW-Madison, according to the Wisconsin State Journal database. In addition to his salary, ProfessorD.us receives generous benefits paid for by Wisconsin taxpayers.

“This class is an absolute joke. It’s just a platform for Professor Sajnani to whine and complain,” the student said.

The mother put it bluntly.

“This class is not, in my opinion, anything worthy of taxpayer and student financial support.”

January 22, 2018 | By Jake Lubenow

As Spring Semester Starts, Conservatives Should Keep Pressing Free Speech Cause

A MacIver Perspective

From waving dildos in the air, to shutting out conservative organizations, to hating all white men, the campus left in Wisconsin truly had a banner fall semester. The radical leftists at our universities continue to trip over their extraordinarily low bar for being considerate participants in political debate and restraining from indoctrinating Wisconsin students.

Although new free speech protections offer more liberty for students to express their beliefs, more must be done to liberate students of the quasi-socialist utopia at our Wisconsin colleges and universities.

The Good

While activists, professors, and administrators continue to do their best to suppress opposing views from the right side of the aisle, progress has been made to protect the liberties of students.

Today’s college students never saw the days of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square protests, and they’ve become more inclined to discount the importance and significance of our right to free speech.

The biggest story in campus politics this fall was by far the free speech bill passed by the Wisconsin Assembly and later implemented by the Board of Regents. The policy punishes students who disturb events and speakers twice with a suspension. If a student still doesn’t get the hint, the third disturbance ends in expulsion.

The policy curbs the use of the unconstitutional heckler’s veto after the practice was utilized nationally by progressive activists last year. Ben Shapiro’s speech last fall at UW-Madison to the Young Americans for Freedom chapter was put on hold when protesters rushed the stage and showed off their stranglehold on campus conservatives and proved what dilatants the “tolerant” left are.

Today’s college students never saw the days of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square protests, and they’ve become more inclined to discount the importance and significance of our right to free speech. MacIver’s own Matt Kittle sat down with José Delgado, a Cuban Native and UW System Regent, to discuss his reflections on growing up in Castro’s Cuba and the impact of free speech on the furthering of our democracy.

Despite the policy being hotly debated across the state, and even in national press, free speech has made progress since the policy was implemented. Just take a look at the Young Americans for Liberty event at UW-Madison this past fall.

On another good note, in-state students will see their tuition at the same level for the fifth straight year with the tuition freeze by way of the budget process. Unfortunately for students in need of some extra beer money, or perhaps cash for textbooks, Governor Walker’s proposed 5 percent tuition cut was struck by Republican legislators content with just a freeze. The campus left’s so-called “student loan voters” lack of praise for the freeze is deafening.

The Bad

UW-Stevens Point’s Student Government Association voted to deny the formation of a Turning Point USA campus group, a nationwide conservative organization, to maintain their campus-wide safe space. The decision provoked a statewide rebuke and the threat of a lawsuit, forcing the reversal of the decision by the Student Affairs Office. At the testy meeting, student senators called the organization and, perhaps more shockingly capitalism, racist. It turns out the protection of safe spaces does not stand up to the primacy of the freedom of association and a win was notched for conservatives at UW-Stevens Point.

Also, a leader of the Wisconsin College Democrats and student at UW-La Crosse had to resign after tweeting “I f—ing hate white men” and sharing her joy of tearing down Christian pregnancy center posters on campus. The ever-tolerant College Democrats stood by the member of their board until national media attention was drawn to the organization over the matter. Her resignation was a silver-lining, but the media attention required exposed the hypocrisy of the campus left.

The Ugly

After this past semester, students on the right may be reconsidering their position on safe spaces and trigger warnings with how radical and, frankly, bizarre the campus left went this fall.

"It’s not hard to imagine why parents across the state hesitate to send their students to Madison, knowing they’re at risk of harassment just for attending an event consistent with their values."

Nothing epitomized liberal activism like a small group of misfits at UW-Madison screaming “cocks not glocks” and “this is what democracy looks like” while waving facsimiles of male genitalia in the air in protest. It’s possible the students thought they were living in the French democracy, but probably not.

The protesters tried to trivialize a speaker discussing the need for campus concealed carry to empower women to protect themselves, especially from the increased threat of sexual assault. The mocking, rather than engaging in debate, not only exposes how inept campus progressives are at responding to opposing ideas, but also how insensitive they are to the plight of rape victims on our campuses if they disagree with a speaker’s politics.

It’s not hard to imagine why parents across the state hesitate to send their students to Madison, knowing they’re at risk of harassment just for attending an event consistent with their values. You really have to wonder if these champions of the victimized realize what damage waving dildos in the face of a student impacted by sexual assault could do.

Forward

It really is a mystery whether the campus left can top the lunacy of the past semester. It should be difficult to usurp waving dildos in the air, but never underestimate the determination of some liberal students with too much time on their hands.

The free speech debate should remain at center stage as the Senate and the Governor may take up the Assembly bill that led to a Board of Regents policy. We’ll also certainly see further evidence that the policy respects the freedom of speech with no evidence of a chilling effect opponents predict. It shouldn’t be hard to explain to students the difference between protesting outside and disturbing an event inside, but you never know with the campus left’s warped perceptions.

Governor Walker wrote an ambitious budget in 2017 with respect to UW reforms and he should be applauded for the effort. The Joint Finance Committee’s insistence that the budget stick to fiscal matters shouldn’t halt the ambition to reform poor UW policy.

Governor Walker proposed the university create pathways by 2020 for most degree plans for finishing an undergraduate program in three years. Most UW schools are eager to pick the pockets of students stuck in school for a fourth year. Meanwhile, their mountain of debt climbs higher as students finish their degrees in underwater basket weaving. JFC’s striking of the proposal shouldn’t deter the governor and legislators from helping UW students complete school with a little more in their wallet.

In a step toward transparency, Governor Walker also proposed a policy where all workloads by faculty are reported and professors are rewarded for spending time in the classroom. While some research certainly benefits the state, it’s time we reward professors who do what they’re paid to do: teach. Students should jump at the opportunity to have more teaching hours, opening more classes and making it simpler to fulfill graduation requirements.

"Students at UW-Madison should be outraged that nearly $105,000 each year is allocated to condoms and over $67,000 promotes an organization called Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics."

Campus conservatives should also resume their call for a student fee opt-out. Allocable segregated fees force all students to pay a hefty sum to fund organizations and programs they usually neither use nor participate in and, in some cases, don’t agree with. Students at UW-Madison should be outraged that nearly $105,000 each year is allocated to condoms and over $67,000 promotes an organization called Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Or perhaps they’d be furious that their student representatives receive thousands of dollars to offend Jewish students and suggest that African-American students should receive free tuition.

The opt-out was included in Governor Walker’s budget but later removed by the Legislature. To get serious about college affordability and real liberty for students, the Legislature should reconsider the idea. Lawmakers did mandate that segregated fees be standardized across campuses with regard to how each school structured their allocation. That move should make an opt-out a simpler adjustment for universities.

With each passing semester of lunacy from the left, conservative organizations and students grow in number and strength. Those liberty-oriented students need to continue to expose the hypocrisy of the left, grow the movement on campus, and call for reforms from our Legislature. The battle will never be easy, but altering increasingly radical universities and students is a worthy and imperative pursuit.

January 8, 2018 | By Bill Osmulski

UW Madison Hate and Bias Reporting System Clogged With Pettiness and Tattling

MADISON, Wis. – Here’s how out of control the political correctness police have gotten at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A student complained that a white homeless man who yelled “racist” at passersby at the student union was himself engaging in racism because he was hiding behind his “white privilege.”

That’s just one of the many acts of pettiness and tattletaling found in the liberal university’s “hate and bias” incident reports.

The UW-Madison’s Division of Student Life includes these highly questionable hate claims in its “Bias Reporting” database. That’s a shame, really. Such outlandish complaints diminish the legitimate cases of racism, discrimination and harassment that truly have occurred on campus.

Flaws within UW-Madison’s bias reporting system are creating an exaggerated picture of hate and bias, MacIver Institute investigation has found.

Broad Bias Definition

Three years ago the university introduced the “Bias Reporting Process.” Students who are “hurting after experiencing a bias or hate incident on campus” are encouraged to file an incident report with the Division of Student Life. The reports can be filed online or in person at about a dozen locations on campus.

In one report, a white homeless man was yelling "racist" at everyone who walked past him at the union. The student who filed the report said something needed to be done about the man and that he was hiding behind his "white privilege."

Altogether, since the introduction of the reporting system in the fall of 2015, the university has received reports on 256 separate incidents. The MacIver Institute obtained 88 bias incident reports through two open records requests that stretch from January through August 2017.

What exactly counts as “bias?” The university maintains a very broad definition that includes “single or multiple acts toward an individual, group, or their property that are so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that they create an unreasonably intimidating, hostile, or offensive work, learning, or program environment, and that one could reasonably conclude are based upon actual or perceived age, race, color, creed, religion, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, spirituality, cultural, socio-economic status, or any combination of these or other related factors.”

The reporting form provides plenty of space for students to articulate their specific grievance and provide evidence. The reports are then collected by the Bias Response and Advocacy Coordinator, which is a full-time position with an annual salary of $42,000. Ultimately, they are compiled into summary reports that track the trends from semester to semester.

There is also a Bias Response Team made up of students, faculty and staff.

“[The Team] has been charged with addressing any issue related to bias or hate,” according to the summary reports. That seems to mostly involve organizational training sessions. The team has conducted 18 workshops for student organizations, departments, and programs reaching about 550 people in the spring/summer of 2016. Members have led various informational campaigns. Those efforts have yielded mixed results. The university’s summary reports indicate the number of incidents are increasing, but speculates the reason is increased awareness of the reporting system.

Some of the reports seem to indicate genuine problems on campus. Unfortunately, they can get lost in a cacophony of classroom disagreements, roommate squabbles, personal vendettas, arguments over workout room equipment, and Facebook fights. The university takes all reports seriously, and so there is no differentiating between reports that seem to indicate serious problems of hate and bias on campus, and reports that seem to be motivated by something else.

High School Grudges

For example, in March a male student posted a picture of himself on Facebook cradling a blue fanny pack pretending to be pregnant. His friends joked in the comments, “What’s the gender?” “It’s blue so I’m assuming it should be a girl that’s how it works these days right,” and “Non-binary I’m hoping.”

The person who filed the bias report stated, “I have known these boys for years. I went to high school with them. They are generally very mean people. They have specifically attacked my friends, although not in this instance. They need to stop their hateful, ignorant and offensive comments.”

The male student told MacIver News he was aware of the report, but the university never contacted him about it. The Office of Compliance told MacIver News there is almost never any follow up with the alleged perpetrators. The focus is on the victims and providing them support.

Bias Reports Are Not Police Reports

Many who file the reports aren’t seeking help. They just seem to think something good will come from reporting. For example, a woman who says she was heckled for being a lesbian wrote, “I’m filing this report because I believe the perpetrators should be identified and held accountable for harassment and hate speech on University property.”

There’s good reason to think that would happen. The website says, “The Bias Response and Advocacy Coordinator refers investigation and adjudication to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and University Housing; criminal investigations are managed by UWPD and/or Madison Police Department. The Bias Response and Advocacy Coordinator also refers incidents involving employees to the Office of Compliance and/or the Office of Human Resources.”

MacIver’s research found that simply doesn’t happen. First of all, the university admits, “Although the expression of an idea or point of view may be offensive or inflammatory to some, it is not necessarily a violation of law or university policy.”

And even if a report were referred to the Office of Student Conduct, the results would potentially be swift and controversial. The Division of Student Life’s assistant deans are responsible for conducting any required investigations in addition to their other duties.

“The campus process does not use the same procedures, burdens of proof, or rules of evidence as local, state, or federal legal systems,” its website explains. “University staff make decisions based on a preponderance of the evidence—information that persuades a reasonable person that is is more likely true than not true that misconduct occurred. In certain cases, clear and convincing evidence—information that would persuade a reasonable person to have a firm belief that the misconduct occurred—is necessary to remove a student from campus or restrict them from a course or program.”

Many students seem confused by the difference between criminal law and university policy. Subsequently, they’ll report an incident to the university as bias, when they should be reporting it to the police as a crime. Last year, someone shot a student at a bus stop with an airsoft gun. She stated in the bias incident report that she felt she was targeted because she’s “visibly gender non-conforming.” She included a picture of a large bruise on her leg with the report, but did not contact law enforcement about it.

Real Racism on Campus

There are some reports that seem to indicate a genuine problem with racism on campus, specifically targeting Asian students. For example, according to the reports, an employee at the rec center was overheard saying “Chinese are idiots” in the presence of Chinese students. A man on State Street yelled at an Asian American, “If you don’t speak English, go back to your f—ing country.” A man on Johnson Street physically assaulted an Asian woman, yelling “You do not belong here. Go back to your f—ing country and get out of the States!”

But serious reports like these seem to get lost within reports like: “I’m reporting a Facebook page called ‘UW – Meme County.’ Specifically, the page uses an image of Bucky Badger adapted to look like Pepe Frog.”

Then there’s the Jill Stein poster that was torn down – supposedly due to anti-semitism on campus. And then there was a series of crudely arranged lines scratched in a stall in the men’s room at the rec center, which was determined to be a swastika. (Police were called for that last one, by the way.)

Reporting Your Professor

It’s also not unusual for students to report their professors for objectionable classroom instruction. At least one student was offended when her literature teacher read a passage from a Joseph Conrad novel; n-word and all.

Another student was dismayed at her gender studies professor, who was not satisfactorily respectful when using the term “transsexual” and taught “that while gender is a cultural construct, sex is a universal, biological trait which is not culturally influenced. This is simply untrue. I fear that this will lead to confusion and misunderstanding about trans people and our experiences, which can further the violence that we experience.”

In another report, a student described a biology lecture where the professor provided a handout of different types of organisms. A palm tree represents land plants, a mushroom represents fungi and, in a bizarre attempt to be inclusive, she used the picture of a black woman to represent animals.

Complete Irony

The irony of some reports borders on the absurd.

In one report, a white homeless man was yelling “racist” at everyone who walked past him at the union. The student who filed the report said something needed to be done about the man and that he was hiding behind his “white privilege.”

Then there’s the incident report about the pizza slice-of-the-day at the student union called the “Buffalo Soldier.” (Historical note: “Buffalo Soldier” was a racist term the plains Indians called black Soldiers, claiming they looked like buffalo). Ironically, the person offended by the name was a native American. She mistakenly thought the term was simply “what they called soldiers that were meant to kill indians and buffalo.”

Report Anything, Just Claim It's Bias

The most recent reports the MacIver Institute collected are from the summer of 2017, and they generally seem to depart from the original purpose of the bias reporting system. There are reports about someone hogging weights at the gym, a female student who didn’t feel comfortable with her roommate sub-leasing to a male, someone yelling the f-word at someone on the street, the man who illegally docked his boat at the pier, the landlord who evicted a student for having a dog, and the students who moved out of their apartment without telling one of the roommates. Typically, the person filing the report believes the incident is race-, ethnicity-, or gender-based discrimination.

Fishy labeling like that not only detracts from genuine cases of hate and bias, it also creates statistics that exaggerate the problem on campus. During the summer 2017 semester, 72 percent (8 out of 11) of reported incidents were supposedly race related. However, five out of the six examples above were among those labeled as race-based incidents, and another report that summer about a student commenting on a new university staff member hired to address sexual orientation issues on campus was also labeled as race-related.

Creating Bad Statistics

All that bad data is now being shared to a national database organized by ProPublica for a project called “Documenting Hate.” Needless to say, by incorporating data from the university’s bias reporting system, its results will be suspect.

If you think the university’s starting to look a little like George Orwell’s classic novel “Animal Farm,” you’re not alone. One student filed a bias report against the bias reporting system. The anonymous complainant wrote, “I’ve noticed that the University of Wisconsin–Madison asks students to rat on other students for opinions that ‘offend’ them for one reason or another. This goes against the very foundations upon which the United States is grounded. Such Orwellian censorship practices are very reminiscent of the tyrannical East-German Stasi and make free speech & free thought completely impossible.”

Indeed, there is nothing about the bias reporting system that casts the university in a good light. The reports generally reveal a petty, immature, and, oftentimes, poorly educated student body. Even when credible incidents of hate and bias are discovered, the university’s response is clearly not working. The statistics that come from the reports are produced from unfiltered data that is, in itself, biased. Ultimately, the bias reporting system does little more than justify the reporting system’s own continued existence while feeding popular liberal narratives.

December 20, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Students from 184 Wisconsin High Schools Needed Remedial Classes at UW System

MADISON, Wis. – A new report shows that in the fall of 2016, students from 184 Wisconsin high schools were required to take remedial math or English at the UW System as new freshmen.

The issue is part of a growing trend across the state and country, contributing to high levels of student loan debt and an increase in the time it takes college students to earn a degree.

The report, published earlier this month, documents the number of Wisconsin high school students who are not academically prepared for the rigors of college despite earning a diploma and supposedly mastering the subject matter in high school. It reveals the extent to which our K-12 education system is failing our children.

Remedial classes are taken by students for zero credits, but at the full cost of university tuition. The classes do not count toward a degree, but students who fare poorly on college placement exams are required to pass a remedial course before moving on to regular college coursework. The issue is part of a growing trend across the state and country, contributing to high levels of student loan debt and an increase in the time it takes college students to earn a degree.

The 184 schools making the list include 14 private schools and 18 schools within Milwaukee, an increase from the 175 schools on last year’s list. Of the 184 schools, 172 had 10 percent or more of their incoming UW students needing math remediation, and 27 schools had 10 percent or more of their graduating classes needing English remediation.

Fifty percent or more of the graduating classes from 15 high schools needed math remediation as freshmen at UW campuses. Of those 15 schools, nine are in the state’s largest school city, Milwaukee. Nine of the ten schools with the largest percentage of students needing math remediation are also in Milwaukee.

Surprisingly, eight of the schools with the largest math remediation problem by percentage were not on last year’s list, including the Milwaukee School of Career Technical Education, South Division High School, CEO Leadership Academy, and Saint Anthony High School, all within Milwaukee. Eight in ten or more of the graduates from those schools who went to UW needed math remediation.

The data report offers a new aspect of transparency on this issue. Many of the schools on the list are nationally ranked and touted as some of the best schools in the state or country – a deeper dive, however, showed that they don’t adequately prepare students for college.

Nine of the schools included in the data report received five-star rankings on state report cards released just last month. A full 40 percent of the high schools that “significantly exceed expectations” had graduates who needed math or English remediation upon entering the UW System.

Of the top 10 schools on U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 ranking of the best high schools in Wisconsin, nine sent students to the UW System needing additional math. Carmen High School of Science and Technology, a charter school at MPS, was ranked the best high school in Wisconsin by U.S. News and was the only one that did not appear on the remedial education report.

Kimberly High School sent the most students needing math remediation from any one class: 53 of 148 incoming UW freshmen, or 36 percent of the class, required the zero-level classes. Nathan Hale High School sent 138 graduates to the System, and 50 of them required remedial math.

While many more schools had issues with math remediation than with English remediation, some schools struggled with both subjects, sending large numbers of their graduates to college unprepared. More than half – 52 percent – of the 87-person graduating class from Beloit Memorial High School needed math remediation at the UW System, and 24 percent required English remediation. In Milwaukee, nearly three-quarters – 73 percent – of incoming Alexander Hamilton High School graduates needed math remediation, and 60 percent needed additional English.

Of the 49 Wisconsin schools that sent students needing English remediation at the UW, just one is a private school. All except two of those schools also had students who needed math remediation. One school, Alexander Hamilton, sent more than half of its graduating class to UW needing additional English classes, though that school was an outlier. Ten percent or more of graduates from 27 schools needed English remediation at UW.

This year, 18 more schools made the list for needing remedial English.

Compared to last year, nine more schools made the list this time around. However, many high schools who sent substantial numbers of unprepared graduates off to UW – including Bradley Tech, Pulaski, and James Madison University – were not included on the list this year. That would suggest that each of those schools sent fewer than six students to the UW System needing remedial classes, marking substantial improvements. Last year, 77 percent of James Madison University High School’s incoming UW System freshmen class required math remediation.

Out of any single school district, MPS showed the most difficulty in this area, suggesting that many students are graduating and moving on to college without demonstrating proficiency.

Nine of the schools included in the data report received five-star rankings on state report cards released just last month.

A 2015 state law required that this report be published annually. Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown) discovered that 20 percent of all new freshmen at the UW System require remedial classes in English or math, but the System did not systematically track from where those students came. Now, the annual report lists all high schools that sent six or more students to the System needing such classes.

With all the discussion about college affordability these days, the prevalence of remedial classes may be a good place to start. The cost of in-state tuition averages thousands of dollars per semester, and students pay full price for remedial classes despite receiving zero credits toward their degrees – essentially paying cash for their high school’s failure to prepare them for college.

The MacIver Institute will continue to update this story as more reactions become available.

December 6, 2017 | By Tyler Brandt

Keep UW Out Of National Campus Thought Criminal Database

If George Orwell stepped foot onto the UW-Madison campus in 2017, he would think that “1984” has come to pass. The author of the 1949 dystopian novel couldn’t have written a more daring Big Brother chapter than what the speech police have come up with on Wisconsin’s left-wing, flagship university.

It was recently announced that an independent campus newspaper, The Badger Herald, has struck up a partnership with ProPublica, a left-leaning investigative journalism nonprofit. The reason? To take UW-Madison’s “Hate and Bias” reporting system to a national database.

If you criticize another student on something as benign as age, political affiliation, or spirituality then your name could end up in a national system of hate and bias incidents.

The project is called “Documenting Hate” and involves numerous college newspapers across the country with the goal of creating a national database of hate crimes and bias incidents. The Badger Herald encourages students to share their experiences. And this Social Justice League insists that, “Just because something is not considered a crime under the law, does not mean it is not a crime against your humanity”.

That’s right. The thought police are coming after you for things not considered to be criminal, while systematically abusing the definition of crimes against humanity. They want to equate potentially offensive language to the level of ethnic cleansing, war crimes, rape, and other unspeakable acts. That seems to be doubleplusbad, to borrow from Orwell’s Newspeak.

For those unfamiliar with UW-Madison’s local Hate and Bias reporting system, students and campus members are encouraged to report incidents to an online database if they think they have been a victim of a bias or hate.

UW-Madison has one full-time “Bias Response and Advocacy Coordinator” who earns $42,000 a year. There is also a 12-member board comprised of UW officials who serve full-time positions in other areas.

This group of people processed 87 reported incidents from July 1, 2016 to Dec 31, 2016. Out of these reported incidents only five were processed through the UW System non-academic misconduct policy. Of those, two individuals were convicted on misconduct charges.That’s $42,000 a year and wasted time of other campus employees to catch two cases of misconduct.

So what constitutes a bias incident? The definition, according to the University is:

“Single or multiple acts toward an individual, group, or their property that are so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that they create an unreasonably intimidating, hostile, or offensive work, learning, or program environment, and that one could reasonably conclude are based upon actual or perceived age, race, color, creed, religion, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, spirituality, cultural, socio-economic status, or any combination of these or other related factors”

That’s enough protected classes to make the late Justice Antonin Scalia turn over in his grave.

Out of 87 reported incidents, only five were processed through the UW System non-academic misconduct policy. Of those, two individuals were convicted on misconduct charges.That’s $42,000 a year-plus to catch two cases of misconduct.

The odious part of this definition is that if you criticize another student on something as benign as age, political affiliation, or spirituality then your name could end up in a national system of hate and bias incidents, leaving you to be defamed for something that could be a simple political disagreement.

What if you criticize someone who legitimately believes that horoscopes are scientific fact? Is that an offense against spirituality? It could be, according to the university hate and bias cops.

This neo-Bolshevik list encourages students to settle disputes by telling on each other and appealing to a higher authority, rather than trying to settle the problem themselves through reasonable discussion. If we want to get the best out of the university experience, which is preparing young people for the adult world, then we should encourage them to work out their problems like adults instead of tattling.

In “Documenting Hate,” the thought police rely on an “objectively offensive” standard. Of course, they have turned the subjective into the objective. What might be offensive to one person is not necessarily offensive to another. It can be very difficult to pin down something as “objectively offensive.”

The result of this system is a Big Brother database. Its core principle often confuses hatred or bias with disagreement, confrontation, even alternate points of view. It undermines the whole point of a liberal arts education, which is to allow for open – and sometimes offensive – inquiry in the pursuit of knowledge. Some offense must be tolerated and dealt with to receive the best and most truthful education you can.

The reason this whole system is so egregious is because it is a devolution from the principles and values the university holds dear and replaces those values with this theme of coddling impressionable minds from the reality of the world. The bubble wrap campus is devouring the character and strength that people need to thrive in a country that chooses freedom over Big Brother-style protection. It is a step away from a strong individualist mentality which built this liberty-loving nation we are so lucky to call home.

The waning tide of strong character is giving way to a flood of reliance on authority and protection from the outside world. In 2017, we are drowning in “1984.”

Tyler Brandt is a MacIver Institute intern and president of the UW-Madison chapter of Young Americans for Liberty.

November 30, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

Professor Sabina Burton's Last Stand

MADISON, Wis. – University of Wisconsin-Platteville whistleblower Sabina Burton will have one more opportunity to argue for her job, going up against what the exiled Criminal Justice professor describes as a tainted process led by a “kangaroo court.”

What’s at stake is nothing less than academic freedom and the protection of university whistleblowers, Burton asserts.

“That’s what I’m fighting for… People who do the right thing get punished and can’t win,” she told MacIver News Service.

The last of three faculty committee hearings is scheduled for 6 p.m. today on campus.

Burton, who blew the whistle on allegations of misconduct by administrators, faces dismissal following an administration-launched investigation into her conduct. UW-Platteville administrators accuse the tenured professor of engaging in “disrespectful, harassing and intimidating behavior” toward her colleagues. Burton counters that she has been retaliated and discriminated against ever since October 2012, when she blew the whistle on male Criminal Justice professor accused of sexually harassing a female student.

The faculty committee is charged with making a recommendation. The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents could ultimately decide Burton’s professional fate.

'It Is Not A Court of Law'

Burton has been ex-communicated from the UW-P campus since January, when Chancellor Dennis Shields ordered her to clean out her office and informed her that she was no longer permitted on campus.

At the time, Shields had launched an investigation into Burton’s conduct in the wake of a complaint filed against her by two university administrators. In April, the chancellor informed Burton that he had “found just cause” to dismiss her.

Burton asserts administration has not established just cause to fire her. More so, she alleges the university has denied her due process, failed to follow procedural law, curtailed the professor’s time to adequately defend herself, and blocked her right to question her accusers.

“If this were a judicial proceeding, it would take several days. There is no equitable or rule-based justification for truncating the (process) as it has been done,” Robert Kasieta, Burton’s attorney, wrote in a list of objections to the faculty panel chairwoman, Professor Susan Hansen. Burton contends the committee was hand-picked by Shields and the system is rigged against a professor who spoke out against campus corruption.

“For all of the foregoing reasons, and because the combination of so much error has tainted the process, I respectfully request that the panel disband and request a neutral panel made up of members outside UW Platteville be constituted to conduct this hearing and make its recommendation to the Chancellor,” Kasieta wrote. The Madison attorney did not return a request for comment.

Jennifer Sloan Lattis, deputy general counsel for the University of Wisconsin System, claimed in an email response to Kasieta that, “All of the committee’s actions have been within” UW System and Platteville rules.

“Dr. Burton wishes this were a proceeding of another kind. It is not. This is the peer review and recommendation to the Board of Regents regarding an internal personnel matter. It is not a court of law,” Lattis wrote.

UW-Platteville spokeswoman Rose Smyrski has repeatedly declined to comment on the matter, also citing personnel constraints.

Political Motive?

As MacIver News Service reported last month, documents show Elizabeth Throop, then-UW-Platteville Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education, contacted law enforcement after learning that Burton, a conservative, reached out to Gov. Scott Walker for help in her battles with the university.

In a Sept. 4, 2015 email to the university’s police chief and HR director, Throop wrote that Burton’s letter to the Republican governor “seems like a real escalation of things.” The administrator claimed she had concerns for her personal safety “despite the lack of actual physical threat.” She said she consulted with UW-P Chancellor Dennis Shields and other administrators, and that she was “not interested in filing a complaint at this juncture.”

UW-P Officer Reginald Ihm in an incident report noted that he was “not given much information from the letter other than that in Throop’s opinion it was upsetting.”

Upsetting? Perhaps. Threatening? No.

In the letter, Burton reminds Walker of their meeting at a Des Moines, Iowa Lincoln Day Dinner in March 2015, when the governor was preparing to run for president. Burton was introduced to Walker by a friend and official in the Republican National Committee so that the professor could “share some of the troubles I am facing at UW-Platteville.”

“A very corrupt, liberal administration is mercilessly harassing employees and students who are standing up for what is right,” Burton wrote to the governor.

Burton alleges administrators took away a grant she had landed for the university, kept her off committee seats, and effectively stalled her professional career at the university after she spoke out about the handling of a female student’s sexual harassment complaint.

She claims top UW-Platteville administrators with a liberal bent disregarded a faculty search committee’s recommendation for the vacant Liberal Arts and Education dean post. Burton was a member of that search and screen committee. The top candidate was a conservative, Burton wrote in her letter to Walker. Instead, Chancellor Dennis Shields pressured the committee to hire a “very outspoken liberal and strong critic of (Walker) from Iowa: Dr. Elizabeth Throop,” Burton claimed.

“Throop has since fired numerous tenured and nontenured faculty and managed to be named in three federal lawsuits and at least one other ERD/EEOC (Equal Right Division/Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint for severe employment violations,” she wrote. Burton is a plaintiff in at least one of the noted lawsuits and has filed a couple of EEOC complaints. This week, she filed a new EEOC complaint against administrators and is in the process of updating her lawsuit in federal court alleging the university violated her constitutional rights.

Throop, who has since moved on to another academic leadership position in Maryland, is a backer of liberal causes and candidates.

Staci Strobl, the chairwoman of the university’s troubled Criminal Justice Department, donated several times to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Burton says Strobl had a very prominently displayed Bernie Sanders bumper sticker in her office, in violation of university policy.

Sloan Lattis, the UW System attorney, donated at least $700 to Democrat or liberal candidates in Wisconsin – to former governor and attorney general Jim Doyle’s campaign, and to the campaign of Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson – between 1997 and 2009. Her husband, University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer James Lattis, has donated more than $5,800 to Democrat and liberal candidates in Wisconsin, including Mary Burke’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and JoAnne Kloppenburg’s 2016 campaign for the Supreme Court.

Worth Fighting For

The UW-Platteville faculty committee, empaneled to preside over Burton’s appeal, first met in May – without Burton in attendance. Stomach ulcers, brought on by stress, forced Burton into the emergency room just hours before the tenure revocation hearing began. Burton has dealt with debilitating health concerns for the past few years, directly related to professional stress, according to medical records.

Strobl has declined to appear at a second hearing in September and is not expected to attend today’s hearing, over Burton’s objection that she be allowed to confront her accusers.

At the hearing in May, Strobl told the faculty panel she was afraid of Burton and her husband, Roger, a Marine veteran. She said he possessed the tendencies of an “active shooter.”

“I was scared. I know a lot about, unfortunately, active shooters. I know a lot about workplace violence. It’s something I studied in graduate school. It’s something I keep abreast of as part of my intellectual interest.” she said, when asked by the university’s attorney whether there was anything else Strobl “would like to tell the committee.”

“And I saw somebody – and a husband of somebody, to be completely frank, Roger Burton, who fits the profile of somebody who eventually snaps in a really violent way in the workplace, and for me it had to do with the escalation and the verbal animosity and the absolute steadfast commitment to a vague notion of justice and ‘everybody is against me,’ Strobl added.

On Nov. 16, Roger Burton sent a letter to Strobl, a letter now included in the faculty committee hearing file, demanding Strobl apologize for publicly maligning his character.

“I believe you intentionally made these comments in a malicious attempt to influence the official action of public officers against my wife,” Roger Burton wrote. “Your testimony threatens my business as a real estate professional and could expose me and my family to physical harm.”

“Treating my husband and I like we are potential mass murders, it’s ridiculous. Just because I wrote the governor and filed a lawsuit? I feel like sometimes I’m on a different planet,” Sabina Burton said.

In the transcript of the September hearing, Burton’s attorney asserts that UW-Platteville’s Chancellor Shields did not establish just cause to move for Burton’s dismissal and that he treated the professor differently than other UW-P employees facing disciplinary actions. Shields counters that Burton did not act professionally, in accordance with the university’s rules of conduct, and she made university employees uncomfortable.

In his March letter recommending Burton’s dismissal, Shields alleged the professor has “engaged in disrespectful, harassing and intimidating behavior toward your colleagues.” Two months before, the chancellor, based on complaints from Throop and another administrator, ordered Burton to clean out her office and banned her from campus.

All of this despite the fact that Burton had excellent ratings from her students and an exemplary teaching record. She was given tenure – although after a long delay – based on merit. And she had been widely recognized as a leader in criminal justice education.

At one point in the hearing, Burton’s attorney asked the chancellor about the reported dysfunction in the department. The chancellor acknowledged there was dysfunction before Burton arrived, and that others were a source of the troubled department at that time.

“How many of those did you recommend for termination to a panel like this one?” Kasieta asked.

“Well, none. I think that would be the answer,” Shields responded.

Burton said she can’t just walk away. There’s too much at stake.

“I have been asked, ‘Why don’t you go somewhere else and teach somewhere else?’ It’s part of my professional responsibility to not turn away. I love the students here. They’re such great kids and they are worth fighting for.”

November 28, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

ChartSmart: Wisconsin Report Cards

Now that report cards are out and deeper analyses have been published, let’s take a look at the results by charts. How do our schools and districts stack up? Check out the charts below and let us know what you think.

November 22, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

2017 School Report Cards: Spotlight on Milwaukee, Racine, Choice, and Charter

Madison, Wis. - State report cards are out for the 2016-17 school year. Now that we’ve examined student achievement as a whole, let’s shine a spotlight on some important subgroups. We’ll start with the state’s biggest district: Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

Milwaukee Public Schools: More Kids Trapped in Failing Schools

The new report cards show that MPS is still struggling. Like last year, the district came in just above the cutoff score for “failing” districts. With 56 out of 100 possible points for student achievement, the state’s largest district also has the lowest overall grade and “meets few expectations.”

This year, MPS schools tended to move out of the middle two categories towards the extremes. More schools got the top two ratings, and more got the bottom rating.

Compared to last year, four more MPS schools with over 500 more students received the lowest ranking of just one star. Even though the district technically meets few expectations, nearly 25,000 students attend 46 failing schools. Statewide, almost 50,000 students attend failing schools, meaning that about half of those students are in MPS.

On the other side of the achievement spectrum, one more school earned the top score of five stars. About 1,550 students attend MPS’ best schools, three of which are charter schools. All four are elementary schools. Carmen High School of Science and Technology earned the best rating out of any MPS high school, with four stars and 74.9 points. Carmen is also a charter school.

Report cards are scored based upon four major priority areas for the state: achievement, growth, closing gaps, and on-track and post-secondary readiness. While MPS had the state’s lowest achievement score, it fared better in the growth category, scoring 61.3 out of 100 points. That signifies that while the district as a whole has poor achievement, students are faring better on English language arts and math over time.

In both subjects, MPS had a higher score than other troubled districts, including Racine Unified. However, because of the high percentage of economically disadvantaged students at MPS, growth is weighted much more heavily than overall achievement.

MPS students have posted small improvements compared to last year. The data shows that 20.4 percent of students were proficient in English language arts, up from 20.0 percent in 2016. In math, 15.1 percent of students are proficient, up from 14.6 percent. Still, the numbers are a far cry from state averages of 43.6 percent and 41.3 percent in English and math, respectively.

Racine Unified: No Longer "Failing," But...

All eyes were on Racine Unified School District (RUSD) this year as it worked to improve its rating and avoid inclusion in the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program. In the end, the district pulled it off. RUSD received the two-star ranking of “meets few expectations.”

A look at individual schools, however, paints another picture. While MPS schools tended to move towards the top or the bottom ratings, this year the 32 ranked RUSD schools tended to move towards the middle.

About one-third of schools received the two-star ranking and another third received the three-star ranking. Five fewer schools were designated as failing. Perhaps most significantly, not a single RUSD school received the top ranking.

As a whole, RUSD received 59.3 out of 100 points on overall achievement. Students fared slightly better at ELA achievement, earning 20.9 of 50 points in that category compared to 18.4 of 50 in math achievement. However, growth was worse than even in MPS – the district earned just 50.8 points out of 100 for overall student growth.

The district fared better than the state average in only one priority area – the closing gaps score. In that category, RUSD earned 63 out of 100 points, besting the state average of 61.7.

RUSD’s standing improved enough to move out of the failing category. That was particularly crucial this year, as the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP) could have come into play.

OSPP was a program established by legislative leaders two years ago that would create a new school district for schools that showed no signs of improving. They would get a specially appointed commissioner and a turnaround plan just for those schools. You can catch up on the idea here, but keep in mind that it has never been used in Wisconsin.

Why? When the plan was attempted at MPS two years ago, local leaders and the local teachers’ union had no interest in allowing a turnaround czar to implement reforms. As soon as OSPP was dubbed a racist “takeover” plan, the attempt to help the district was over before it started.

That doesn’t change the fact that federal law now requires states to step up and fix the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools. That requirement comes from the Obama administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act, which is still being put into place.

Should it ever be used, OSPP is supposed to go into place after a district is deemed “failing” for two consecutive years. After MPS dropped off the failing list last year, OSPP could no longer apply – but RUSD’s inclusion on the one-star list put that district in the spotlight.

In response, RUSD changed superintendents and made reforms. They also lobbied the legislature for a year-long pass from OSPP, hoping to avoid the program even if they were again declared failing. They succeeded on both accounts.

A last minute budget motion put new compliance requirements into place for the district. RUSD has until late next month to prove that it’s fully compliant with Act 10 and that public unions are not collectively bargaining with school officials outside the law’s limitations.

The budget also included funding to study the idea of splitting apart RUSD in the future. More specifically, the smaller villages and communities surrounding the city of Racine could create their own district if they so choose. However, that would be costly in a number of ways – for one, the city itself has most of the district’s school buildings and assets.

For now, no referendum on splitting the district will occur. With just 22.8 percent proficiency in English language arts and 20.5 percent proficiency in math, this issue won’t go away any time soon.

Choice and Charter: A Landmark Year for Transparency, But Data Gaps Remain

This year’s report card release was particularly important for schools in the private choice program – it marked the first year that any choice students would get graded report cards. Some private schools received report cards for participants in the choice programs last year, but none received official accountability ratings because of a lack of data.

This year, 251 private schools received report cards. In total, 12 private schools enrolling 2,319 choice students got top marks. Unfortunately, many more schools got just one star – 25 private schools enrolling 6,138 students failed to meet expectations.

56 percent of the schools that got report cards were not rated because of a lack of sufficient data. That gap in data significantly alters the score distribution for private choice programs.

However, Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty ran an analysis, between comparable populations of students, showing “that students in these school choice programs have, on average, 8-24 percent higher student growth than traditional public schools.”

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, celebrated the results.

“For all publicly-funded students in Milwaukee, 11 of the 15 highest category schools are private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.” Bender said. “There needs to be more schools in this category, throughout all sectors, but it is promising that these schools are already demonstrating success.”

On the charter school side, more than 200 public charters received report cards. Compared to other groups, charter students tended to outperform their peers. Of the schools scored on the five-star scale, a full 20 percent significantly exceeded expectations. Another 31 percent exceeded expectations. Nine percent of charter schools failed to meet expectations.

Charter schools will be a group to watch in the coming years, not just because they tend to post higher scores, but also because of a recent change in state law. The 2017-19 biennial budget allows for charter schools to open up anywhere in the state. They had previously been limited to Madison, Milwaukee, and other larger Wisconsin cities and towns. As highlighted earlier, three of the four best-rated MPS schools are all charters.

November 21, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

2017 School Report Cards: Zero Failing Districts, 117 Failing Schools

While last year’s report card designated five school districts as “failing,” this year zero districts took home the one-star review but the number of failing schools increased

MADISON, Wis. – The state’s Department of Public Instruction has released school and district report cards for the 2016-17 academic year. Zero school districts received a failing grade, down from five districts last year. The number of failing schools rose from 99 to 117, an 18 percent increase.

On the other side of the scale, 44 districts and 361 schools significantly exceeded expectations, the highest rating possible. This year, more individual schools but fewer districts received the top mark. 32 more schools, but 10 fewer districts, received five out of five stars.

2,114 public schools and 251 private choice schools received report cards. 77 percent of Wisconsin schools received three of five stars or more, signifying that they significantly exceeded expectations, exceeded expectations, or met expectations. 94 percent of districts fared the same. The majority of districts that received report cards were graded on a five-star scale, from “fails to meet expectations,” or one star, to “significantly exceeds expectations,” or five stars.

Most Wisconsin students continue to underperform. The number of failing schools is up, even though the number of failing districts is down to zero. The statewide achievement score is just 66 out of a possible 100 points, with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) achieving the lowest district score at 56 points. No district is officially declared to be failing, but almost 50,000 students attend failing schools – bigger than the city of Sheboygan and just under the size of La Crosse.

A deeper dive suggests that official markers of success may not reflect reality. The 117 failing schools enroll 49,831 students. Within MPS, the state’s biggest district, four schools out of 138 received the highest rating of significantly exceeding expectations. Over 1,550 students attend those schools. On the other side of the spectrum, just under 25,000 students attend the 45 schools in MPS which received failing grades.

A subsequent MNS story will explore the scores of MPS and other districts in greater depth.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, who is running for Governor, did not include a statement in the department’s official press release.

The majority of schools that received report cards were scored on a five-star, 100-point scale ranging from “significantly exceeds expectations” to “fails to meet expectations.” Overall scores are calculated based on several priority areas for students: achievement, growth, closing gaps, and post-secondary readiness. The report cards mainly track English language arts (ELA) and mathematics progress, but also examine other variables such as attendance and test participation.

The data release is the first in several years wherein the public can directly compare report cards with the prior year. It is also the first major state report card release that examines the achievement of school choice students.

Public school students took three different standardized exams in the three years before the state finally settled on the Forward Exam during the 2015-16 school year. Now that students have taken the same exam multiple years in a row, the public can accurately compare student achievement year over year.

More than half of the choice schools that received report cards did not get a rating on the five-star scale. Schools must have two consecutive years of data in order to produce an accountability rating, as well as 20 students in each class for the entire academic year. Of the 111 schools that did receive ratings, 60 schools enrolling 14,633 students received three or more stars. 25 private schools enrolling 6,138 choice students got the lowest one-star rating.

More than 200 charter schools received report cards, posting impressive results. Of the schools that were rated on the five-star scale, nearly 80 percent received three stars or more. Almost 30,000 students attend those schools. On the other side of the scale, 13 charter schools enrolling 4,868 students received failing scores. Of the 84 charter schools that were scored on the alternate rating, just 7 needed improvement.

Just shy of 200 schools statewide, or about 8 percent of schools, were scored on an alternative accountability scale.

Rather than being graded on a five-star scale, those schools were either designated as having satisfactory progress or needing improvement, with 11 percent falling into the latter category.

Under federal law, states must allow schools and districts to pursue alternative accountability ratings. Schools often use the alternative rating if they do not have normal tested grades, have fewer than 20 students in a class attend the entire academic year, serve exclusively at-risk students, or if they are a new school.

The data release was not without asterisks. Last year, state officials changed the criteria by which districts and schools would be scored. If a district has higher levels of poverty, the overall growth of student achievement is more heavily weighted than overall proficiency. For example, a high-poverty district such as MPS receives a weight of 90 percent for growth and just 10 percent for achievement.

In a call with media, DPI officials explained that “growth” scores are normative – all schools and districts are considered in comparison to all other schools and districts. As a result, it is possible for a school to have the same amount of growth last year and the year before while having lower growth score. In the eyes of the report card, what matters is how the school or district compared to others. As a result, some districts saw their schools’ score grow by over a dozen points despite not having significant changes in student achievement.

MacIver News Service will continue to update this story with reactions as they are made available.

November 17, 2017 | By Chris Rochester

University Overturns UW-SP Student Senate Rejection of Turning Point Request

MADISON, Wis. – Administrators at UW-Stevens Point have overturned the campus student government’s decision to deny a young conservatives group’s request to become a recognized student organization.

The campus Student Affairs Office made the announcement that Turning Point USA would be recognized as a campus group at noon Friday. The announcement cited media scrutiny over the student senate vote Nov. 9 and a failure of the body to re-consider its decision at its Nov. 16 meeting, which vice chancellor for student affairs Al Thompson had requested.

Among other factors, Thompson cited “a UW Board of Regents policy on academic expression” in his announcement:

Our campus community has been the focus of local and state media reports this week following SGA’s vote to deny a group’s recognition as a student organization. We will send the following statement today to media that have inquired:
The Student Government Association at UW-Stevens Point voted to deny Turning Point USA’s request to be recognized as a student organization at SGA’s weekly meeting on November 9. I asked SGA to reconsider its action on November 16, based on UW-Stevens Point and UW System policies recognizing student organizations, SGA guidelines on viewpoint neutrality and a UW Board of Regents policy on academic expression. In the absence of further SGA action on November 16, I have determined that Turning Point USA meets the requirements to be recognized as a student organization at UW-Stevens Point.

The university came under intense criticism after the vote to deny a petition by a group of conservative students seeking to set up a campus chapter of Turning Point, which has more than 1,000 campus chapters around the country.

Opponents cited the fear of of feeling “targeted” for their liberal positions if the request was approved.

But the students’ decision prompted an avalanche of scrutiny by conservatives and free speech advocates who said the decision shut down the right of free speech for a mainstream conservative group. The possibility of legal action was also raised by Turning Point supporters.

The UW-SP College Republicans have spoken out in defense of Turning Point. After the university announced it would overturn the student government’s decision the group said it’s pleased with the move but added the administration shouldn’t have been forced to step in.

“I, along with the College Republicans are pleased with the decision given by the office of Student Affairs to officially recognize Turning Point USA as a student organization on campus. This win for freedom of speech benefits both current and future students who attend this university,” said UW-SP College Republican chair Amelia Heup in a statement.

“Unfortunately, this is a decision that should have been made earlier by the Student Government Association. I urge the SGA to recognize students’ right and the diversity of voices on this campus. A student’s rights do not end when entering a public university.”

This story will be updated as responses are received.

October 17, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

UW Student: My Friend Was Raped, Gun-Control Laws Left Her Defenseless

Madison, Wis - Just when you thought the extreme left couldn’t get any more surreal, well, enter Cocks Not Glocks.

As MacIver News Service reported last week, the University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter of the anti-gun student group demonstrated against the Second Amendment – and the “rape culture” – by waving around plastic penis sex toys.

The thin line of phallus wielders protested national conservative commentator Katie Pavlich’s address, “Trigger Warning: Second Amendment Rights and Self Defense.”

They shrank, however, when confronted with some inconvenient truths.

Michelle Walker, a UW Madison sophomore and member of Young Americans for Freedom, the student organization that sponsored Pavlich’s speech, stood up Tuesday to the protesters’ cry to keep guns off campus.

“So you want to be raped?” Walker asks the 20 or so demonstrators. Watch the video of the exchange here.

A young woman, seemingly stunned by the question, screams, “No one said that!”

“Nobody said that. Stop insulting survivors,” yells another demonstrator, wielding a dildo while holding a “Disarm hate” sign.

“You guys are insulting survivors by not allowing them to defend themselves,” Walker shoots back.

“I have a friend who was raped on campus,” Walker continues. “She wasn’t allowed to have her concealed carry (gun) with her. She was raped because of that. If she would have had her concealed carry I guarantee she wouldn’t have been raped.”

There is a stunned pause by the anti-gun crowd, as if they’re not sure how to process the information they’ve just received.

Suddenly, the lead sex toy wielder snaps out of her protest paralysis, turns to her fellow demonstrators and conjures up a familiar left-wing chant: “Show me what democracy looks like!”

“This is what democracy looks like!” the small crowd chants back.

Walker, exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke, futilely tries to reengage. The sex toy army only shakes their plastic penises in the air and chants, “Cocks not Glocks,” like some perverse Tiananmen Square scene.

“I decided to ask them why they were against having guns on campus for the sake of having self-defense for women, because these are the people that also claim they want to end the rape culture and educate men on how to not rape women and things like that,” Walker told MacIver News Service last week on the Vicki McKenna Show, on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA. “So I figured it would be a valid question for them. And they didn’t really have an answer for me. All they did was ask me why I wanted to shoot people and kill people instantly.”

“They basically asked me why I wanted to defend myself against a rapist with a gun,” she added.

In Wisconsin, law-abiding citizens may carry a concealed weapon, with a permit. A bill pending in the Legislature would end the permit requirement, adding Wisconsin to the 12 states that have constitutional carry laws.

Public schools still could prohibit carrying concealed weapons in buildings, but only under the state’s trespassing laws.

Only Utah has a statute specifically declaring that public colleges and university do not have authority to ban lawful concealed weapons on their property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Walker said she knows students who have been caught defenseless in assault situations because of the prohibition on guns on college campuses. She recounted the story of her friend who was raped on another college campus.

“She had her concealed carry permit given to her by her state. She’s not from Wisconsin,” Walker said. “Since her campus banned guns, she was not allowed to have it at the time she was attacked and therefore she was attacked and faced all of the negative consequences in dealing with that, including dropping out of school and what not.”

Kat Kerwin, UW student and organizer of the “Cocks Not Glocks” event, told the Capital Times that such rhetoric is “divisive” and that Pavlich’s speech was designed to “divide campus.” Kerwin describes herself on Twitter as an “alternative right troller” and “gun violence prevention advocate.”

Gun control supporters insist concealed carry on campus – permit or otherwise – would lead to more gun violence.

The assertion isn’t borne out by experience.

More than a year ago, Texas adopted campus carry on its public universities. Authorities say the law has had little impact on day-to-day college life.

“We have had no incidents since the law passed or since the law went into effect of criminal acts by license-to-carry holders,” Ed Reynolds, chief of the University of North Texas Police Department, told the Denton Record-Chronicle last month.

In fact, the Texas Democratic Party apologized earlier this month for trying to link the fatal shooting of a Texas Tech police officer to the state’s campus carry law.

“Hollis Daniels III, the 19-year-old freshman arrested in the shooting, could legally possess a pistol under Texas gun laws. But under campus carry, he would still be prohibited from carrying a concealed handgun into campus buildings or Texas Tech dorm rooms” because he isn’t over the age of 21, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Walker said she and her conservative friends will continue to push for campus carry. The outspoken sophomore says she refuses to be silenced by the left.

“I don’t want to let the university win in silencing me or progressive students at all,” she said. “I try to go out of my way to make sure they don’t silence me.”

October 16, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

Did Politics Play Role In Dismissal Drive Against Conservative Professor?

Madison, Wis. - University of Wisconsin-Platteville Professor Sabina Burton has long alleged she has been harassed, threatened, and retaliated against by UW-P administrators for “standing up for what is right.”

And now Burton, the whistleblower facing dismissal after a contentious legal battle with the university’s chancellor and others, suspects politics is behind the effort to push her out.

Threatening Letter?

Documents obtained by MacIver News Service show Elizabeth Throop, then-UW-Platteville Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education, contacted law enforcement after learning that Burton, a conservative, reached out to Gov. Scott Walker for help in her struggles against what the Criminal Justice associate professor describes as a “very corrupt, liberal administration.”

sabina burton letter to gov. walker.png

In a Sept. 4, 2015 email to the university’s police chief and HR director, Throop wrote that Burton’s letter to the Republican governor “seems like a real escalation of things.” The administrator claimed she had concerns for her personal safety “despite the lack of actual physical threat.” She said she consulted with UW-P Chancellor Dennis Shields and other administrators, and that she was “not interested in filing a complaint at this juncture.”

UW-P Officer Reginald Ihm in an incident report noted that he was “not given much information from the letter other than that in Throop’s opinion it was upsetting.”

Upsetting? Perhaps. Threatening? No.

Burton used some choice words in her plea to Walker, but the only threat contained in the letter was the professor’s rhetorical pledge to “put Wisconsin and Platteville on the national and international map and expose the corruption going on here.”

Walker’s staff forwarded Burton’s complaint onto University of Wisconsin System officials. It’s not clear what happened after that.

In the letter, Burton reminds Walker of their meeting at a Des Moines, Iowa Lincoln Day Dinner in March 2015, when the governor was preparing to run for president. Burton was introduced to Walker by a friend and official in the Republican National Committee so that the professor could “share some of the troubles I am facing at UW-Platteville.”

“A very corrupt, liberal administration is mercilessly harassing employees and students who are standing up for what is right,” Burton wrote to the governor.

Burton alleges administrators took away a grant she had landed for the university, kept her off committee seats, and effectively stalled her professional career at the university after she spoke out about the handling of a female student’s sexual harassment complaint.

She claims top UW-Platteville administrators with a liberal bent disregarded a faculty search committee’s recommendation for the vacant Liberal Arts and Education dean post. Burton was a member of that search and screen committee. The top candidate was a conservative, Burton wrote in her letter to Walker. Instead, Chancellor Dennis Shields pressured the committee to hire a “very outspoken liberal and strong critic of (Walker) from Iowa: Dr. Elizabeth Throop,” Burton claimed.

“Throop has since fired numerous tenured and nontenured faculty and managed to be named in three federal lawsuits and at least one other ERD/EEOC (Equal Right Division/Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint for severe employment violations,” she wrote. Burton is a plaintiff in at least one of the noted lawsuits and has filed a couple of EEOC complaints.

In an interview with MacIver News, Burton said Throop articulated her political position in phone and on-campus interviews with the faculty committee.

“She stated something to the effect that she felt sorry for academia in Wisconsin under Walker. She was quick to let the search committee know that she opposed Act 10 and was ‘on our side.’ That Walker was a real threat to academic freedom,” Burton said, referring to the Republican governor’s reforms of the state’s public sector collective bargaining law that unions and Democrats abhor. “She seemed to believe that portraying herself as a strong liberal would help her get the job. On at least two occasions she said that she was a Democrat.”

Feel the Bern

Throop, who has since moved on to another academic leadership position in Maryland, is a backer of liberal causes and candidates. In August 2015, just days before she contacted UW-Platteville police about Burton’s letter to Walker, Throop donated $250 to Act Blue, a Democratic Party political action committee, according to Federal Election Committee records. On the same day, Throop cut a $250 check to the Bernie Sanders presidential election campaign.

Staci Strobl, the chairwoman of the university’s troubled Criminal Justice Department, also felt the Bern, donating several times to the Sanders campaign in 2016. Strobl resigned from the leadership position in October 2016, days after Burton went public with her story. She has since returned as interim chair.

Burton says Strobl had a very prominently displayed Bernie Sanders bumper sticker in her office, in violation of university policy.

The faculty committee, empaneled to preside over Burton’s appeal, first met in May – without Burton in attendance. Stomach ulcers, brought on by stress, forced Burton into the emergency room just hours before the tenure revocation hearing began. Burton has dealt with debilitating health concerns for the past few years, directly related to professional stress, according to medical records.

Strobl told the appeals panel she was afraid of Burton and her husband, Roger, a Marine veteran. She said he possessed the tendencies of an “active shooter.”

“I was scared. I know a lot about, unfortunately, active shooters. I know a lot about workplace violence. It’s something I studied in graduate school. It’s something I keep abreast of as part of my intellectual interest.” she said, when asked by the university’s attorney whether there was anything else Strobl “would like to tell the committee.”

“And I saw somebody – and a husband of somebody, to be completely frank, Roger Burton, who fits the profile of somebody who eventually snaps in a really violent way in the workplace, and for me it had to do with the escalation and the verbal animosity and the absolute steadfast commitment to a vague notion of justice and ‘everybody is against me,’ Strobl added.

Earlier in the testimony, Strobl said he agreed to come back as interim chairwoman of the Criminal Justice Department in the spring semester this year, “if Dr. Burton was not in the daily life of the department…”

She would soon get her wish.

“In Strobl’s educated opinion, service in the USMC and being a conservative makes you a mass murder risk. This is one of the most outrageous and unprofessional things I have ever heard and this woman heads the Criminal Justice Department,” Sabina Burton said in an email.

The university brought in two armed officers to search bags and possessions of those attending the two appeals hearings.

UW-Platteville spokeswoman Rose Smyrski declined to comment on the security measures, the hearing, or other personnel matters.

“As you are well aware, we do not comment on a pending employee matter,” Smyrski wrote in an email response to MacIver’s questions.

Burton said administrators were just using their “usual intimidation practices.” She noted the university-contracted private investigator who last year interrogated Burton at her home in response to a complaint that Shields eventually dismissed.

The professor said neither she nor her husband have ever threatened anyone.

“Treating my husband and I like we are potential mass murders, it’s ridiculous. Just because I wrote the governor and filed a lawsuit? I feel like sometimes I’m on a different planet,” Burton said.

'Harmless Error'

Burton claims the faculty appeals panel was constituted in violation of university appeals procedures and that Shields did not follow University of Wisconsin System law in the appeals process.

Bob Kasieta, Burton’s attorney, called for the panel to dissolve because the university did not provide a proper statement of charges.

“The rules require that at the time those charges be delivered to the faculty member who is being subjected to this process, that faculty member must – not might, not maybe at a later date – but must receive the appeal procedure with that submission, and it is uncontroverted in this case that that did not happen,” the Madison attorney said, according to the transcript of last month’s hearing.

The university’s attorney, Jennifer Lattis, countered that Burton did receive the set of copies of the rules, but admitted that the procedure was not “followed to the letter.”

“So it was overlooked when we filed the charge, but our position has been that she received all – she received a copy of the rules, there was no violation of her due process…” Lattis said, calling the omission a “harmless error.”

Burton said she had to ask several times for a copy of the procedures. She eventually received links to the rules.

The panel seemed to brush off the charges by Burton’s attorney, and defended its failure to hold a hearing within 20 days, as the system rules stipulate.

'Broad Arguments'

Burton has filed two federal lawsuits against the university, alleging discrimination and retaliation. Among other charges, the professor alleges the former interim chair of the Criminal Justice Department, Mike Dalecki, pressured her to drop the lawsuit. She was told “she might have been considered for the positions of dean or department chair, but that she could not expect to advance if she continued to engage in litigious behavior.”

In short, play ball or sit out.

A federal judge in Madison eventually sided with the university. So did the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. Each court, however, chided Burton’s legal counsel at the time for representation failures.

“Burton’s problem is that she did not make these broad arguments to the district court,” states the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, issued earlier this year.

The professor claims her attorney’s shortcomings, too, were a matter of politics.

In March, Burton told Wisconsin Watchdog that her attorney at the time of the district court proceedings, Timothy Hawks, not only failed to adequately represent her, he “sabotaged” her case.

Hawks was recommended to Burton early on as a tough employee-rights attorney. She did not know his political leanings at the time.

Burton claims Hawks, an attorney for some of the biggest public unions in the state, was “especially upset when” Lattis informed him about Burton’s letter to Walker.

“That is when he (Hawks) opened up his political affiliation – very strong Democrat, and he very much dislikes Walker,” Burton said.

Last year, in a keynote address titled, “On Wisconsin: Life Without Collective Bargaining,” Hawks took aim at Walker and Act 10.

“When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declared open war against public sector unions, Tim was on the front lines,” the Wisconsin Fraternal Order of Police said of Hawks in announcing the speech.

Hawks and his Milwaukee firm have donated generously to Democratic Party causes, particularly to Walker opponents. The attorney has not returned requests for comment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has granted Burton permission to sue the university again in federal court.

Big Questions

During questioning at last month’s continued dismissal hearing, the chancellor was combative, clearly aggravated by Kasieta’s questions. In the transcript, the attorney asserts that Shields did not establish just cause to move for Burton’s dismissal and that he treated the professor differently than other UW-P employees facing disciplinary actions. Shields counters that Burton did not act professionally, in accordance with the university’s rules of conduct, and she made university employees uncomfortable.

In his March letter recommending Burton’s dismissal, Shields alleged the professor has “engaged in disrespectful, harassing and intimidating behavior toward your colleagues.” Two months before, the chancellor, based on complaints from Throop and another administrator, ordered Burton to clean out her office and banned her from campus.

All of this despite the fact that Burton had excellent ratings from her students and an exemplary teaching record. She was given tenure – although after a long delay – based on merit. And she had been widely recognized as a leader in criminal justice education.

At one point in the hearing, Burton’s attorney asked the chancellor about the reported dysfunction in the department. The chancellor acknowledged there was dysfunction before Burton arrived, and that others were a source of the troubled department at that time.

“How many of those did you recommend for termination to a panel like this one?” Kasieta asked.

“Well, none. I think that would be the answer,” Shields responded.

A concluding appeals hearing is expected to be scheduled for sometime later this month.

Were Shields and his top administrators made uncomfortable because Burton was performing the role of whistleblower, and did they retaliate because of it? Those are the questions at the heart of Burton’s new litigation against Shields, Throop and the university. That’s why the embattled professor reached out to Wisconsin’s governor.

“I know you are running for president of the USA and I hope you will be successful but please don’t forget about your WI people,” Burton wrote in her letter to Walker. “I just live in the middle of cow-country in Platteville but I do care deeply for the young people of this great state who I have in my classes.”

October 11, 2017 | MacIver News Service

Protesters Wave Sex Toys In Response To Tale of Campus Rape

**Graphic content warning**

Madison, Wis. - In response to a fellow student who said a campus rape could have been prevented by concealed carry, protesters wielding penis-shaped sex toys refused to answer her, and then shouted her down at Tuesday’s speech by Townhall editor Katie Pavlich on the UW-Madison campus.

The student told protesters that she has a friend who was raped, a crime that would have been prevented if her friend was able to carry her concealed weapon. After a brief silence, protesters responded by waving dildos in the air and shouting “this is what Democracy looks like” and “Cocks not Glocks.”

Inside, Pavlich told a polite, standing-room-only audience that allowing concealed carry on campus would allow young women to defend themselves in dangerous situations.

A group calling itself “Cocks Not Glocks” arranged the protest, the “Bonerfide Penis Arts Festival” in response to Pavlich’s pro-Second Amendment message.

October 10, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

Cuban Native and UW System Regent, José Delgado Knows The Price Of Free Speech

Madison, Wis. – José Delgado can still hear the gunshots echoing off the walls in Havana’s La Cabana´, the Fortress of St. Charles.

Delgado, an adolescent at the time in his native Cuba, knew what those sounds meant. More enemies of Fidel Castro and his communist government – opponents of oppression – were dead.

“Talk about a chilling memory,” Delgado told MacIver News Service in an interview this week. “I was 14, but I was fully aware of the danger my father was in. He would not go along with communism so he was a target.”

“I knew a lot of people getting executed.”

So it should come as no surprise that intelligent and outspoken boy of post-Revolution Cuba, the boy who boarded a plane for the United States in 1961 not knowing if he would ever see his parents again, would grow up to be a champion for free speech.

On Friday, Delgado once more stood up for the First Amendment of his adopted country. He was one of 17 members of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents to vote for a measure giving campuses across the state the power to expel students who repeatedly disrupt speakers or attempt to stifle speech.

The vote was near-unanimous. Only Tony Evers, superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction voted against the rule, asserting it would chill expression.

While Delgado said he respects Evers, the chilling has come from students and faculty members who have demanded “safe spaces” from speech they find offensive. These self-appointed arbiters of what is acceptable expression and what isn’t have become increasingly disorderly and violent in pushing their crusade.

The free speech policy comes nearly a year after a crowd of left-wing, “social justice” warriors attempted to shut down a speech by national conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. Student protesters, decrying Shapiro’s very presence as racist, stormed the stage and began chanting, “Safety! Safety! Safety,” “Shame, Shame, Shame,” and other such slogans the “safe space” crowd fancies.

Similar demonstrations, some violent and destructive, have occurred at campuses around the nation.

“In comes kind of a wave of screaming and threats of violence when people are talking for speech, and that brings back memories that I cannot accept,” said Delgado, of Waukesha.

The businessman who oversaw the first multi-state transmission-only utility in the U.S. and first-term regent says he wants the students at Wisconsin’s universities to know exactly what’s at stake. He points to his childhood to drive home his message.

'More Repressive'

Delgado, an opinionated 70-year-old who says he feels no obligation to act his age, was 11 in 1959 when Castro and his band of revolutionaries overthrew Cuba’s military dictator Fulgencio Batista. Delgado’s uncle, who fought in Castro’s army, died attacking the family’s hometown. His father was a banker, but the family was “very revolutionary.”

And then the revolution for freedom turned into a bloody regime of oppression. Delgado described Castro’s campaign to bring communism to the Western Hemisphere a “steady betrayal of the hopes and expectations” of many Cubans.

“The government got more and more repressive,” he recalled. “The part that was most obvious to me was the part that had to do with expression of ideas.”

He remembers watching on TV mobs descending on the homes of respected and prominent Cubans, citizens who may have disagreed with the Castro government. The crowds would demand blood. And they would get it.

The Delgado family, at first, had impeccable revolutionary credentials, the regent recalled. But “slowly but surely…the latitude for debate was getting narrower and narrower.” Castro’s regime, in the name of communism, began grabbing up businesses. First foreign-owned entities, then larger Cuba-based corporations, and finally small firms.

Delgado’s father eventually left the bank, after it was confiscated by the communists. A kind of civil war developed in the family. His uncle Carlos, a “big shot” in the Castro government, told Delgado’s father to stifle his criticism of the regime. “My father would scream, ‘So what did we fight for?'” Delgado said. “I was about 12 during those debates, but I remember my father with tremendous anger talking to my uncle.”

The schools got more repressive. It was clear that opposition to the government was not welcome and, in many cases, deadly.

One day the outspoken young Delgado went too far. At his grandparents’ home, he and his communist uncle got into a heated argument. Delgado told his uncle how “stupid” communism was. “And he looked at me and then he said, ‘Listen, I’m going to ask you to shut up because we are executing people younger than you for saying less. And if you get in trouble, I will not be able to help you.'”

“I found his words very persuasive because I realized, communist or not, he was trying to save my butt,” Delgado recalled.

“I cannot tell you the bitterness I gained at that point that my own uncle had to admit that you can get shot at any age for saying the wrong thing,” he added. “This was, in fact, the ‘gain’ that we had from the revolution. From there it got worse.”

No More Crying

In November 1961, Delgado’s parents put their four oldest children on a plane bound for Miami, an escape route provided by the Catholic Welfare Bureau and the U.S. State Department. Operation Pedro Pan, from 1960 to 1962, airlifted more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the U.S. to flee the clutches of communist indoctrination. The Delgado children relocated to foster homes in Chicago, praying they would see their mother and father again.

That decision was not up for democratic debate in the Delgado house.

“In my home there were two votes, and they were usually perfectly united,” Delgado said. “I was not asked if I wanted to go; I was told, ‘You’re leaving.'”

Many of his friends who arrived in the United States at the same time would never see their parents again.

It was becoming very dangerous to resist the Castro government. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion only escalated the repression and the violence against opponents of the communist regime.

The day before the children left Havana, Delgado’s older brother, a serious 16-year-old who seemed “10 years older than his age,” advised José to leave his tears in Cuba.

“I began to cry, and he said, ‘Well, you better cry all you want because after tomorrow there is no more crying,” he recalled. “The next time I cried was his funeral, about 16 years later.”

Lessons from Castro

Delgado’s parents were finally able to flee Cuba, six months after they sent their children to Chicago. They escaped thanks to Delgado’s Uncle Carlos, who used his sway in the Castro government to get them out. Delgado said being reunited with the trailing members of his family was “like every Christmas Day for the rest of your life in one.”

“Because of Fidel Castro, I learned what it is to live without any money. I tell people I was never poor, because when my family came, I never felt poor,” he said. They lost everything when they fled Cuba, but they had each other and that was everything. “We were alive man, and we were together.”

He learned another lesson from Castro: the price of liberty, and the value of free speech.

To the critics of the Board of Regents’ policy, Delgado says the speech rules are compatible with the System’s liberal tenure policy. It’s designed to protect a diversity of thought and dialogue to advance the University of Wisconsin System mission.

“Now this is to be expanded to the ability to talk in public,” Delgado said. “When you look at some the stuff going on…at some very important universities, you shake your head and say, ‘No, this is indoctrination, this is not education.’ And you say, ‘Not in Wisconsin, not while I’m here.'”

“I’ve got a total of seven years (on the board), and I’ve gone through about 3 1/2 (years). If someone wants to do this without a fight from me, they can do it after I’m gone…I cannot make you listen, but I can certainly prevent others from preventing you from listening. You have the right to listen.”

September 28, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

School Choice Students Outperform Their Peers Again

Madison, Wis - A new data release from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction shows that 44.4 percent of 3rd to 8th grade students are proficient in English language arts, and 42.8 percent are proficient in math. The results are slightly better than last year’s outcomes, which showed that 42.7 percent of students are proficient in English, while 42.5 fared the same in math.

The results come from the Forward Exam, administered during the 2016-17 school year. This is the second straight year of the Forward Exam which is important because it is the first time in many years we can directly compare test results to the prior year.

Students fared slightly worse than the year prior in both science and social studies. Fewer than 50 percent of students scored proficient in both subjects.

School Choice Students Do Better In Every Category

Students enrolled in Wisconsin’s parental choice programs outperformed their public school peers in every category.

When compared to similar MPS students, parental choice students did much better. Students in all three major parental choice programs – statewide, Milwaukee, and Racine – outperformed their peers in every single subject on the Forward exam. On the ACT, choice students fared better than even their full-income peers.

Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, celebrated the results.

...DPI compared all public school students to choice students – but this is a flawed comparison...

“All three Parental Choice Programs, comprised predominately of low-income students, outscored their full-income, public school counterparts across the entire state on the ACT for the second year in a row. Combined with the Forward Exam, these results highlight the continued success of the program,” Bender said.

In its press release, DPI compared all public school students to choice students – but this is a flawed comparison. Given the income limitations for entrance into the school choice programs, much larger percentages of those students are economically disadvantaged. As a result, it is more accurate to compare choice school students with economically disadvantaged public school students.

State Superintendent Tony Evers focused on the overall positive aspects of the data release.

“We’re seeing some positive student gains in the Forward Exam in English language arts,” Evers said. “Our educators and students are growing more comfortable with the test and have begun to use the information it provides to drive student improvement.”

While the results were in general worrisome, students at a few of the state’s most troubled districts showed small but promising growth. At Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), 20.1 percent of students were proficient in English language arts, compared to 19.4 percent the year before. In math, 15.4 percent of students were proficient, up from 14.8 percent.

Those are small improvements, but improvements nonetheless. The math achievement gap among black and white students at MPS shrank slightly, from a 29.3 point gap last year to a 28.9 gap today. Still, just 8.4 percent of black students were proficient in math. The troubled district continues to underserve its students.

Statewide,the achievement gap between white and black students grew in English language arts and stayed stagnant in math. As Wisconsin’s minority population grows, achievement gaps between white and historically underserved populations will continue to be a big issue. Students, and schools, have their work cut out for them.

ACT Plus Writing

On the ACT Plus Writing exam, results were more clearly negative. While nearly 2.75 percent more students took the exam, they also fared worse in every subject compared to the prior year. In the 2015-16 school year, students scored an average composite score of 20.1 out of 36 on the ACT Plus Writing. A year later, the average composite score was a 20.0.

The scores are gleaned from students who participated in the Spring statewide ACT administration. This was the second year that the state picked up the tab to allow all high schoolers to take the ACT.

The average English language arts score fell from 18.6 to 18.3, while the average math score fell from 20.1 to 20.0. Students scored the highest average score on science at 20.4, down from 20.5 last year.

The ACT also includes its own benchmarks for proficiency which aim to translate the composite score into levels of readiness for college. Those benchmarks show that 39.3 percent of students scored proficient in English language arts, while 31.5 percent were proficient in science.

Perhaps the single bright spot in the entire ACT release – other than the increase in student participation – was that the percent of students proficient in math grew slightly. While the overall math score had fallen, 35.4 percent of test takers were dubbed proficient, up from 34.8 percent the prior year.

That a mere 0.6 percent increase in proficiency in a single subject was the highlight in this data release shows just how serious the situation is. Students in minority groups, as well as English learners and economically disadvantaged students fared consistently worse on this year’s ACT compared to last year. Among black students, the average composite score was just 15.5 of 36, compared to 15.8 last year.

The same day as Wisconsin’s data release, another study showed strong results for students who participated in Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Individuals who received that scholarship – known as the country’s largest private school choice program – were shown to attend college and attain degrees at higher rates.

The longer that students participated in Florida’s school choice program, the better their outcomes were. The scholarship increased college attendance among recipients by an average of 15 percent compared to public school peers. Students who participated in the school choice program for more than four years saw a 43 percent increase of college attendance compared to their peers.

In a statement to MacIver News, Bender said that the findings “mirrored those from Milwaukee.”

“Higher graduation rates, college acceptance and college retention rates were all identified for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” Bender said. “Hopefully, education policy will focus on replicating the success in Florida and create more pathways for success.”

The data comes just over a month ahead of the release of Wisconsin’s new school report cards, which are expected in November.

September 13, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

Walker Gives DPI’s Education Improvement Plan An F, Asks Evers To Resubmit

Madison, Wis – Gov. Scott Waker is rejecting an education plan by the state Department of Public Instruction because, according to the governor, the plan is bereft of accountability and bloated with bureaucracy.

In a letter sent Wednesday to DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, Walker said he could not sign off on Evers’ proposal to the U.S. Department of Education. Each state is required to provide an education improvement plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

ESSA is billed as the more flexible replacement to the No Child Left Behind Act. It allows states more freedom in coming up with innovative policies to improve education outcomes.

“Your bureaucratic proposal does little to challenge the status quo for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students,” the governor wrote in his letter to Evers. “For example, under the law, a ‘rigorous intervention’ is required for low-performing schools. In your plan, schools may simply implement an improvement plan created under the supervision of the Department of Public Instruction.”

“I hope you will agree that adding layers of bureaucratic paperwork does little to help low-performing schools,” Walker added.

Walker notes other states are using their plans to “drive improvement through bold reforms.” He pointed to Tennessee’s proposal, already approved by the U.S. Department of Education. That plan, Walker wrote, supports “creative reforms, using innovations such as Achievement School Districts and Innovation Zones to support efforts to reform low-performing schools.”

Tennessee’s plan, which went into effect this school year brings “sweeping changes to transparency, accountability and school turnaround, and includes ranking schools A-F, changes how Tennessee reports on subgroups of students and boosts the recruitment an training of students,” according to a story last month in the Tennessean.

In May, DPI released its initial state plan for the implementation of the new federal education law. The state plan is the culmination of more than a year of work, including legislative briefings in the state Capitol and public hearings for stakeholders around the state. The document lays out new academic achievement goals and plans of action for Wisconsin’s students, including specific English language arts and mathematics proficiency goals.

The state aims to cut achievement gaps by half over the next six-year period, with a long-term goal of closing the gaps entirely by 2029. That translates to an average 1 percent annual increase in overall student proficiency for both English and math over six consecutive years.

MacIver’s latest State of Education Report details the myriad challenges and failings in Wisconsin’s K-12 education system.

Evers last month announced he is running for governor. While his position is supposedly nonpartisan, Evers is a liberal long backed by education unions and the public education establishment. He is seeking the Democratic Party nomination and, ultimately, a match-up with Walker, a two-term Republican who in 2012 survived a recall campaign driven by Evers’ union allies.

In his letter to Evers, Walker urges his would-be political challenger to think bolder and asks the DPI secretary to take another shot at the education success plan.

“On other issues, such as welfare and parental choice in education, our state is recognized as a national leader,” the governor wrote. “It is because we took action in the face of government special interests.

“We urge you to take this opportunity to make Wisconsin a reform leader yet again and resubmit a new proposal that allows our schools to innovate and students to succeed,” Walker closed.

September 11, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy’s State of Education – 2017 Edition

Madison, Wis. – As children all across Wisconsin head back to school, it is time for the MacIver Institute’s annual examination of our educational system. To make sure we’re all set for the semester, let’s take a look at what’s going on with our students.

First, we’ll touch on recent developments at the State Capitol, followed by a rundown of how our kids are doing on a slew of exams and other metrics. We’ll also examine different indicators of a healthy educational ecosystem – such as the state of school choice and how the state is addressing failing schools – before wrapping up. Let’s start off with an update on the 2017-19 Wisconsin State Budget.

A Busy Budget Summer

To understand the context of Wisconsin’s state of education, we have to start with the 2017-19 biennial budget. We’ve been covering those issues from the fourth floor of the Capitol all summer long.

The state’s Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) agreed to a budget plan for K-12 schools that sends $693.3 million more to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) over current funding levels. JFC’s plan sends $8.9 million less than Gov. Scott Walker proposed in February, but the increase is still considerable.

Included in the budget: more funding for schools across the board in the form of per pupil categorical aid payments, more flexibility to raise property taxes for low-revenue school districts, and more access to choice and charter schools statewide. Changes to the Special Needs Scholarship Program will allow approximately 250 more students to participate, effectively doubling the program.

After three years of changing students’ standardized tests three different times, Wisconsin is stuck with the Forward Exam. That’s a clear win for students and the rest of the public, as we’ll soon have another yardstick to compare student growth year over year.

Add to that a one-year waiver for the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (remember that name?) and Racine public schools, plus $9 million for a laptop for every high school freshman. A mixed bag? We thought so, too.

In a first for the administration, Walker’s budget plan for the Department of Public Instruction wasn’t totally far off from DPI’s own request. State Superintendent Tony Evers’ plan would send more money through the general aids formula rather than categorical aids outside of normal spending limits. However, with increased spending in realms like mental health and rural teacher training, Evers spent much of the summer praising Walker’s investments.

The Metrics: How Are Our Students Performing?

DPI is slated to release new student report cards some time at the end of October or the beginning of November. Those report cards will show new results for the Forward Exam, updated graduation rates, and plenty of other metrics. For now, let’s run through our most current numbers to get a sense of where our students are.

ACT Scores | Just last week, the ACT released a new national report that details scores across the country for the class of 2017.

Wisconsin’s class of 2017 scored an average of 20.5 points out of 36 on the ACT – the exact same score achieved by our 2016 students. Wisconsin’s score is below the national average of 21.0 points, which rose slightly from an average score of 20.8 in 2016. It must be noted, however, that all of our students take the ACT in Wisconsin. In other states, only the more accomplished students take the test, which translates into a higher average score.

The state of Wisconsin began administering ACT exams to all high school juniors in 2015. Since then, we’ve seen a fall in ACT scores. But dips in scores when a large increase in participation occurs is usually to be expected. Whether students plan to move on to college, getting a sense of their achievement levels is always a good thing.

Seventeen states test all students. Of those, Wisconsin’s composite score of 20.5 was the third highest behind Minnesota (21.1) and Colorado (20.8). Illinois recently stopped testing all of its students, but at 93 percent participation, students there scored an average of 21.4.

Many Wisconsinites may find it surprising that we trail Illinois. More Illinoisans reached ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in every subject than Wisconsinites. Those ACT College Benchmarks are set to test readiness for higher education among exam takers.

In fact, just 25 percent of the 2017 Wisconsin graduates met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, according to the report. Students stayed at exactly the same levels as last year, too, revealing a plateau in growth.

The data released also reveals a small gain in closing the achievement gap among ethnic and racial minority groups – a good sign for Wisconsin’s persistent achievement gap.

Students in almost every ethnic group posted score gains compared to last year, especially among historically underserved populations. However, white students stayed at the same score, and native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students decreased their average score from 19.4 to 18.4 points.

Earlier in the summer, Wisconsin’s own DPI also released a new dataset examining the class of 2016. Overall, that class marked a stark increase in ACT participation – 45 percent more students took the exam than the year before.

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students, in particular, posted strong rates of ACT participation, with a greater percentage of Milwaukee students taking the exam than the statewide average.

Still, the score indicates that Wisconsin students are falling behind. This was also clear in results for the ACT Aspire, which tests college readiness and is administered to high school freshmen and sophomores. On that exam, 60 percent of students earned scores of “exceeding” or “ready” in English, and 38.9 percent of students achieved the same level in math. As we’ve known, our students and our schools have major work to do. This release only underscores that fact.

Students in Milwaukee Public Schools had lower levels of college readiness than the state average on the ACT Aspire, with just 10 percent of MPS students showing readiness in math and just 31.7 percent showing readiness in English.

Back in the statehouse, the state budget that is expected to pass soon does include some provisions to address the problem of kids trapped in persistent failing schools. Performance-based funding rewarding Milwaukee’s best-performing schools was stripped from Walker’s budget by the Joint Finance Committee. Instead, the JFC decided to send extra funding to just failing schools, and the MPS will see new investments in MPS summer school initiatives to help children who need extra catch-up help.

Graduation Rates | Every spring, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), headed by State Superintendent Tony Evers, releases high school graduation rates for the prior year. The release of the graduation rate data this year has been delayed for months with no real explanation from the department. When the new information was finally released in August, DPI published it with a small asterisk. Apparently, DPI published incorrect grad rates for some high schools in Wisconsin, which brings into question the overall accuracy of DPI’s rates. So, while we try to sort out what happened, our analysis of high school graduation rates comes with a small asterisk.

According to DPI, in 2016, 88.2 percent of students graduated high school in four years. That number was down a hair from the prior year’s 88.4 percent.

Assuming the true rate is still in a similar range, Wisconsin students have one of the best four-year graduation rates in the country. The nationwide average was 83.2 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Wisconsin posted the second-highest scores after Iowa, where 90.8 percent of students graduated in four years. In Illinois, just shy of 86 percent of students graduate in four years, and in Minnesota, 81.9 percent fare the same.

The state’s biggest and most-troubled district, Milwaukee Public Schools, posted a 59.7 percent four-year graduation rate. Fewer than 60 percent of MPS students graduate in four years. Even more remarkable, just 70 percent graduate in six years. In six years!

Report Cards | Report cards for the 2016-17 school year will be released in November. In addition to providing corrected graduation rates and new Forward Exam results, report cards grade individual schools and school districts using five different ratings, from “significantly exceeds expectations” to “fails to meet expectations.”

Just under 75 percent of the 2,341 schools in Wisconsin were scored as meeting expectations or better in 2016. Of the state’s 424 school districts, 91 percent were ranked as meeting expectations or better.

On the poor-performing side, 99 schools and five school districts qualified as failing. That means that approximately 52,000 students in Wisconsin attend failing schools. Given the incredible amount of state money we spend every year to educate our children, 52,000 students trapped in poor-performing schools is unacceptable. We must do better.

There’s also a certain irony that so many more students are in failing schools than students in districts considered failing. Just over 21,000 students attend the five failing school districts. There’s a clear disconnect with the fact that so many kids are trapped in districts considered to be meeting some expectations while their individual school is still failing.

Parents and taxpayers also need to examine whether these report cards are an accurate measure of success.

We’re still scratching our heads at the idea that MPS – which has nearly 25,000 students in failing schools – isn’t considered failing as a district while RUSD – which has nearly 10,000 students in the same situation – is. We call it Educrat Math.

Last year’s report cards also included data from the Forward Exam, administered in spring 2016 to 3rd-8th graders. That release of data showed that less than half of Wisconsin public school students are performing at grade level.

Of those tested with the Forward Exam, 42.5 percent of students were proficient in English and 42.3 percent were proficient in math. Students performed the “best” at science, with 50.1 percent achieving proficiency. Re-read that last number again. Just fifty percent was our best rating.

The report cards also highlighted extensive achievement gaps, a crucial issue for our students.

Achievement Gaps | From state exams, to the ACT, to the graduation rate, achievement gaps continue to persist between white students and minority groups. As the state’s minority population grows, this clear inequity will become more and more apparent, especially in places like MPS and the Metropolitan Madison School District (MMSD).

At MPS, the state’s largest district, students performed worse than the state average in every subject. On the Forward Exam, just 19.7 percent of MPS students achieved proficiency in English, and just 14.9 percent in math.

Within MPS itself, disparities between white and black students are clear. Achievement gaps between white and black students at MPS were smaller in every subject compared to the statewide averages, but both white and black students at MPS fared worse than the statewide averages for each race. In math, just 7.5 percent of black students at MPS were proficient, compared to 36 percent of white students. The 28.5 point gap is smaller than the state average of 39.3 for the same subject, but both numbers are alarming.

AP Courses and Exams | One positive trend that continued through the 2015-16 school year was a slow but steady growth in Advanced Placement (AP) exam participation, with 15.5 percent of students taking the exam in 2016.

AP classes are one of the best ways to prepare kids for their futures, whether or not they plan on going to college. AP classes teach students how to study in a different way than many of them have encountered before. If we’re talking college prep, AP exams are the name of the game (another is access to educational choice in a manner tailored to individual students, but more on that later).

Sixty-five percent of exam takers earned a three or higher, down from 66 percent in the previous year. Three credits typically mean that the student can earn college credit for having taken the exam. At UW System schools, for example, scores of three typically amount to three credits.

These credits can add up for students and translate to real money saved in their college careers. In some instances, high-achieving students can even graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in three years with the credit earned from AP Exams alone.

Other Indicators of Success

School Choice in Wisconsin: Growth and Results | If you are the parent of one of the 20,000 children trapped in a failing school, there is good news for you in the 2017-2019 state budget. The budget committee has approved increasing the statewide school choice program’s income limits up to 220 percent of the federal poverty line, from 185 percent. This change will give more students access to a school of their choice and allow parents, not bureaucrats, to have more control over the education of their children.

It must be noted that Illinois recently adopted a school choice program with an income limit for families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty line. Illinois, more reform-minded than Wisconsin? We were surprised, too.

Meanwhile, students in choice schools tend to post better scores than their public education peers. And aside from the scores and educational assessments of different kinds, families themselves want options for schooling and continue to ask for greater access to choice. Waiting lists for the state’s parental choice programs continue to plague families across the state. For a parent waiting to get a child out of a failing school or a bad situation, it is incredibly frustrating that lawmakers don’t seem to understand the urgency.

One recent “study of studies” examined 22 major academic works on voucher schools. The findings for Milwaukee’s choice program were significant, showing a substantial impact on student graduation rates and college attainment.

Compared to their public school counterparts, choice students graduated high school and attended four-year colleges at higher rates. According to the report, the colleges also appeared to be of higher status. While 21 percent of MPS students surveyed attended a four-year college, 27 percent of Milwaukee choice students did the same.

Voucher students were also more likely to continue into their sophomore year of college, and parents were much more likely to report satisfaction with their child’s education.

They’re popular, too. By some estimates, 80 percent of students in Milwaukee practice a form of choice. That ranges from students that attend their local traditional public schools to private school students, homeschooled students, students in charter institutions, and pupils that use open enrollment to attend a traditional public school that lies outside of their home district. Private schools, charter schools, and public school open enrollment are the state’s most popular form of school choice.

Student counts in terms of both open enrollment transfers and charter school attendance have all risen significantly despite a smaller total number of K-12 students in the state. Wisconsin’s families have chosen these schools over the past decade-plus and made these options a legitimate presence in the public school arena.

Another recent study by national research group Education Next surveyed parents of students at charter schools, traditional district schools, and private schools. From safety to teacher quality, in nearly every category, charter and private school parents reported greater satisfaction than traditional district schools.

Charter Schools | Independent charter schools will also see growth in the coming years. JFC’s budget allows charter schools to expand in any area of the state for the first time, rather than just in Madison and Milwaukee. The budget also increases the number of charter authorizers, allowing more UW chancellors and technical college boards to contract with charter school operators.

Charter schools made headlines in May when U.S. News and World Report declared Carmen High School – a public charter – to be the best school in the state. Bravo, Carmen.

Scores at Carmen are significantly higher than the surrounding areas, despite the fact that 87 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. A whopping 86 percent of Carmen students took an AP exam in 2016 – compare that to the statewide average of 15 percent and it’s easy to see how this school challenges students in a different way.

It’s important to note that charter schools are public schools, despite being a part of the school choice ecosystem. Simply put, their rules and regulations offer them a bit more flexibility than state law typically allows.

Enrollment Figures: K-12 and the University System | Statewide K-12 enrollment numbers continue to fall, continuing a trend in declining enrollment. In the 2016-17 school year, 863,881 students were enrolled in K-12 schools. The year prior, 867,137 students had been enrolled.

Meanwhile, state attendance and dropout rates have remained largely steady, though major gaps exist between districts.

Overall college attendance in Wisconsin, however, is rising over the long term.

In Fall 2016, 175,825 students attended the UW System. The year prior, 178,571 had been enrolled. Enrollment at the UW System has slowly fallen since 2010, but has still grown steadily over the long term. Most of those students attended the system’s flagship institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (go Badgers).

Remedial Education | Last fall, the MacIver Institute broke news on the state of remedial education in Wisconsin following the publication of a new report by the UW System.

If students make the decision to go to college, and then show up woefully unprepared, they have to take remedial courses at full cost but zero credit. Imagine paying $20,000 a year or more and receiving no college credit. It’s that bad.

That dataset showed that 175 high schools in Wisconsin had six or more 2015 graduates who needed remedial help in math or English as freshmen at the University of Wisconsin System.

The “Legislated Remedial Course Report” became a requirement after Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown) discovered that 20 percent of all freshmen at the UW System require remedial help in math or English. UW could not tell him from which Wisconsin high schools these students came, and Jagler worked on a bill to bring the annual report into existence.

Since last year’s report, we are sorry to report that no major moves have been made on the important issue of remedial education in Wisconsin. There have been talks of increased collaboration between K-12 schools with the UW System to ensure that students arrive at college ready for success, but nothing game-changing has emerged.

This issue is particularly important for taxpayers. If students make the decision to go to college, and then show up woefully unprepared, they have to take remedial courses, again, at full cost but zero credit. We need our high schools to do a better job preparing our children for the rigors of college. It is a bad indicator that we have kids who are graduating from high school but are not ready to succeed at the next level.

In March, a national study showed that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a big problem with remediation and that it has a substantial affect on graduation rates. According to the study, just one in five black students graduated UW-M within six years.

Our children, our parents, our teachers and our schools – we must do better.

The (Potential?) Return of the OSPP | While the OSPP remains on hold for MPS students, all eyes are on RUSD as it hopes to avoid a “failing” designation for a second year in a row. That would, under normal circumstances, trigger the OSPP rules, starting with a new superintendent and a new plan for several turnaround schools.

You can catch up on the idea of the OSPP right here. In short, the idea is that districts that show no signs of improving would get a specially-appointed commissioner who could then pick several schools in which to implement a turnaround plan. If done correctly, it could be transformational for students who are stuck in these schools year after year.

One can easily compare the takeover-like requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to OSPP here in Wisconsin. While the same idea was called a “takeover” in Milwaukee, Obama’s law makes it a requirement for the state’s worst schools.

That’s right – the Obama-era law was more strict on failing schools than Wisconsin’s own school leaders would prefer.

RUSD officials appear to have gotten a major pass with a year-long exemption included in the Joint Finance K-12 budget. It may be good for the status quo, but Team MacIver is skeptical that it’ll ultimately be good for the students. Reform isn’t easy, but it’s important.

As it turns out, RUSD isn’t quite yet fully compliant with Act 10, that law you may have heard of that set off an entire recall attempt, saved taxpayers billions of dollars, and oh yeah – was passed way back in 2011. Once the budget goes into effect, the district will have 120 days to achieve compliance with the law and then prove to DPI that public unions are not collectively bargaining with school officials outside the law’s limitations.

If they achieve compliance in three months, they get the extra year before OSPP comes into effect. If the district again earns the “failing” designation from DPI, the villages within RUSD will have the option to hold a referendum on whether or not to split from RUSD. Of course, that wouldn’t be easy – smaller villages within the district have higher property values, but most don’t have their own school buildings. The budget includes funding to study the idea of splitting apart RUSD in the future.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) released a statement following the vote, writing that “in recognition of the changes that have been implemented since the last district report card, the budget allows the implementation of an OSPP to be delayed for one year. This is not a free pass, it is a possible one-year reprieve. RUSD must improve.”

Wanggaard went on to write in vaguely positive terms about the idea of a potential breaking apart of the district.

“The district should also be aware that communities should not have to wait to be part of a highly successful school district,” Wanggaard wrote. “Villages will be able to determine whether or not they have faith in the trajectory of RUSD, and whether they want to be part of its success, or try to do better on their own.”

A spokeswoman for RUSD thanked the Legislature for listening to the district’s request to delay the OSPP, pointing to recent reforms and improvements in student achievement, saying that the district is “confident these gains will be reflected in an improved report card this fall.”

At the same time, the statement took a hard swerve away from the notion of creating a new district, writing that RUSD has “serious concerns” with the idea and that the process would “cause severe turmoil, disruption, and overall extremely negatively impact our students, our families, and our entire community.”

We wonder about the honest impact a year-after-year 20.2 percent English proficiency rate has on students. How’s that for severe turmoil and disruption?

When the law was first passed, MPS was facing a four-year graduation rate of 58 percent. The latest data shows the district has improved slightly to 59.7 percent. While we can’t compare proficiency rates across years because of the change in tests, last year’s report card showed that 24,447 students attended 42 failing schools.

Of course, that was the same year that MPS as a district wasn’t considered failing, while RUSD was. In all, 9,605 students attended 11 failing RUSD schools. That could all change come November – will RUSD again be designated as failing? Will MPS slip back onto the failing list?

For now, we wait until November. Yet again, the kids will wait even longer.

September 5, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Budget Blog: Joint Finance Passes Education Plan

Madison, Wis. – The K-12 education budget that the Joint Committee on Finance passed last week makes substantive changes to the state’s school choice, charter, and open enrollment programs.

Access to Private School Choice

The most significant change is an increase in the income limit for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, also known as the statewide choice program. Families of four earning just shy of $54,000 annually – 220 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – will be eligible. Until now, the statewide limit had been 185 percent of FPL, or nearly $45,000 for a family of four.

"All across the country, school choice supporters are advancing bold initiatives that enhance quality educational opportunities. We hope that going forward, Wisconsin will once again reclaim their position as an education reform leader." -Justin Moralez, Wisconsin Federation for Children

While the move to 220 percent is important, the statewide choice program will still be different than the other choice programs. Participation in the Racine and Milwaukee parental choice programs is limited to 300 percent of FPL, or nearly $73,000 annually. School choice advocates had hoped to increase the statewide income limits up to the same level, but fell short of that goal.

“The increase to the income limit for the WPCP from 185 percent to 220 percent of the federal poverty level is a step in the right direction but still leaves many working class families on the outside looking in,” Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement following the vote.

Ironically, the State of Illinois recently created an expansive statewide school choice program for students whose families earn up to 300 percent FPL. That program, a new tax credit scholarship for private school tuition, prioritizes students in families under 185 FPL as well as those in school districts with poor results. Students who receive the scholarship must also take the state accountability test.

As a result, Chicago will become the third biggest city in the country with access to parental choice once the program launches. The initiative will be funded by charitable donations made by individuals, who will receive a state income tax credit in exchange for their donation. Illinois’ program will expire after five years if legislators do not renew it.

As for Wisconsin’s vote, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) voted for the package but said she would have preferred a bigger increase.

“A lot of times there are things in an omnibus that you like, and there are things that you don’t like,” Vukmir said. “And while I’m pleased that we’ve increased the participation in the school choice program from 185 percent to 220 percent of federal poverty level, everyone knows that I would’ve preferred a greater expansion, both in terms of that as well as the removal of the [pupil participation] cap.”

The cap that Vukmir referred to is the number of students that may enroll in the statewide parental choice program. Currently, no more than 2 percent of the pupils in any public school district may participate in the statewide program. However, neither the Milwaukee nor Racine programs have enrollment caps.

If more than 2 percent of pupils in a school district apply, DPI conducts a random lottery for admission and places the rest of the students on a waiting list.

The Finance Committee did make one important change to how students on the waiting list are treated. Right now, students apply for the statewide program only when entering kindergarten, 1st, or 9th grade. If a child is refused admission and placed on a waiting list but a spot opens up after he or she has graduated to the next grade, they are out of luck. They are denied entry into the program. With a limited number of openings during kindergarten and 1st grade, many students often miss the crucial 1st grade entry point – locking them out of the program until high school.

Under the budget passed by JFC, students who are placed on a waiting list and later admitted will be able to enter the program regardless of grade level. An estimated 100 more students will be able to participate as a result of those changes.

Paul Gnan, Executive Director of Sheboygan Lutheran High School, thanked the legislature for the changes, saying he knows of at least five families who have missed out on participating in the program because of the waiting list rule alone. As for the increase in the income limits, Gnan said he thinks it will “open up the eyes” of some people who will see that “it’s kind of a low-middle income program, and a lot more families are going to be able to take a choice, and make the best educational choice for their child.”

“We have 160 to 170 students in our school. I’d say last year we had 20 families that were just over the threshold and what this does, is now it opens it up,” Gnan said. “Every one of my teachers will be eligible.”

Another change adopted by the Finance Committee will allow students, who are new to Wisconsin, to apply for the statewide parental choice program. Currently, applicants must have attended a public school within Wisconsin the prior year in order to be eligible.

JFC’s budget also eliminated a provision that required school choice participants to annually verify their family’s income with DPI. As long as the student participated in the Milwaukee, Racine, or statewide programs the prior year, the family’s income will no longer need to be verified. Another provision will allow private school students to enter a school choice program regardless of grade level, as long as that student meets income and other requirements.

JFC also made changes to summer school funding. Until now, private schools could only receive payment for choice students attending at least 15 days of summer school, among other requirements. Under the budget motion passed by JFC, schools will be able to prorate their payments, receiving proportional funding for students attending summer school.

Gnan said his school was still reviewing those changes and others, but said that he thinks they will be very helpful for students.

“I’m just very grateful to the legislators for listening to us and at least coming partway,” Gnan said, striking a note of compromise. “I think it’s going to be really good.”

Access to Private School Choice

The most significant change is an increase in the income limit for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, also known as the statewide choice program. Families of four earning just shy of $54,000 annually – 220 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – will be eligible. Until now, the statewide limit had been 185 percent of FPL, or nearly $45,000 for a family of four.

"All across the country, school choice supporters are advancing bold initiatives that enhance quality educational opportunities. We hope that going forward, Wisconsin will once again reclaim their position as an educational reform leader." -Justin Moralez, Wisconsin Federation for Children

While the move to 220 percent is important, the statewide choice program will still be different than the other choice programs. Participation in the Racine and Milwaukee parental choice programs is limited to 300 percent of FPL, or nearly $73,000 annually. School choice advocates had hoped to increase the statewide income limits up to the same level, but fell short of that goal.

“The increase to the income limit for the WPCP from 185 percent to 220 percent of the federal poverty level is a step in the right direction but still leaves many working class families on the outside looking in,” Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement following the vote.

Ironically, the State of Illinois recently created an expansive statewide school choice program for students whose families earn up to 300 percent FPL. That program, a new tax credit scholarship for private school tuition, prioritizes students in families under 185 FPL as well as those in school districts with poor results. Students who receive the scholarship must also take the state accountability test.

Ironically, the State of Illinois recently created an expansive statewide school choice program for students whose families earn up to 300 percent FPL. That program, a new tax credit scholarship for private school tuition, prioritizes students in families under 185 FPL as well as those in school districts with poor results. Students who receive the scholarship must also take the state accountability test.

As a result, Chicago will become the third biggest city in the country with access to parental choice once the program launches. The initiative will be funded by charitable donations made by individuals, who will receive a state income tax credit in exchange for their donation. Illinois’ program will expire after five years if legislators do not renew it.

As for Wisconsin’s vote, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) voted for the package but said she would have preferred a bigger increase.

“A lot of times there are things in an omnibus that you like, and there are things that you don’t like,” Vukmir said. “And while I’m pleased that we’ve increased the participation in the school choice program from 185 percent to 220 percent of federal poverty level, everyone knows that I would’ve preferred a greater expansion, both in terms of that as well as the removal of the [pupil participation] cap.”

The cap that Vukmir referred to is the number of students that may enroll in the statewide parental choice program. Currently, no more than 2 percent of the pupils in any public school district may participate in the statewide program. However, neither the Milwaukee nor Racine programs have enrollment caps.

If more than 2 percent of pupils in a school district apply, DPI conducts a random lottery for admission and places the rest of the students on a waiting list.

The Finance Committee did make one important change to how students on the waiting list are treated. Right now, students apply for the statewide program only when entering kindergarten, 1st, or 9th grade. If a child is refused admission and placed on a waiting list but a spot opens up after he or she has graduated to the next grade, they are out of luck. They are denied entry into the program. With a limited number of openings during kindergarten and 1st grade, many students often miss the crucial 1st grade entry point – locking them out of the program until high school.

Under the budget passed by JFC, students who are placed on a waiting list and later admitted will be able to enter the program regardless of grade level. An estimated 100 more students will be able to participate as a result of those changes.

Paul Gnan, Executive Director of Sheboygan Lutheran High School, thanked the legislature for the changes, saying he knows of at least five families who have missed out on participating in the program because of the waiting list rule alone. As for the increase in the income limits, Gnan said he thinks it will “open up the eyes” of some people who will see that “it’s kind of a low-middle income program, and a lot more families are going to be able to take a choice, and make the best educational choice for their child.”

“We have 160 to 170 students in our school. I’d say last year we had 20 families that were just over the threshold and what this does, is now it opens it up,” Gnan said. “Every one of my teachers will be eligible.”

Another change adopted by the Finance Committee will allow students, who are new to Wisconsin, to apply for the statewide parental choice program. Currently, applicants must have attended a public school within Wisconsin the prior year in order to be eligible.

JFC’s budget also eliminated a provision that required school choice participants to annually verify their family’s income with DPI. As long as the student participated in the Milwaukee, Racine, or statewide programs the prior year, the family’s income will no longer need to be verified. Another provision will allow private school students to enter a school choice program regardless of grade level, as long as that student meets income and other requirements.

"A lot more families are going to be able to take a choice and make the best educational choice for their child... Every one of my teachers will be eligible." -Paul Gnan, Executive Director, Sheboygan Lutheran High School

JFC also made changes to summer school funding. Until now, private schools could only receive payment for choice students attending at least 15 days of summer school, among other requirements. Under the budget motion passed by JFC, schools will be able to prorate their payments, receiving proportional funding for students attending summer school.

Gnan said his school was still reviewing those changes and others, but said that he thinks they will be very helpful for students.

“I’m just very grateful to the legislators for listening to us and at least coming partway,” Gnan said, striking a note of compromise. “I think it’s going to be really good.”

Access to Charter Schools

The budget passed by JFC also adds more authorizers for charter schools. Current law only allows the University of Wisconsin’s Office of Educational Opportunity (OEO), the chancellors of UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, and the boards of Milwaukee and Gateway technical colleges to authorize new charter schools. JFC’s budget allows any UW chancellor and any technical college board to authorize a new charter school.

Perhaps even more significantly, JFC’s budget allows independent charter schools to be created statewide. Current law limits the locations in which authorizers can contract for a new school to Madison and Milwaukee.

One pro-charter group, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, celebrated the provision in a statement, highlighting that “the independent charter schools in Milwaukee are the highest performing sector of public schools in the city.”

For the first time, independent charter schools will receive summer school funding from the state beginning in 2018. The budget also requires DPI to write a new report on virtual charter school funding that would compare actual educational costs to the amount that the state pays. That report must be presented to the legislature by 2019.

Open Enrollment

Another program – often called the state’s most popular form of school choice – will see a funding increase. Public school open enrollment allows over 55,000 students across the state to attend other public school districts within Wisconsin. The program is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Under JFC’s budget plan, schools will receive an increase of $100 every year from 2017 through 2020 for every non-special education open enrollment pupil.

In the 2016-17 school year, schools received a $6,748 “aid transfer” for every incoming student. As a result of the changes, that amount will rise to $7,148 in the 2020-21 school year, not counting other potential adjustments.

Even despite the reimbursement increase, funding for open enrollment falls several thousand dollars short of average per pupil costs in Wisconsin. New school districts do not receive as much in the per-pupil aid transfer as they do for regular in-district students. Districts that “lose” students to other places as a result of open enrollment keep the difference in funding.

More than 41,000 applications for the 2015-16 open enrollment program were submitted, according to a December 2016 DPI report. Students can submit up to three applications.

The popular program began in 1998. With no set cap on student participation, public school open enrollment has far outpaced other forms of school choice in Wisconsin.

The finance committee has yet to vote on two programs related to education: the special needs scholarship program and the school levy tax credit. Both votes are expected to take place in the coming days, as the committee wraps up its work on the 2017-19 budget. As always, the MacIver Institute will be there, watching out for any final surprises to the taxpayers. Follow along the debate at @MacIverWisc and @NewsMacIver

August 21, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski and Jessica Murphy

Venezuelan Student Condemns UW’s Award to Supporter of Venezuelan Dictatorship

A Venezuelan student now studying in America is speaking out against the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s forthcoming award to Tariq Ali, a supporter of socialist dictatorships including those of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.

“It is a shame really,” Jorge Jraissati, a student at Florida Atlantic University, said. Jraissati came to America when he was 18 to flee his home country’s violence. “It is a shame because universities should protect free speech and should protect those people who believe in freedom, not those who live in oppression. I’m ashamed that institutions like [the UW] give awards to people who defend a dictatorship.”

Jorge Jraissati

Jraissati offered commentary in last month’s MacIver piece exposing UW’s A.E. Havens Center for Social Justice 2017 Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship Award to Ali. The Havens Center will present Ali with the award on October 19. Previous recipients include Noam Chomsky and Eduardo Galeano.

After the recent escalation of violence and deadly protests, we spoke to Jorge for a more in-depth look at the crisis in Venezuela, his personal experiences with the regime, and his hopes for the future of his homeland.

Jraissati became involved in politics at a young age, inspired to help those afflicted with poverty in his country. He won a leadership position with Voluntad Popular – the opposition party that President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly tried to disband because he views it as the “military arm” of a U.S. plot to remove him from power. After receiving personal threats, his parents urged him to move somewhere safer to begin his studies.

He expressed his deep disappointment that the University of Wisconsin is giving an award to someone who supports the brutal Venezuelan dictatorship.

“In my country, people are in jail and people are suffering. This is not a political fight. This is a fight for dignity. This is not a fight between policies and left or right. We are fighting because we demand freedom. We are fighting because we demand dignity.”

“The Maduro and Chavez regime is a regime that shoots people to silence them. It’s a regime that broke families. It’s a regime that has blood on their hands. And it is a shame [for] everyone who approves and who supports a regime like that one.”

The chance of being shot or jailed is an everyday reality for Venezuelans. “In Venezuela we have risks for everything,” Jorge said. “If you are a student and you are protesting, you have the risk of being killed. You have the risk of being jailed. Because in Venezuela the regime is brutally oppressing everyone.”

Some news outlets like teleSUR claim that Western media is blowing the situation in Venezuela out of proportion, but Jorge argues they’re not capturing the true horrors.

“The situation in Venezuela is even worse than the media portrays. In Venezuela there’s a humanitarian crisis. And that’s something that people need to understand – that the media is not even close to what is happening in Venezuela.”

For the launch of teleSUR English in 2014, Ali interviewed Maduro. It was Ali’s first time in Caracas since Chavez died. In the interview, Ali states that “there’s a feeling of sadness but also a feeling of happiness that there’s continuity going on,” referring to Maduro’s ability to carry on the Bolivarian revolution that Chavez proliferated. Jorge presents a stark contrast to Maduro’s rhetoric.

“The Chavez politics were against private property. The Chavez politics were against the private sector who can grow the country, who can prosper, and who can bring jobs to Venezuela. And it’s why I understood from the beginning that all the policies were against my country. And Maduro has been even worse.”

While many may support Venezuela’s current leaders, Jraissati hopes they will change their perspectives. “People who support the Maduro regime knowing what is happening in Venezuela, I am ashamed for them. For people who support the Maduro regime without knowing the situation, I encourage them to keep reading and to understand the reality of Venezuela.”

Jraissati says he “understood how many people believed in Chavez because Chavez told them that he would bring prosperity,” but that he draws a line in the sand for people who continue to support today’s dictatorial regime. “Whoever supports a regime in 2017, with all the evidence that we have in human rights violations and all the brutal repression, whoever supports Maduro right now should be ashamed because he has blood on his hands.”

In the future, Jraissati aspires to help Venezuela rise from the shambles of socialism. “I came [to the United States], now I study economics and business management. I’m doing it because I want to prepare myself, I want to learn as much as I can. I want to earn my master’s and then come back to my country to help rebuild my country.”

For now, Venezuelans like Jorge won’t stop fighting for their freedom. Everything is on the line, Jorge says, and it’s up to the people on the ground to be “fearless. To fight on the streets without fear of being killed or without fear of being jailed, because we know that the most important thing that we can do is to reconquer our democracy.”

Pictured: Protesters gather on July 28 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to protest against the jailing of their democratically-elected mayor. Photo by Jorge Jraissati.

July 19, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Senate K-12 Plan: More Money for Low-Spending Schools, Modest Statewide School Choice Expansion Compared to Governor

Madison, Wis - After weeks of delays, the Senate Republican Caucus released a full budget proposal on Tuesday. Transportation remains the hot topic – read our full rundown right here – but the Senate plan also includes substantive tweaks to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

The Senate plan spends $24 million more than Walker’s already-generous education proposal, which sent $648 million more to public schools than current funding levels. It also adds six more positions to DPI compared to the governor’s plan. The biggest chunk of that spending increase comes in the form of categorical per pupil aid, which is the same in the Senate plan as in Walker’s proposal. Senate education text box.png

Categorical per pupil aid is money that all districts receive if certain criteria are met. This aid is sent to districts outside of normal revenue limits. The governor and Senate both propose investing more than $500 million into categorical per pupil aid increases consisting of $200 per pupil in 2017 and another $204 per pupil in 2018.

One place where the Senate shifts away from Walker’s proposal is the low-revenue adjustment, allowing certain school districts to levy higher property taxes. The low-revenue adjustment is currently set at $9,100 per pupil, and Walker’s budget proposal maintains the same level. The Senate plan would increase that number to $9,300 in 2017, then by another $100 per pupil each year until it hits $9,800 in 2022-23.

That would increase certain school districts’ levy authority by $23.2 million statewide, allowing those districts to increase property taxes at the local level.

The idea is similar to one floated by the Assembly Republican Caucus in June. The Assembly package, championed by Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Joint Finance Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), would have raised the low-revenue adjustment to $9,800 in the second year of the budget. That adjustment would raise the statewide revenue limit authority by $92.2 million overall.

“I don’t think anybody will dispute the fact that it’s a huge inequality. It’s lack of opportunity. If you’ve got a large district, they’re levying at over $10,000. There’s more opportunities for kids,” Felzkowski said at the time of the Assembly proposal’s release. Looking at school districts like Elkhorn or Merrill, she said, “where their levy limits are locked down at $9,200, they’re struggling to meet the requirements to get these kids into college. The opportunities aren’t there. I don’t think anybody can say that’s fair or that we’re doing a good job.”

Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) praised the Senate plan, which also repeals the state property tax, the personal property tax, and state prevailing wage, and announced that she would support it.

“Our constituents sent us here to hold the line on taxes. This budget does that and more,” Vukmir said in a press release. “Not only are we eliminating the state property tax, but we are also abolishing the personal property tax, which will give much needed relief to small businesses and startups.”

As for school choice, the plan would increase the statewide voucher program’s income limits to 220 percent of the poverty line in 2018-19, or $53,460 annually for a family of four. Under current law, families making up to 185 percent of the poverty line are eligible for the statewide program, far below the 300 percent limit for Milwaukee and Racine. Assembly leadership said in a press release that the Assembly would remain committed to increasing statewide income limits to 300 percent, creating equity across the state.

An estimated 550 more pupils will enroll in the statewide program as a result of the changes. Other changes to the programs include prorating summer school payments for schools, allowing private choice schools to establish virtual education programs, and increasing the public school open enrollment transfer amount by $100 per pupil starting in 2017-18 and again each year until 2020-21.

The Senate plan also removes some bureaucratic barriers to the choice program in the second year of the budget. For example, one regulation says that students can only apply for the Special Needs Scholarship Program if they are first denied from public school open enrollment. Students can only apply for the scholarship if they are currently attending a public school. The Senate proposal does away with both barriers, bringing in an estimated 250 more pupils.

In a May interview with MacIver News Service, Bill Koehn, administrator and head teacher at St. Coletta Day School of Milwaukee, said such rules pose “significant” barriers for families struggling to provide a quality education for their children.

The proposed spending plan also authorizes a state charter school office to create charter schools statewide without the approval of local school boards. Currently, the office is limited to creating the schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

Rather than requiring school districts to verify that employees are paying at least 6 percent towards pension plans and 12 percent towards healthcare, the Senate plan would instead have districts annually report details of employee healthcare plans. The so-called “Act 10 requirement,” a contentious provision introduced in Walker’s budget, is aimed at tracking Act 10 savings across the state and links compliance with Act 10 to increased state aid.

Some will likely be disappointed in Act 10 compliance no longer being linked to additional state aid. However, the reporting requirement is still significant – for the first time, districts will regularly report true Act 10 savings, allowing the public to accurately track the law’s immense impact.

The Senate plan would limit school district referenda to regular election days, except in cases of emergency. That idea is adopted from a legislative package introduced earlier this year by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and was also included in the Assembly Republican plan.

Other changes are less likely to be embraced by the Legislature’s staunch conservatives, including $9.2 million in state spending for laptops for every high school freshman, regardless of income. The program would start in 2018 and would require schools to match $125 contributions in order to receive funding. The Assembly’s K-12 plan also included free laptops for students, but would have started the program one year earlier, to the tune of $18.4 million in the biennium.

The plan pulls back on performance-based funding for Milwaukee’s schools. Walker’s plan would have spent $5.6 million for public, charter, and private choice schools in the City of Milwaukee. Of that, nearly $2 million would be set aside for the best-performing schools, who would receive awards based on their total number of pupils.

Instead, the Senate plan deletes the $2 million allocation for top schools, sending all of the performance-based funding to schools located in failing school districts in addition to any schools in the City of Milwaukee. In order to receive the extra funding, schools would have to develop a school improvement plan targeting math and reading, and must have increased their overall report card score from three years prior.

Walker’s proposal would have eliminated renewal requirements for teacher and administrator licenses, effectively creating so-called “lifetime licenses.” The Senate plan would instead create provisional three-year licenses for new employees, followed by a lifetime license upon the successful completion of six consecutive semesters.

While the Senate plan would spend $24 million more than Walker overall, it cuts back on certain allocations while creating several new programs.

Walker’s plan would have created a new “level” of sparsity aid funding for districts with 745-1,000 pupils or only 10 pupils per square mile, and would have increased current sparsity aid funding by $100 more per pupil. The Senate saves $18 million over Walker’s plan by cutting back on the governor’s proposed changes to sparsity aid, instead providing school districts that have grown too large to receive sparsity aid 50 percent of the funding they received in the prior year.

Brand new allocations include $2 million for a pilot program for shared services, $750,000 in incentives grants for districts that participate in whole grade sharing or who consolidate with other districts, and $1 million for a rural school teacher talent program.

The Senate plan also includes several provisions that had been proposed by Walker but were tossed out by the Joint Finance Committee as non-fiscal policy items. One restored provision would require schools to include more information on annual report cards, such as the number of students participating in early college credit programs, youth apprenticeships, and AP courses offered and credits taken.

July 12, 2017 | By Jessica Murphy

UW-Madison Honors Tariq Ali, Advocate of Socialist Dictators

UW-Madison is bestowing an award to Tariq Ali, a far-left activist with a long history of praising socialist dictators. What’s concerning is his blatant disregard of the current crisis in Venezuela, a degenerative socialist nation with the state-controlled economy in ruins and millions of people starving.

The A.E. Havens Center for Social Justice at UW-Madison, a taxpayer funded entity, selected Marxist journalist, author, and filmmaker Tariq Ali as the recipient of their 2017 Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship Award. The award is presented to those with a “distinguished and extensive record of scholarly achievement in the critical tradition of social thought,” according to the UW.

Ali previously spoke at a Havens Center event in fall of 2007 and will return to UW-Madison’s campus on October 19 for his award lecture entitled “1917-2017: Wars and Revolutions.”

Ali is a British-Pakistani writer who is well known in left-wing activist circles. He has met late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and current President Nicolás Maduro on multiple occasions and has spoken highly of both of them, specifically referencing Chávez’s apparent “victories” in various publications and lectures. He was also invited to speak at the inaugural Hugo Chávez Memorial Lecture in 2014 hosted by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, an organization that supports the tyrannical reigns of Chávez and Maduro.

Ali joined the International Marxist Group in 1968. The International Marxist Group, today known as Socialist Action, is a Trotskyist group based in the United Kingdom that launched various newspapers to spread Marxist ideas. Ali has been writing for the Guardian since the 1970s, is a long-standing editor of New Left Review, is a founder and current vice president of the Stop the War Coalition, and co-wrote the screenplay for South of the Border, a documentary that honors left-wing Latin American leaders such as Chávez. At the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil, Ali was one of the “Group of Nineteen” to sign the Porto Alegre Manifesto, which consists of twelve socialist proposals ranging from implementing an international tax to canceling all debt of developing nations.

In a column for the Guardian, Ali glorifies Chávez’s fight for social rights, the poor, and the underprivileged. In reality, Chávez left a legacy of corruption. His administration was known for exchanging favors and gifts for votes come election time, mismanaged the potentially lucrative oil industry (output fell by almost a third), used oil money for social programs, forced all media stations to cover his speeches under threat of termination, rigged elections so that he could decide who could and couldn’t run, and more.

Chávez’s love of literature was of particular interest, and Ali admired how Chávez distributed a million “free” copies of his favorite book, Don Quixote, to the poor. This act is more self righteous than charitable – people were starving and Chávez cruelly chose to buy a million books that would never be read rather than feed his people. Chances are the books were burned as kindling rather than read. This clearly shows greater passion for his personal ambition than the livelihoods and health of his people – a disconnect between the socialist elite in power and the suffering Venezuelans.

Ironically, Ali commented that Chávez “had a punctilious sense of duty to his people.” Ali couldn’t be more off base considering the tyrannical government led by Chávez lacked any sense of integrity or commitment to its people. Adoration of an ideology should not blind one to the atrocities and suffering real people are enduring.

Ali often calls out western media for portraying the situation in Venezuela as a transition to a communist-style dictatorship, when it’s clear this is exactly what’s happening. Most notably, Chávez usurped all private businesses, effectively taking control over the entire economy. People knew that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they would stay silent and not disagree with the regime. It’s difficult to find dissent when everyone who speaks out is intimidated, threatened, jailed, or killed.

Venezuela, with the world’s largest oil reserves, once had potential to be the richest country in Latin America. Today, the country is in shambles – facing severe food and medicine shortages, looting and violence, deadly mass protests, and a leader who attempts to silence any dissenters by force. Latest estimates of the anti-government protests put the death toll at 90 people, the majority of them under the age of 30. The country is spiraling out of control – people are rationing toothpaste and imprisoned protesters say they are forced to eat raw pasta mixed with human excrement. Apparently this is a socialist’s paradise?

Venezuela is a poignant and relevant example of the failures of socialism. Socialists hide under a façade boasting equality, yet in practice it leads to egregious human rights violations, disintegration of democracy, and extreme poverty. Is this the equality they desire?

The strength and the courage of the Venezuelan people is immeasurable. They withstand threats, beatings, jail, starvation, intimidation, and more, and are still determined to fight. They fight for their lives, for their families, and for a better future.

I reached out to Jorge A. Jraissati, a Venezuelan student activist who has been at the forefront of the protests and fight for freedom in his country. When I told him that the UW intends to give an award to Ali, he commented that it is unfair to give an award to someone who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Jraissati conveys the truth of his experiences and the hardships Venezuelans have endured for years under the socialist dictatorship Ali extols:

“Venezuela is a country sunk in misery, a country in which our people don’t have access to food, medicines, and jobs. Venezuela is a country with no freedom of speech, no human rights, and no opportunities to provide for our families with minimum wage less than $50 per month. A country divided, collapsed, and injured thanks to Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

Jorge Jraissati

Every time I visit the poorest sectors of my country and I see the misery in their lives, I feel disappointment. Chávez betrayed those who believed in him the most; those eager for hope. The people Chávez promised to help are the most exposed to the violence and hunger my country is living at the moment.

Today, we have been fighting for our freedom for three months, and despite the brutal repression of the dictatorship, we will keep fighting. In three months, more than 80 students have been killed by the regime, and more than 3,000 incarcerated.”

In the coming months, Jraissati will be speaking with United Nations officials, in front of the European Parliament, and at various conferences to implore them to take action for the people of Venezuela and denounce the situation in Venezuela internationally.

Why is the University of Wisconsin honoring Ali, who shares anti-West conspiracies in favor of fighting for human freedom in Latin America? Ali is an anti-war activist and speaks out against human rights abuses such as honor killings, but he doesn’t bat an eye when it comes to the human rights violations in Venezuela. It shows a lack of principle to stand for values such as human rights and independence while unabashedly supporting a socialist regime that is violating all of the above. Perhaps current supporters of the socialist Venezuelan regime are too prideful to admit that they were incorrect, and rather than retreat to silence, choose to stick to their guns and support the cruel and power hungry Venezuelan leader regardless of moral qualms.

Maduro’s own administration is revolting. Venezuela’s attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, once loyal to the Maduro regime, is now one of his most outspoken critics. Speaking out in the name of justice and democracy has consequences in Venezuela – Díaz had her assets frozen and was banned from leaving the country last week.

Past recipients of the Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship Award include far-left activists Eduardo Galeano, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn.

Galeano, an Uruguayan historian and writer who openly supported the Bolivarian revolution taking place in Venezuela, also had connections with both Chávez and Maduro. An official statement released by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry after Galeano’s death lamented that “the Venezuelan people will always remember the commitment that Eduardo Galeano always showed towards the Bolivarian Revolution and to our eternal commander, Hugo Chávez.” In honor of his dear comrade, Maduro created a special education plan for fifth and sixth graders to focus on Galeano’s works. His novel about Latin America’s exploitations by the West, The Open Veins of Latin America, gained popularity after Chávez famously offered a copy to Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in 2009.

Chávez considered Chomsky one of his best friends in the west, who commented “what’s so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created.” In 2011, Chomsky raised concerns that Chávez was concentrating too much executive power, which he viewed as a risk to democracy. This story is familiar – the far-left praising a socialist paradise until it starts crumbling, and then they spin the story that it was never truly socialist in the first place.

It is incredibly disheartening to see UW-Madison honor someone who callously disregards human rights violations and proudly supports the chaos, hunger, death, and despair in Venezuela – all for a political ideology.

With all odds against them, Venezuelans remain hopeful and Jorge’s words inspire those fighting for liberty:

“In these difficult times of long nights and great suffering, never stop resisting, never stop believing, and never stop fighting. We will be free.“

If you want to take real action and help Venezuelans, please consider donating to Jorge’s fundraiser for food and medicine.

You can follow Venezuelan activist Jorge Jraissati on twitter (@JraissatiJorge) for updates on their efforts to fight for freedom.

July 7, 2017 | By Brett Healy

ChartSmart: Focus on Milwaukee and School Choice

In our final K-12 edition of ChartSmart, a focus on Milwaukee and school choice in Wisconsin

Welcome back to ChartSmart! After examining funding levels for the Department of Public Instruction over time and diving into student achievement and outcomes, today we hone in on Milwaukee and the school choice programs.

As the state’s biggest and most troubled school district, MPS deserves a bit of special attention. Just 58 percent of MPS students graduate high school in four years – over 30 percent lower than the statewide average. When they do graduate, many students require remedial education upon entering the UW System. However, programs such as open enrollment and the state’s school choice programs allow students and parents options outside the traditional system.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

June 26, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Democrats’ K-12 Plan Would Spend Nearly $730 Million More than Governor

Proposal repackages and adds to parts of Walker’s and Assembly’s already-generous plans, resulting in a massive price tag

Madison, Wis - Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee released their own K-12 education funding plan to counter competing proposals by Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans. The plan would spend $728 million more than Walker’s proposal over two years by eliminating two key tax credits that help keep property taxes at bay.

The proposal, which the four JFC Democrats introduced at a June 22 press conference, takes several ideas from both the Walker and Assembly plans, though it would put more money into nearly every line item.

Democrats propose paying for the spending increase by eliminating the school levy tax credit and the first dollar tax credit, instead sending the over $1 billion the two credits generate through the general school aids formula. The majority of general school aids are funded through the equalization aid formula, sending more money to property-poor districts. General school aids would also increase by $525 million.

Both credits contribute to substantial property tax relief across the state by offsetting local property tax hikes. One Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo estimates that the property tax bill on a median-valued home would fall by $3 in 2017-18 and by $5 in 2018-19, compared to Walker’s plan. However, since the credits are paid on a delayed basis, the impact on property taxes would only be made clear later down the line, though they would almost inevitably increase.

The plan keeps Walker’s proposed per pupil categorical aid increase of $200 per pupil in the first year followed by a $204 increase in the second year. The plan also raises the low-revenue adjustment to $9,500 in the first year and $9,900 in the second. Just a few weeks ago, Assembly Republicans released a plan which would raise the low-revenue adjustment to $9,800 in the second year of the biennium.

The Assembly Republican plan would increase the authority of certain school districts to raise local property taxes by $92.2 million across the state. Combined with an even bigger change to the low-revenue adjustment and the elimination of the two major tax credits, the Democrats’ plan would affect property taxes even more.

Speaking to MacIver News on Friday, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, noted that the Democrats were looking at similar issues, such as per pupil aid and the low-revenue adjustment, but found the final price tag unrealistic.

“It’s really easy to spend money when you don’t have to sign the check,” Olsen said. “It’s sort of like they’re kids at Christmas, picking out everything they want out of the catalogue and knowing that they’ll never have to pay for it.”

The plan would weigh students who are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches more heavily in the funding formula, counting those students as 1.2 pupils rather than 1.0, to send more money to schools with higher rates of poverty. It also increases sparsity aid, high cost pupil transportation aid, and special education aid. The only place where the Democrats’ plan spends less money than the governor as a result of a policy change is in the high poverty aid fund, which it eliminates and sends through the general school aid formula.

The plan would cap enrollment in the state’s school choice programs to 2 percent of each public school district’s pupil enrollment. Under current law, the cap in choice participation is 2 percent per district in the coming 2017-18 school year, after which it increases by 1 percent annually until it is eliminated in 2026. It would also limit participation in the program by dictating that no more than 49 percent of a private school’s enrollment be voucher students.

Other provisions of the plan – such as requiring background checks for choice employees – have already passed the Assembly and Senate floors. Senate Bill 293 requires private choice schools to complete criminal background checks on prospective employees before extending offers of employment. Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) is a co-sponsor of the bill and voted for it. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) voted for the bill after asking if DPI supported it.

Reps. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), the Assembly Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee, both voted against the legislation on the Assembly floor.

June 23, 2017 | By Jessica Murphy

Wisconsin Assembly, U.S. Supreme Court Reaffirm Free Speech

In the case Matal v. Tam, an Asian-American dance-rock band was denied trademark rights to their band name “The Slants” because it was deemed a racial slur. On Monday, the Supreme Court stood up for free speech, striking down the law that allowed “disparaging” trademarks to be blocked by the Patent and Trademark Office. The unanimous 8-0 vote shows that free speech is indeed a nonpartisan issue – something Wisconsin Democrats would do well to learn.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jesse Kremer’s (R-Kewaskum) campus free speech bill passed the Assembly on a 61-36 vote after almost five hours of heated debate. Democrats fought tooth and nail to kill the bill, calling it unconstitutional, a “gag order,” and even anti-free speech.

Some Democrats expressed concerns that the free speech bill would favor conservatives and silence protests against conservative campus speakers. Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that many Democrat legislators argued that free speech is not an issue on UW campuses, apparently tuning out many of the student testimonies delivered at the May 11th public hearing in front of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities.

Students at UW-Oshkosh encouraged people to write on a giant beach ball they were rolling around on campus last fall. This was an effort to promote free speech and raise awareness about campus policies that violate the first amendment. Campus police stopped and questioned the students after receiving complaints of offensive messages on the ball. Officers also took one of the student’s IDs to search for existing warrants.

Since when has exercising the first amendment been a crime?

A UW-Green Bay student recalled an incident from December 2015 when students raising awareness about sexual assault were forcibly removed from the University Union to the “free speech zone” – a small area restricted for speech. The free speech zone at UW-Green Bay is out near the main entrance of the Union, by the bell tower on a small hill, surrounded by bushes, and fenced off from the main walking paths. Lack of access is a concern, but more importantly, that students had no other option than to go outside in the middle of a Wisconsin winter to express themselves reveals a sad state of affairs on our campuses.

Free speech zones do not preserve free speech, but rather limit the reach and stifle the voices of students who wish to hold demonstrations. The constitutionality of speech zones is questionable at best. Many universities and states have passed rules or legislation to ban them, yet UW-Green Bay, UW-Parkside, and UW-Oshkosh have these zones.

The intolerance for different viewpoints is pervasive on college campuses as well, with invited speakers being shouted down, physically assaulted, or banned from speaking. However, there’s a difference between voicing a dissenting opinion and restricting another’s first amendment rights.

This is highlighted by the protest at Ben Shapiro’s speech at UW-Madison in November where protesters jumped on stage and disrupted the event with chants for almost 20 minutes before being escorted out of the room.

Conservative talk show host Vicki McKenna followed the protesters to the lobby and as she was filming, protesters surrounded her, aggressively got in her face, called her a white supremacist, and attempted to knock her phone out of her hand. One even had the audacity to comment that they had to interrupt Shapiro’s speech because “the presence of this event on this campus is violent,” which is ironic considering they were the only ones at the event acting violently.

Some think the UW administration did not reprimand the disruptive student protesters harshly enough. It is clear that these students are in need of a lesson in Free Speech 101. They are evidently unaware that Wisconsin is a one-party consent state, which means that people can film you without your permission. They also have the mindset that throwing a temper tantrum is the most effective means to relay their message.

Their chants of “shame” and “safety” accomplished nothing except making themselves look obnoxious and disrespectful to the students who spent months planning the event. If they have valuable ideas or wish to share dissenting opinions, they should engage with speakers during Q&A or create their own platform.

Is contentious speech protected by the first amendment? Yes. Is protesting protected by the first amendment? Of course. Is attempting to shut down a private event by violating someone else’s speech rights protected by the first amendment? No.

Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) referenced the famous Louis Brandeis quote – “sunlight is the best disinfectant” – in his floor speech to highlight that silencing and disrupting speech you do not agree with does not accomplish anything.

Silencing certain speech, even those deemed as hate speech, will not stop those thoughts from existing. Allowing these ideas to be debated is the only way to effect change. Rather than shielding oneself from differing views, people should embrace them as an opportunity to solidify or tweak their own viewpoints.

In his floor speech, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) summarized attacks on free speech that have happened recently across the nation as well as some of these cases that happened on UW campuses. He went on to encourage his fellow legislators to drop their personal rhetoric because “freedom of speech should know no political divide.”

The Supreme Court decision reiterates an idea that many people, especially some college leftists, seem to have forgotten – you have a right to free speech, but you don’t have the right to not have your feelings hurt. Kudos to the Assembly for following suit and upholding UW students’ first amendment rights.

June 22, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

The Democrats vs. the Department of Public Instruction

On Wednesday, the Assembly passed a long, technical bill making changes to Wisconsin’s school choice programs. If signed into law, choice schools will be required to – for the first time – conduct background checks on employees. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is supportive of the bill and twice testified in favor of it.

And yet, 30 Democrats in the Assembly and five Democrats in the Senate voted against the legislation. Why? Because choice schools like it.

The bill creates a more clear pathway for the Department of Public Instruction to kick schools out of the private choice programs if they commit fraud, fail to provide required financial information, or if they fail to conduct the required background checks. DPI asked for this provision in its budget request.

The legislation also revises the funding formula for the Special Needs Scholarship Program, sending more money to public schools, another idea asked for by DPI.

The required background checks? You guessed it – included in DPI’s budget request. Many of the bill’s provisions were originally requested by DPI but tossed by the Joint Finance Committee as non-fiscal policy items.

At the public hearings and executive sessions in both the Senate and Assembly committees, several Democrats spoke against the bill, asking why it moved so fast and why traditional public schools don’t get that kind of treatment.

Never mind the fact that the Assembly Committee on Education has worked for months cleaning up various program rules for public schools, that those rule changes passed the bipartisan committee unanimously and were also passed by the full Assembly this week.

Never mind that representatives of DPI sat directly in front of each committee, on the testimony stand, explaining why the department asked for the changes.

Never mind that if you eliminate a rule that was a never-before-used, worthless test of “accountability” to begin with, it’s still described by some as removing accountability standards.

It’s too close to those pesky choice programs, so even if it saves our otherwise beloved department time or money, it’s best to take the high road. Or something.

A few legislative sessions and many moons ago, Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee introduced amendment after amendment on the 2013-15 state budget, including one that would require background checks for prospective choice school employees. In a letter to supporters, Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) called those amendments “common sense” motions that would “increase accountability and transparency.”

The very same senator even introduced a standalone bill on the issue. Yet a few years later, given the opportunity to bring the requirement into law, he and four other senators voted against the very same idea. How times change.

June 7, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

MacIver Analysis: The Assembly GOP Education Plan

Madison, Wis. - Late last week, MacIver News Service broke news of a Assembly Republican-led plan for K-12 education spending under the 2017-19 biennial budget. On Tuesday, Republicans formally introduced the proposal to the media.

While the proposal spends over $70 million less in General Program Revenue (GPR) compared to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, the plan’s authors says classroom spending would stay about the same, if not slightly more.

The plan would increase revenue limits for certain school districts. It also does away with a proposed requirement to have school districts certify that employees are paying at least 12 percent of their health care costs.

Under Walker’s budget proposal, the so-called “Act 10 requirement” would ensure that school districts are following the law in requiring their employees to contribute a certain amount towards health care plans. The Assembly plan strips out that idea after months of complaints from school districts across the state.

Other changes to Walker’s education package include one requirement that would limit school district referenda to spring elections or general election days, except in the case of special circumstances such as a natural disaster.

Another provision would create a grant program to fund personal computers for high school freshmen. That would cost $125 per pupil to the tune of $18.4 million over the biennium.

“As Republicans, we have always believed in the idea of local control,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said. “That’s why we have said, if voters need to spend more money inside the classroom or in local governments, we believe they should go to referendum. Under the proposal that Governor Walker has laid out, basically when a local district or a local municipality decides to increase their levy…the state of Wisconsin, through income and sales tax dollars, is buying down that increase.”

Felzkowski ARC plan pull quote.png Speaking with MacIver on Friday, Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) said the Assembly plan would provide more opportunities for children in Wisconsin schools while addressing lowrevenue limits, an issue she says has been a concern for officials around the state for years.

“We’re still putting more money into the classroom that’s spendable, but we’re reallocating it,” Felzkowski said. “It’s a way of giving to even out the opportunity base.”

The plan would increase the low revenue adjustment for school districts to $9,800 per pupil in the second year of the biennium, up from $9,100 under current law and in Walker’s proposal. Statewide, that would increase the ability of low-spending school districts to raise local property taxes by a combined $92.2 million, according to a nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo.

Current law sets revenue limits that dictate how high-spending school districts can levy local property taxes. The system was created in the early 1990s, and Felzkowski says frugal districts that were locked into low rates have since struggled to provide sufficient services for their students.

“I don’t think anybody will dispute the fact that it’s a huge inequality. It’s lack of opportunity. If you’ve got a large district, they’re levying at over $10,000. There’s more opportunities for kids,” Felzkowski said. Looking at school districts like Elkhorn or Merrill, she said, “where their levy limits are locked down at $9,200, they’re struggling to meet the requirements to get these kids into college. The opportunities aren’t there. I don’t think anybody can say that’s fair or that we’re doing a good job.”

Sixty percent of K-12 students in Wisconsin attend low-spending school districts, according to Felzkowski, who said another fiscal memo showed that “54 percent of the districts in the state of Wisconsin would benefit more under our program than the way that Governor Walker has it.”

Under the plan, the Green Bay Area school district would see the biggest funding increase – an estimated $5.9 million increase from the low revenue adjustment, according to a fiscal bureau memo. Many suburban districts in southeast Wisconsin, as well as Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s biggest district, would not see any additional dollars from the change, and would see significantly less categorical aid, compared with Walker’s plan.

The proposal could put Walker’s pledge to lower property taxes every year in danger. While revenue limits aren’t equal across the board, other sources of funding, such as categorical per pupil aid, are. Those funds have allowed school districts to get extra dollars distributed equally, based on enrollment, that don’t affect the property tax base.

The plan pulls back a major increase in the school levy tax credit compared to Walker’s proposal, deleting $35 million from a proposed $87 million allocation in the first year of the biennium, but increasing funding in the second year by $60 million. That credit goes to homeowners and helps keep local property tax levies low.

Under the Assembly plan, property taxes would remain lower than current rates, though not as low as under Walker’s plan. Tax bills on the median household would be $10 higher in 2018 and $11 higher in 2019 compared with Walker’s budget proposal, or $10 lower in each year compared to current tax levels.

Property taxes remain a top priority for Walker, who recently said he would veto a budget with any property tax increase for homeowners.

In order to help pay for the increased revenue limits, the Assembly plan would cut back on some of Walker’s proposed increases for per pupil categorical aid.

The Assembly plan proposes increasing that pot of money by $150 per pupil in 2018 and by another $200 in 2019. Walker’s plan would have increased per pupil aid by $200 in the first year, and $204 in the second. Overall, the increase to per pupil aid is significant compared to the current budget – the Assembly plan would spend $418 million more than current levels on per pupil aid alone.

General school aids, largely distributed through the equalization formula to help more property-poor districts, are increased by $102.8 million across the biennium in the plan compared to current spending levels. That would be a $30 million increase to Walker’s suggested spending.

The Assembly plan doesn’t make significant changes to any of Wisconsin’s private school choice programs, though current law requires any per pupil aid increases also go to those students. For that reason, parental choice students wouldn’t receive as much funding as under Walker’s plan.

New school choice enrollment numbers have thrown off some of the numbers in Walker’s budget, originally proposed in February. Since then, re-estimates show 800 more students are expected to participate in 2018, and 1,200 more in 2019. For that reason, total spending on the school choice program will increase compared over the two-year budget cycle.

Some in the Senate, including Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), have said they hope to see more significant changes to Wisconsin’s school choice programs in this budget.

“The State Senate remains committed to fully funding K-12 education as Governor Walker proposed in his administrative budget,” Fitzgerald wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “We will continue to look for ways to support low spending districts, but a proposal that both raises taxes and picks winners and losers within our school districts is a move away from the position of both the Governor and the Senate Republican caucus. The Assembly package that was endorsed today is simply not the direction the budget is headed.”

As for Felzkowski, the tough decisions Wisconsin made in the past few years have allowed for significant investments this time around. The issue of revenue limits has been around for years, and it won’t likely go away soon.

“We just felt that this was the time that we needed to bring up those low-spending districts. With this amount of dollars going into education, this is really the primetime for us to be able to do it,” she said.

“We just have to make sure that all kids have opportunities and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

June 6, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Wisconsin Average ACT Score Falls, but Participation up by Half

Other numbers in the fresh data release: enrollment continues to fall, more students are taking AP exams

(ALL THE IMAGES ON THIS LINK ARE BROKEN)

Madison, Wisc. - More than 92 percent of 2016 Wisconsin high school graduates took the ACT exam, according to a new dataset released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The average score among the graduating class of 2016 was 20.3 out of a possible 36 points.

That’s down from the class of 2015, which scored an average of 22.1. However, participation rates hovered below 64 percent that year. In 2016, nearly 20,000 more students took the exam compared to the year prior, nearly a 46 percent increase.

The new data also includes information on enrollment for the 2016-17 school year. New information on the 2015-16 school year includes ACT Aspire scores, attendance and dropout data, as well as AP exam scores. Graduation rates for the 2015-16 school year have not yet been released and are expected to be forthcoming within the next few weeks.

This was the second year that ACT Aspire scores have been reported. That exam, administered to high school freshmen and sophomores, tests college readiness before those students take the ACT exam for their college applications.

Proficiency rates stayed mostly steady on the ACT Aspire, dropping 0.4 percentage points for English but increasing 0.5 points in math over last year. When examining college readiness, 60.4 percent of 9th and 10th graders earned scores of “exceeding” or “ready” on English, while 38.9 percent of students tested achieved the same level in math.

Students in Milwaukee Public Schools had lower rates of college readiness on the ACT Aspire exam compared to students statewide. Just 10.2 percent of MPS students showed readiness in math, up slightly from 9.6 percent the year prior. Nearly one-third – 31.7 percent – of MPS students showed readiness in English.

MPS students also had higher rates of truancy and dropouts compared to the statewide averages. Across the state, the dropout rate was 1.5 percent in 2015-16. At MPS, that number was 7.2 percent. It also grew more steeply compared to the statewide rate. Statewide attendance and dropout rates have largely stayed steady over the past five years – in 2015-16, the statewide attendance rate was 94.9 percent. That’s the exact same number as four years prior, though it has wavered slightly in the years between.

One bright spot for MPS? A larger percentage of students who graduated in 2016 took the ACT – 95.3 percent in all. That’s 3.2 percentage points higher than the statewide average. MPS students clearly struggle more when it comes to proficiency, but any efforts to help ensure more students take the test are positive.

The average ACT composite score for MPS students was 16.1. Over in Madison, the average score was 21.4.

Total pupil enrollment fell slightly, from 867,137 students in the 2014-15 school year to 863,881, continuing a trend of slowly declining public school enrollment statewide.

Also, more students across the state took AP exams compared to the year prior, though the percent of students earning scores of three or higher fell. In the 2015-16 school year, 15.4 percent of students took an AP exam, compared to 14.4 percent in the year prior. Sixty-five percent of exam takers earned a three or higher, down from 66 percent in the previous year.

An AP score of three or more typically means the student will receive college credit for the exam. At UW System schools, that typically amounts to three credits, depending on the subject. An even higher score can earn students more credits.

At press time, a DPI spokesman had not returned a call seeking comment on the data release.

June 2, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle and Ola Lisowski

GOP Assembly Education Package Spends $100M Less Than Walker Plan

Statewide property taxes would go down – $10 – but lower-spending districts would be allowed to raise property taxes by $92 million

[Madison, Wis…] Assembly Republicans are pushing a K-12 funding plan that cuts Gov. Scott Walker’s state education spending proposal by more than $100 million, raising property taxes slightly compared to the governor’s budget and cutting spending to private school choice to get there, according to legislative documents obtained by MacIver News Service.

At a press conference in Fitchburg, Walker said Monday he was concerned that the proposal could raise property taxes.

“Bottom line is, I don’t want to see property taxes go up.”

Walker’s education spending plan proposes a $648 million increase over the next biennium, which delighted the public education establishment.

The GOP Assembly plan still significantly increases K-12 spending, just not as much as Walker’s generous proposal. Some fiscal hawks in the Legislature have voiced concerns about the governor’s generosity to a public education system marked by widespread failure in Milwaukee and other areas of the state.

More so, the Assembly proposal frees up $100 million that could – and most likely will – find its way into other priorities, particularly the state’s troubled Department of Transportation.

The GOP Assembly plan cuts $23.7 million from Walker’s education spending blueprint in 2017-18, and $76.4 in 2018-19, according to a review by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Republicans would add $20 million to Walker’s proposed increase in general school aids in 2017-18 and another $10 million in 2018-19. Overall, the plan would increase general aids nearly $103 million over the biennium – $20 million in the first year, $82.8 million in the second, compared to the base budget.

The plan also attempts to reward frugal school districts. It raises the annual low revenue adjustment at $9,800 per pupil beginning in 2018-19, up from $9,100 per pupil. Statewide, the increase would generate an extra $92.9 million in revenue limit authority used by school districts. Another memo authored by LFB describes potential changes by school district, according to the Assembly proposal.

State Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, said the Assembly plan is simply reallocating aid to districts she says have been locked out by 25-year-old revenue limits. She pointed to GOP Assembly estimates that show 54 percent of districts would benefit more under the proposal compared to the governor’s K-12 plan.

The GOP proposal slices $35 million from Walker’s proposed $87 million increase in the school levy tax credit distribution in the first tax year, lowering the overall increase to $52 million. Compared to current budget base, the Assembly Republican plan would provide an additional $60 million above the $87 million increase. Levy credits are paid on a delayed basis, so the proposal would cut general fund expenditures by $35 million in 2018-19 and hike spending by $60 million in 2019-20, compared to Walker’s budget proposal.

Walker’s budget is more generous in per pupil aid. The Assembly plan would raise the categorical per pupil aid payment from $250 this budget year to $400 in 2017-18 and $600 the following fiscal year. Walker’s plan calls for $450 per pupil in the first year of the biennium and $654 in the second. It comes with a carrot and stick. Schools districts would have to certify they are following the employee health care provisions of Act 10.

A top Senate Republican rejected that alteration in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal.

“We are sticking with the governor’s (proposed per-pupil increase). That is nonnegotiable,” Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said. Olsen is a member on JFC as well as the chair of the Senate Committee on Education.

Walker’s per pupil spending increases, however, are tied to his plan to move public employees to a state health insurance plan, estimated to save at least $60 million. Assembly Republicans have all but rejected the self-insurance idea.

The GOP Assembly plan would cut per pupil aid by a total of $42.7 million in the first year of the biennium, and $48.1 million in the second year, compared to Walker’s plan. That is assuming maximum per pupil payments would be provided to all districts under both Walker’s plan and the Assembly proposal, according to the LFB memo.

Because the state’s school choice program is tied to the hip of the public education funding formula, school choice takes a cut under the Assembly plan.

Re-estimated enrollment in the statewide private school choice program is projected to increase by $6.17 million in 2017-18 and $9.52 million in 2018-19 compared to Walker’s proposal. But revenue limit adjustments and associated aid reductions and levy for the program are estimated to increase by nearly $6 million in the first year, and $11.47 million in the second, according to LFB. Parental Choice comes out with an increase in funding, just not nearly as much as the program would under Walker’s plan.

Property taxes would still decrease slightly, in the first year, under the Assembly budget proposal, but it would increase the property tax on the median-valued home by $10 and $11 over Walker’s budget proposal, according to LFB. The net levy would decrease under the Assembly proposal, by $10 to $2,842 in the first year of the biennium, holding flat in the second year.

The governor said he would be willing to make concessions in his budget as long as his priorities are maintained, including funding increases for K-12 education, fixing the troubled Department of Transportation, and holding the line on taxes.

JFC Co-Chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also said she wouldn’t support the proposal. Walker has been promoting his budget’s proposed $649 million increase in state aids for months, and walking back from that increase will be tough, Darling said.

Despite their hesitations for the overall package, both Darling and Olsen said they were supportive of the concept of raising levy limits for low-spending districts.

“I give them credit for looking at how to get money into the lower-spending districts and I agree with the strategy but I mentioned to them, usually you need new money,” Darling said. “Taking money away from other districts is usually a big issue. That will be a very tough call for most in our (Senate) caucus.”

For his part. JFC Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, also expressed support for the concept, though he didn’t commit to a position on the proposal, calling it a “work in progress.”

“I think the concept of it is something we generally support – to put more of our resources back toward schools that have actually been held back over the years.”

May 30, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Study of Studies: Research Shows Positive Results for Voucher Students

A new review of 22 major voucher studies has found that the majority of studies nationwide found positive effects on students in private school choice programs. The report, titled “The Wisconsin Role in the School Choice Movement,” was released in conjunction with the Tommy@30 event on May 23, celebrating former Governor Tommy Thompson.

Of the 22 studies surveyed by researchers John F. Witte and Patrick J. Wolf, 13 showed positive educational effects for voucher students compared to control public school students. Five studies found no statistical effects, and four found negative effects.

The report highlights two major studies that compare outcomes for students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Study I was conducted from 1990 to 1995, and Study II began in 2006 and is partially still ongoing. The researchers write that the latter is considered to be superior, as it had a larger study sample, stronger statistical methods and more available resources.

Neither study found statistically significant differences in test scores between traditional public and voucher students, but a lookcollege attendance Tommyat30 pullquote.png into other important outcomes such as graduation rates and attainment shows positive results for choice students. Compared to their public school counterparts, choice students graduated high school and attended four-year colleges at higher rates. The colleges that MPCP graduates attended also “appeared to be of higher status,” the according to the report.

Just 21 percent of MPS students surveyed attended a four-year college, compared to 27 percent of MPCP students. That amounts to a near-30 percent increase in the likelihood of college attendance for choice students.

Voucher students were also more likely to continue into their sophomore year of college, boding well for degree attainment.

Behavior outcomes, often considered “soft measures” compared to hard numbers such as test results and graduation rates, show positive results in both Milwaukee-focused studies. Parent surveys revealed much stronger satisfaction with their child’s education among voucher families than those in the public school control group.

Parents that sought vouchers consistently named education quality, teacher quality, and superior discipline and safety in private schools as the most important factors in their decisions. They also reported higher satisfaction on “almost all dimensions of schooling – the largest difference being in the areas of highest priority they list for why thparent satisfaction pullquote.pngey sought vouchers – educational and teacher quality and discipline in the school” compared to public school parents surveyed.

MPCP families tended to have lower incomes than MPS families, but had higher education levels and were more religious.

The report delves into a brief history of MPCP’s beginnings and highlights the subsequent spread of voucher programs to other states. The overall survey of 22 different studies includes research on programs all over the country.

One study, focused on D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, found remarkable results for voucher students. While 70 percent of public school students surveyed graduated high school in four years, 91 percent of students who used a voucher achieved the same.

Other reports released in conjunction with the Tommy@30 project include research on the Wisconsin Works program as well as other economic reforms championed by former Governor Tommy Thompson.

May 25, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

JFC Continues Tuition Freeze, Rejects 5% Tuition Cut at UW System

The budget also calls for an independent audit of the UW System

Madison, Wis. - The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) voted along party lines to continue the University of Wisconsin System tuition freeze in the 2017-19 state budget, opting to reject Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 5 percent tuition cut for the 2018-19 academic year.

The committee was originally scheduled to take up portions of the UW System budget on Tuesday, May 23, but co-chairs Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said that the Senate and Assembly had not come to an agreement on the tuition cut. Neither house wanted to raise tuition, but Nygren said that the Assembly was not sold on the idea of cutting tuition across the board to the tune of $35 million.

Instead, the committee voted to strip the $35 million allocated for the tuition cut and spJFC UW System pull quote.pngend it on other initiatives, including a new engineering school at UW-Green Bay and $3 million for the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership on the Madison campus. That project was announced Wednesday by legislative leaders alongside UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank.

Walker’s proposal would have sent nearly $2.2 billion to the System over the two-year budget period, a $77 million increase from the prior budget. On Thursday, JFC agreed to send the system $36 million more compared to the last budget, a $42.5 million cut from Walker’s proposal.

The most contentious provision by far was the governor’s plan to cut tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 academic year. On Wednesday, Walker indicated he would be open to eliminating the cut and continuing the freeze, calling it a win for students regardless.

For the second straight budget, JFC included a provision calling for a full independent audit of the UW System. It also prohibits the Board from transferring any funds to the UW-Oshkosh Foundation unless that transfer is first approved by JFC. That’s following a scandal at the Oshkosh campus in which administrators are alleged to have funneled millions of dollars into the financially troubled Foundation for university building projects.

Another major policy change involves a plan to move System schools to performance-based funding, a model that would reward schools’ funding based on outcomes on state priorities such as success in the state workforce and efficiency. The Governor’s proposal would have spent $42.5 million over two years on the initiative, which would then be distributed based on a formula created by the Board of Regents.

Instead, Joint Finance opted to cut down the total amount spent on performance-based funding to $26.25 million, a $16.25 million cut from the Governor’s proposal. The plan also gives more flexibility to the Board of Regents in deciding what kinds of performance measures best apply to the universities.

Under the governor’s proposal, the Board would be charged with coming up with a formula for distributing funds based on five major state priorities: affordability and attainment, student success in the state workforce, work readiness, efficiency, and service.

JFC voted to change the state priorities to 1) grow and ensure student access, 2) improve and excel at student progress and completion, 3) expand contributions to the workforce, and 4) enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness. The Board will also be charged with identifying at least four metrics to measure progress on those goals.

Rather than being approved by the Secretary of the Department of Administration, as under the governor’s proposal, JFC will approve the plan, which the Board of Regents must submit by Feb. 15, 2018.

Co-chairs Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said the committee would approve a provision to increase UW employee salaries by 2 percent in 2018 and again in 2019, but did not vote on that measure on Thursday. It will be taken up on another day. The wage adjustments would cost $11.6 million over the biennium.

The motion passed by JFC on Thursday includes the governor’s proposal to increase the number of UW Flexible Option programs, though it modifies his plan slightly. The governor’s plan would have increased the programs available through the UW Flexible Option by at least 50 percent by Dec. 1, 2019. Instead, the Board of Regents must ensure that the number of options increases by at least 25 percent.

According to the Flexible Option website, the program is “made for busy adults” and is catered towards individuals who want to get their degrees but may already be working full time, supporting a family, or otherwise unable to attend traditional college courses.

The plan also deletes a requirement that at least one program assist certified nursing assistants in becoming registered nurses. It requires the Regents to ensure at least one UW System School of Education partner with a school district to develop a teacher residency program by Dec. 1, 2019.

JFC’s omnibus motion also includes $5 million in state money for UW institutions to increase enrollments in high demand degree programs. The funds would be distributed to individual institutions on a competitive basis involving requests for proposals.

Among other line items approved by the committee: nearly $1 million more for the UW Carbone Cancer Center and $10,000 in GPR for the UW System to review and revise policies related to academic freedom.

The budget includes several initiatives to assist veterans. A remission of tuition and fees for certain children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans is included, as well as an exemption from nonresident tuition for certain Wisconsin National Guard members. The UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System will also be required to approve academic credit for military training.

The budget includes significant re-estimates for tuition revenues and positions compared to the governor’s proposal put forth in February, freeing up more than $200 million in general revenue. The budget also approves a UW System request to delete over 222 state-funded university staff positions.

In March, JFC threw out all non-fiscal policy items from the budget proposal, which means if those provisions are to pass, they must be introduced as separate legislation. Some of the governor’s more innovative new policy proposals were part of that group, including one that would require UW institutions to create pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of undergraduate programs by 2018 and for 60 percent of programs by 2020.

One proposal tossed by JFC would have allowed students to opt-out of paying segregated fees. That idea made its way back into the UW motion, though slightly altered. Instead, the Board of Regents will be required to ensure that the classification of allocable and non-allocable segregated fees are consistent across campuses. The Board will submit those policies to JFC for passive review, and will not be allowed to increase allocable segregated fees at any institution unless approved by JFC.

Only one proposal that was pulled from the UW System’s budget has been re-introduced as separate stand-alone legislation, championed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). That measure seeks to protect free speech at UW Campuses. Assembly Bill 299, which would increase penalties for students who physically block or stop visiting speakers from speaking on campus, had a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities in early May. An executive session has not yet been scheduled.

May 25, 2017 | By Jessica Murphy

Four Years After the Slush Fund Scandal: Where Does the UW Stand?

Today, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) will vote on the 2017-19 UW System budget. One key concern that will reappear in this decision – the millions in surplus funds that the UW System has left almost untouched, even after the legislature’s requirement to spend more of this “slush fund.”

The UW System came under fire in 2013 after members of the CPA Caucus uncovered a hidden $1 billion “slush fund” made up of program revenue (PR) balances. Legislators were livid that the UW System continued to increase tuition and ask for more state funding if they had these surplus funds hidden away. What do these balances look like today?

In their report on the UW System (FY 2015-16) released in April of 2017, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee highlights a rather large Program Revenue (PR) balance in the UW System. The total PR balance increased from $1.182 billion in FY 2015 to $1.188 billion in FY 2016 – a 0.5% growth.

You read that right – four years after being required to start spending down the slush fund, or unrestricted PR reserves, the total balance actually grew in the last year. That’s why it’s still important to ask for an independent, comprehensive audit of the entire UW System.

The report also notes that unrestricted program revenue – which includes tuition, auxiliary operations, general operations, other unrestricted program revenue, and federal indirect cost reimbursement – has decreased by $40.6 million from 2015 to 2016. This unrestricted revenue is the value of the so-called “slush fund,” which amounted to $883.3 million at the end of FY 2016.

It seems as though the UW System is taking steps to bring down the surplus funds, but considering it still has $883.3 million cash on hand, there’s still plenty of room to improve. For perspective, this slush fund value is equivalent to more than 85 percent of the state support given to the UW in FY 16.

Below is a graph of the total program revenue values, broken down by unrestricted and restricted balances. Before the CPA Caucus discovered the surplus funds in 2013, there was no official reporting system to track the UW System program revenue.

Note: Unrestricted program revenue balances are different from our past coverage for FY 2012 and FY 2013 due to a change in UW System reporting policies. The values presented here come from the latest Legislative Fiscal Bureau Informational Paper, published in January 2017.

Since the scandal broke in 2013, UW System officials have continued to argue that they only have access to unrestricted program revenue and that the majority of those funds are set aside for specific projects already. The UW System has an incentive to manipulate these numbers – the smaller their surplus funds, the stronger case they can make for more state funding to the UW.

After discovering the slush fund, the Wisconsin Legislature took action and created a set of rules and guidelines for the UW System to follow to improve financial transparency. The Board of Regents was officially required to create a reporting method for program revenue balances with Act 20, the 2013-15 biennium budget bill. They adopted policy 21-6, which requires any UW institution with balances over 12 percent of their expenditures to submit a spending plan and any university running a deficit to submit a cost savings plan.

These surplus funds were the main impetus for Gov. Scott Walker’s tuition freeze that began in 2013, as well as a number of budget cuts made that same year. The logic behind this was if the UW System has such robust balances, they can afford to pay for new initiatives themselves rather than riding on the back of the taxpayers. If the UW System has healthy balances and money laying around, then why do they continue to cry poverty and beg the state for more funding?

“More than 2/3 of this surplus was generated by unjustified tuition increases over the last three years. In other words, [then-UW President] President [Kevin] Reilly and the Board of Regents knowingly jacked-up tuition by 16.5% on Wisconsin families over three years even though the funds weren’t needed. These actions are nothing short of a betrayal of the public trust,” then-Representative Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) commented after the slush fund discovery in 2013.

The report indicates that the UW System’s net position, a measure of the overall financial condition, decreased slightly – $6.7 billion to $6.6 billion from FY 2015 to FY 2016. The UW System may try to use this as leverage to obtain more state funding, but this small change was largely attributed to new pension accounting standards.

There are still some flaws with the reporting system, as the LAB noted there are inconsistencies in program revenue values due to some universities incorrectly categorizing certain balances.

For the 2017-19 Operating Budget, the Board of Regents requested $42.5 million biennially in GPR for their “2020FWD” initiatives. Overall, Gov. Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget would send $2.2 billion in GPR to the UW System across the biennium.

MacIver will keep you posted as Joint Finance Committee deliberations continue this week.

May 25, 2017 | By M.D. Kittle

UW-Oshkosh Foundation Scandal Raises Questions About 'Cozy' Foundation Relationships

[Madison, Wis…] – As a financial scandal envelopes the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Foundation and former university administrators, a UW System official says internal reviews have not found similar problems with the state’s other university foundations.

“Oshkosh is different,” said system spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis.

But one Capitol insider asserts the “Oshkosh problem” is part of a broader, troubling trend, a change of mission among the university foundations driven by chancellors who refuse to take no for an answer.

One thing is certain: Lawmakers like Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, aren’t convinced the system is telling the full story about the scope of the foundation scandal.

“The system wants to do it all internally,” said Nass spokesman, Mike Mikalsen. “We have chancellors that have issues, and the system does nothing to deal with these guys…There is no control in the system on these chancellors.”

Mikalsen said lawmakers are eagerly awaiting the results of an audit next month into the state’s university foundations for a fuller picture of what has gone down.

Nass has been a vocal critic of what he sees as a potential taxpayer-funded bailout of the troubled UW-Oshkosh Foundation. His spokesman said Nass will hold Attorney General Brad Schimel accountable for any deal that hurts the state’s most important stakeholder.

“The (Department of Justice) has this mentality that the UW Board of Regents is our client. Steve says, ‘No, your first client is the taxpayers of Wisconsin,” Mikalsen said. “This payout has a stench to it.”

UW-Oshkosh’s private fundraising foundation is under water by a reported $14 million-plus on several real estate projects now being investigated by Schimel’s agency. The Department of Justice has been negotiating a settlement on behalf of the Board of Regents. The system is concerned that millions of dollars in school scholarships and other UW-Oshkosh programs could be hit hard should the foundation fail and its assets are frozen.

Nass in a letter to UW System President Ray Cross last week wrote that the Legislature may have to act on a relief package through the budget process, but he warned against pushing a “bailout that benefits the private foundation and the banks/investors involved at the expense of the taxpayers or students.”

In January, the system sued former UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner on allegations of funneling millions of dollars in university cash through the private foundation.

Sonnleitner, who retired in January 2016 after 16 years of leading the university’s special projects, has said UW officials previously did not object to his activities “and that he was acting in good faith while pursuing funding for five high-profile development projects,” according to the Oshkosh Northwestern.

Wells retired in January, as news of the scandal was beginning to break.

'Different Circumstances'

Marquis said administrators from other system schools have not been found to have guaranteed foundation building projects with university money or illegally transferred university funds into the foundation for real estate projects, as is alleged in the UW-Oshkosh case.

“These are very different circumstances,” the system spokeswoman said.

She pointed to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Real Estate Foundation as a perfect example of legally functioning foundation partnerships.

In July 2012, the Board of Regents entered into a lease agreement with the Real Estate Foundation, according to footnote 11 of the system’s 2016 annual financial report. Why the information is included in the 2016 report is not clear. The nonprofit received University of Wisconsin System land in Platteville to construct a residence hall.

The state Department of Administration and the foundation then struck a lease deal in June 2013 for UW-Platteville’s use of the reported $22.5 million residence hall and dining facility. The agreement began in August of that year and includes annual rental payments of $2.5 million to the foundation. The lease includes an option to buy the property.

In recent testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee, Cross and Regent Michael Grebe, noted that such agreements are allowable under law. They said UW-Platteville foundation is a perfect example and said UW-Milwaukee rents space from its foundation in the university’s research park.

“These agreements were approved by the Department of Administration, and we also take projects through the State Building Commission process as needed.”

'Playthings' and 'Petty Cash'

While the process may be legal, Mikalsen said the UW-Platteville deal in particular is “messy.” Lawmakers are awaiting the audit, expected to be released in mid-June, to figure out the potential system “entanglements” with the various foundations, he said.

The overarching issue, the foundational problem, Mikalsen said, is that the foundations have become the emergency option for building project funding after the Legislature and the UW System has said no.

“Chancellors aren’t people who like to hear, ‘No,'” Nass’ spokesman said. “These are end runs around the process.”

A 2013 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explained how UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields called on the foundation to realize a university development project that would have taken much longer to complete through the normal state building process.

“UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay also have constructed residence halls through university foundations with private money,” the story noted. “It’s a faster, more cost-effective way to build a residence hall because it can be self-supporting with students paying to live there, Shields said.”

But the agreements raise questions about accountability and liability for taxpayers, as is the case at UW-Oshkosh and nightmare student housing projects at UW-Marshfield/Wood County and UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.

In his testimony, Cross said the UW System financial staff performed a query for any payment issued to a foundation. “The query identified 2,072 financial payments from a UW institution to its affiliated foundation over the last seven years.

“Of those 2,072 payments, 377 transactions were either valued at $5,000 or more – or totaled $5,000 or more in a fiscal year. We looked at the documentation for all 377 transactions. 1,141 of the total 2,072 financial payments were valued at less than $500. In fact, 796 of them were for $200 or less and averaged $83.42.”

Mikalsen said foundations were supposed to be created for the benefit of students, particularly to make money available for scholarships. Instead, they are increasingly being used as a way to get around the state approval process. He said the private foundations have been “playthings,” providing “petty cash to chancellors.”

“What we have seen more and more are these leases, buildings, builders not paying their contractors,” he said. “If we allow this to happen, Oshkosh is going to be the first of many more that could go bad … “

University foundation critics say they want to see reforms to the system. They want an end to the possibility of university staff members working for foundations. They want full financial accountability from foundation boards. And they want to end what Mikalsen describes as the “cozy relationships” of chancellors with foundations.

“Some of these foundations are paying chancellors money to do fundraising,” he said. There’s nothig illegal about that, but it certainly creates some perception problems, Mikalsen said.

The Board of Regents has called for more stringent reporting standards. The system now requires that affiliated foundations provide their annual financial statements.

Foundations that receive annual contributions of more than $500,000 must now submit an independent audit, according to the UW System.

Why the District Attorney Stepped Aside

While we’re getting a better picture of what happened in the UW-Oshkosh Foundation scandal, it’s not been publicly clear why the local prosecutor’s office stepped aside from the case.

The state Department of Justice has been looking into the troubled real estate deals between UW-Oshkosh and the nonprofit foundation. Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office reportedly is negotiating a possible settlement on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, even as the system alleges in a lawsuit that former Oshkosh

Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner funneled more than $11 million in UW-Oshkosh funds through the foundation – to help pay for the building projects. System officials also allege the administrators financially guaranteed the foundation-led projects in violation of the law.

Winnebago County District Attorney Christian Gossett tells MacIver News Service that he and his agency walked away from the investigation because of conflicts of interest, perceived or otherwise.

The district attorney’s office has worked closely with the former chancellor and the university in creating a safe zone around the UW-Oshkosh campus. Gossett said his office has also partnered with the university on diversion programs. And Oshkosh’s economics department runs the studies that measure the effectiveness of the programs.

“When I was alerted to the investigation that was taking place I was asked if there would be any conflicts with our office or if it should be referred to the attorney general’s office,” he said. “I told them right away it was something our office should stay off of.”

May 22, 2017 | By Jessica Murphy

Top Five Wasteful Classes in the UW System

Here at the MacIver Institute, we’re dedicated to keeping you – the taxpayer – informed about wasteful spending at all levels of government. If you look closely, you can find questionable line items and waste in just about any arm of government. That’s why we’re skeptical of the constant drumbeat for higher taxes, bigger government, and of course, more and more spending.

Considering the UW System’s never-ending cycle of demands for more state funding, one would hope that they are responsibly spending your tax dollars before they ask for more.

The MacIver Institute decided to dive deeper into the UW system to find places where frivolous spending runs rampant and where cost savings can be found. Our first stop: course offerings in the UW System.

What we found were courses that degrade capitalism, praise Marxism and encourage a “social justice warrior” ideology. We wonder how many employers in the real world are looking to see if you took a class in how to be perpetually aggrieved or permanently pissed at the world?

Check out our list of the Top Five Wasteful Classes in the UW System to see if your school made the cut! We start with number five and make our way to the single most wasteful class in the UW System.

5. Teaching for Social Justice -- UW-Superior

We start with this philosophy course offered at UW-Superior, which trains the teachers of tomorrow in social justice ideology. One of the main goals of the course is for students to reflect on their privilege and marginalization. Students also review how meritocracy – and the American Dream – is a myth. Why work hard to achieve your dreams if you can blame sex/race/class/sexuality for your lack of success?

A portion of the participation grade is based on whether or not students were inclusive and supported other students expressing their thoughts. This is college, not charm school – and these students (and taxpayers!) are essentially paying hundreds of dollars for a course on how to be nice to people.

For the course final, students write a 5-6 page paper about the purpose of education, why an education is valuable, and related topics. This is ironic considering the course itself provides little real value to the students enrolled.

One of the required readings, Chad Kautzer’s “Radical Philosophy: An Introduction,” reviews Marxism, feminism, queer theory, and more. Students are asked to call upon this book for the group presentation, which makes up 15 percent of the total grade.

The course instructor, professor Sarah LaChance Adams, is UW-Superior’s Women’s and Gender Issues Coordinator. She specializes in feminist philosophy and her current research project is titled “An Epistemology of Erotic Errors.”

4. The History and Politics of Hip Hop -- UW-Platteville

This course satisfies the Ethnic Studies requirement for graduation (ETHNSTDY 2100) and focuses on hip hop as a “cultural phenomenon that has influenced America and the entire world.” Throughout the course, students explore the origins, political economy, and global and domestic influence of hip hop.

Selected readings include “Why White Kids Love Hip Hop,” “Scared Straight: Hip Hop, Outing, and the Pedagogy of Queerness,” and “Love Feminism, But Where’s My Hip Hop.”

This course obviously appeals to college students (who doesn’t love hip hop?), but it is a reach to claim that the course merits public funding. How does the UW System have the audacity to ask for more money if they still offer courses like this?

3. Exploring White Privilege -- UW-La Crosse

Similar to the controversial UW-Madison course “The Problem with Whiteness,” this course (ERS 325) operates under the assumption that all white people are racist, but most just haven’t realized it yet. Course objectives include confronting personal denials of white privilege, developing strategies to confront racism, and “deconstructing the conscious and unconscious ways white privilege shapes our views, thoughts, and actions.”

Students complete a “What Does It Mean to Be White?” project (10 percent of the final grade) for which they take photos of at least five different “concepts related to whiteness,” interview someone to document “what it means to be white,” and synthesize their work into a 4-6 page analysis.

Required and recommended readings include “White Man’s Guilt,” “Overt vs. Covert White Supremacy Pyramid,” “Hey White Guys,” and “Conservative Money Front is Behind Princeton’s ‘White Privilege’ Guy.”

The professor, Dr. Audrey Elegbede, writes in the course syllabus that while students are “expected to understand the ideas and arguments presented…this does not mean that they are expected to agree with all of the points of view discussed.”

2. Culture of Third Wave Feminism -- UW-Eau Claire

Our next finalist for wasteful UW classes brings us to the Women’s Studies department at Eau Claire. The Culture of Third Wave Feminism (WMNS 210) fulfills two of the Liberal Education Core Learning Outcomes required for graduation.

For one class assignment, students perform a “positive, pro-feminist act” and share with the class – for 10 percent of the final grade. But sure, the UW is stretched thin.

Other assignments include watching an episode of Sex and the City and reading about “lumbersexuality” – defined by Urban Dictionary as a metrosexual man posing to be a rugged lumberjack in order to “capture lost or missing masculinity due to being emasculated by things such as his childhood environment.”

The course also delves into white privilege and students are required to attend a “Recognizing Privilege” workshop, watch videos like “How Privileged Are You?,” and take the “Privilege Test” on Buzzfeed. That’s right, this professor thinks a Buzzfeed quiz is the most appropriate medium to further the students critical thinking and reasoning skills.

But sure – there’s absolutely no room to absorb cuts at the UW. None at all.

That brings us to our number one most wasteful class in the UW System. Drumroll, please…

1. Class, State, and Ideology: An Introduction to Social Science in the Marxist Tradition -- UW-Madison

In first place – the UW System’s most wasteful class – is this graduate level course (SOC 621) taught by the infamous Dr. Erik Olin Wright. The syllabus – 31 pages long with over 40 pages of supplementary topics – details how capitalism is evil and highlights the Marxist terms and concepts the students will review over the course of the semester.

Students are taught that the point of Marxism is to “transform the world in ways that increase the possibility of human emancipation.” Is that why people desperately flee socialist and communist countries to the safe haven of their capitalist counterparts?

Topics to be covered include the “analysis of gender relations and male domination,” “socialism and emancipation,” and Marxist class analysis. Throughout the syllabus, Dr. Wright attacks capitalism in a way typical of socialists.

He alleges that capitalism is environmentally destructive and “irrational in ways that hurt nearly everyone.” At one point, Wright argues that Marxism is both gender and race blind, yet later he calls out white capitalists specifically:

This one-sided account of capitalism seems to ignore all of the benefits reaped throughout the centuries thanks to capitalism and the free market. Wright argues that the free market causes people to suffer for no fault of their own, when in reality it causes people to flourish. Capitalism has saved and improved millions of lives through the innovation of products and services such as solar powered food dehydrators, water purification straws, refrigerators, penicillin, airplanes, and Uber. What are the chances these successes are accredited to capitalism in this course? My bet is slim to none.

One common critique by students in the course is that it’s less about Marxism and more about “Wrightism,” as Dr. Wright specifically refers to all other forms of Marxism that he doesn’t study as “alternative perspectives” that simply hinder his course structure.

The students sit in class with their laptops open, with a textbook they bought from Amazon on the desk in front of them, holding a Starbucks coffee in one hand and an iPhone in the other. Maybe the irony is lost on them?

Honorable Mentions:

  • Global Hip Hop & Social Justice -- UW-Madison
  • Cut n Mix: Music, Race, and Culture in the Caribbean -- UW-Madison
  • Medieval Love Poetry -- UW-Madison
  • Cultures of Online Games and Virtual Worlds -- UW-Milwaukee
  • Socialist Thought and Practice -- UW-Parkside
  • Introduction to Wine and Spirits -- UW-Stout

Why does this matter? While some students may be unfazed by these courses, which many would consider an easy A for their transcript, it is important to remember that the taxpayers are funding the UW students’ education. If passed today, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal would send $2.2 billion in state funding to the UW System.

Offering courses that ignore the prosperity created by capitalism and cover absurd topics such as “lumbersexuality” is not only a disservice to the students paying thousands of dollars to attend a university, but is also a slap in the face to the hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers whose money goes to waste on courses that do not have a direct, positive impact on society.

It is shameful for the UW System to ask the people of Wisconsin for more funding if they have not considered all of the cost savings opportunities, such as eliminating these courses, first.

May 22, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Biennial Budget Analysis: Spotlight on UW

May 22 update: This week, the Joint Finance Committee will finally be voting on budget provisions relating to the UW System! In our continued efforts to keep our readers informed of all things fiscal at the UW System, we have republished our original analysis on UW’s budget below. It’s been a few months since these numbers were first made public, but they all start coming into play this week when the all-powerful budget committee begins voting.

Will JFC reject the continued tuition freeze for 2017? What about the 5 percent tuition cut for 2018? We’ll all find out when they vote on May 23. Stay tuned for more updates and a full analysis after the vote!

Want more coverage? Check out our twitter feed, @MacIverWisc, where we’ll be live-tweeting every crucial hearing of the budget process.

April 10 update: The Joint Finance Committee has scrapped all non-fiscal policy items from the Governor’s budget proposal, including many items described in this piece. Read more about the latest move out of the budget committee here. In the below piece, any policy items with an asterisk beside them are now struck from the budget and may be introduced as separate bills.

Before the budget debate gets going, a look into the major provisions for the University of Wisconsin System

Madison, Wis. - In February, Gov. Scott Walker introduced his biennial budget for 2017-2019, officially launching this year’s budget season. With the news that the Joint Finance Committee has finalized its dates for the forthcoming public hearings around the state, it’s a good time to review what’s in the queue for the University of Wisconsin System in this budget.

Overall, I summarize the goal for the System in one word: efficiency. As someone who hates the phrase “common sense” to describe policy, I found myself using it a lot in reviewing this portion of the budget. Many provisions had me shaking my head, asking, “this isn’t already law? Crazy!”

Out of concern for you, the taxpayer, let’s start with a basic overview of the scope and numbers of this proposal.

  • Total state spending (GPR): $2,191,070,500, a 3.65% increase
  • Total full time positions, all funds: 35,560.08, an increase of 159.22 positions
  • Total full time positions, general purpose revenue: 18,035.88
  • Total proposed spending, all funds: $12,431,997,800
  • Percent difference from the last budget: 1.94% funding increase
  • Portion of overall state spending: 6%

What's the Takeaway?

The Governor’s budget grows the size of the University of Wisconsin System. Unlike prior budgets, Gov. Walker comes right out of the gate with $77 million more in state funding compared to 2017. That’s an increase of over 3 percent from last year, and to no one’s surprise, it’s been warmly welcomed by System officials.

The biggest string on that funding increase? Performance. The Governor’s budget provides $42.5 million to be distributed to institutions that perform well on the following state priorities:

  • affordability and attainability (30%)
  • work readiness (15%)
  • student success in state workforce (30%)
  • efficiency (10%)
  • service (5%)
  • additional criteria specified by the Board of Regents and approved by the Secretary of the Department of Administration (10%)

By tying funding to performance, the Governor makes it clear that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Kudos. This $42.5 million is split evenly across the biennium and will be distributed based on the listed state priorities. The Board of Regents would have to rank each institution’s performance based on five sets of criteria for each fiscal year and would weigh each criteria accordingly, with affordability, attainability, and student success in the state workforce ranked by the Governor’s office as the most important criteria.

Now that the overall numbers are out of the way, it’s time to cover the most important UW-related provisions in this budget, starting with the one that has caused the most ruckus…

Frozen Tuition in Year One, Tuition Cut in Year Two

Gov. Scott Walker revealed his hope to cut resident undergraduate tuition at the UW System early this year during his State of the State Address to immediate outcry. Legislators on the left and the right immediately leapt at this provision, saying it would either drain the system’s resources or be far too expensive for the state.

Under the Governor’s proposal, resident undergraduates would enjoy a fifth year of the tuition freeze, setting the cost of a year of tuition at UW-Madison at $9,273. In the 2018-19 school year, tuition would be lowered by 5 percent, down to $8,809. The Governor’s budget specifically allocates $35 million to the System to offset the lower amount of tuition dollars flowing in – just as System officials asked.

As a free marketer, I don’t believe that a freeze is a sustainable long-term solution, but given the student debt crisis we’re in now, it’s the best option out there. Ever since the government began offering guaranteed loans for prospective students, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Rather than growing government at the latter end by creating new loan and grant programs, it’s best to control costs to begin with and keep the cost of tuition from growing.

From the second Gov. Walker uttered the words “cut tuition” in his State of the State address, it was clear that some legislators wouldn’t bite. It’s a bit ironic that many legislators – who I will bet have boasted about the tuition freeze and how much money they’ve saved young Wisconsinites on nearly many pieces of lit that they’ve produced in the last four years – are balking at the cost.

Under the proposed reforms, students who began as freshmen at UW-Madison in 2015 would save $12,105 for a degree compared to the pre-freeze trend. How do you go after a growing student debt crisis? Cut the cost of a four-year degree by a full fourth.

Pathways to Three-Year Degrees*

Under another proposal, the UW System would be charged with to creating pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of programs by 2018, and 60 percent of programs by 2020. The System will also have to report on the number of three-year graduates and the percentage of programs for which a three-year pathway exists in an annual accountability report.

This proposal doesn’t add additional burdens on students or ask the System or universities to create completely new programs. Rather, universities will have an opportunity to examine bloated degree requirements while shedding light on meaningful options for students. If passed, this proposal would save students valuable dollars – the benefits of which need not be explained here.

For purposes of transparency, the additional reporting requirement is a nice touch. Now let’s work on that full audit.

Credit Transferability

One new requirement would have the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCSB) ensure that for each course of study, no fewer than 60 core general education credits are transferable within and between each system institution. The System will also be required to submit a report to the Legislature describing any barriers to credit transferability by 2018. Under current law, only 30 credits are fully transferable within and between institutions.

Perhaps more than any other provision on higher education in this budget, this one is a no-brainer. Wisconsin’s set of universities and tech colleges exist to serve our residents and get them prepared for the future, and any provision that helps them get there and streamlines the bureaucracy between institutions should be a welcome one.

Wisconsin’s state institutions should be as flexible as possible for our residents and students while maintaining the high quality of education that the public expects. In this vein, the institutions should strive to complement one another and to maximize the ways in which students can benefit from them and complete their degrees. It’s tough to tell how many students, exactly, will benefit from this provision, but the number is undoubtedly not zero. Besides, this should have been the rule from the beginning.

By requiring that a substantial number of credits transfer between each institution, each school’s bureaucracy steps out of the way – just the slightest bit – in the favor of students.

Report Cards*

Similar to report cards for K-12 schools, each System institution will be required to publish single-page report cards beginning in 2018. The report cards will summarize each institution’s performance during the prior year, based on the performance funding criteria and with metrics determined by the Board of Regents.

Any provision that increases transparency for the public is a good thing. Let parents and students have easier comparisons for and between each state institute. Another no-brainer.

Academic Freedom

The Governor’s budget allocates $10,000 for the UW System to review and revise policies related to academic freedom. The Board of Regents will be charged with producing new language that codifies its commitment to students’ right to free speech.

In an age of “free speech zones” on campuses – where every inch should be considered a free speech zone, not just a small corner – this provision is relevant and timely, as we’ve written here before. After all, college is a time for young people to open their eyes to new experiences and perspectives. No, it’s not always comfortable. It’s not supposed to be.

It’s important to note that the UW Board of Regents already adopted written free speech principles known as the Chicago Principles in 2015, and reaffirmed them in 2016. However, such commitments to free speech haven’t played out.

In November, protestors physically blocked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro from speaking on UW-Madison’s campus. Shapiro eventually spoke, but protesters shouted down him and his supporters, including Vicki McKenna, who was repeatedly shoved and harassed but nevertheless kept filming.

The continual sifting and winnowing of ideas in the pursuit of truth can only occur if dissent in speech is continually protected. On, Wisconsin, indeed.

Freedom of Expression

In a similar vein to the academic freedom provision, the Board of Regents and each institution and UW College campus is charged with committing to free and open inquiry for the UW community as a whole. This provision for the UW System specifies that all members of the UW community share the responsibility to maintain a climate of mutual respect, and that concerns about civility can not be used as a justification for closing off the free and open discussion of ideas.*

This provision goes on to specify that while the UW’s commitment to free speech and debate is crucial to its mission, the Board and institutions may restrict any expression that breaks the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, or that unjustifiably and substantially invades privacy. The Board and each institution are expressly given permission to “reasonably regulate” such speech as long as the fundamental commitment to the principle of discussion of ideas is not harmed. The bill language specifically writes that UW community members may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views on campus, even while they may reject or loathe such views. Rather, they are free to criticize and contest views with which they disagree, and the Board and each institution is charged with protecting the freedom of debate and deliberation.

I’ll be curious to see what such “reasonable regulation” actually looks like, but I maintain heartened by the fact that this provision, and the one before it, make clear the System’s commitment to free speech.

Faculty Workloads*

The System will be charged with creating a new system to monitor faculty and adjunct workloads, and rewarding those who teach more than the standard workload. By 2018, the System will have to devise policies for faculty members to regularly report their teaching hours on an accountability dashboard.

As a proud alumna of UW-Madison, I value my alma mater’s reputation as a research institution. I also valued my professors having time to help me understand their classes and more than anything, I valued those classes that were engaging, thought-out, and comprehensive.

Ask any student if they can tell which professors showed up to class unprepared. They’ll be honest with you. By tracking and reporting faculty workloads, professors will have the ability to be honest, too.

Opting Out of Seg Fees*

One provision would allow students to opt out of allocable segregated fees (known as seg fees) starting in the 2018-19 school year. Students would be able to decide whether or not they want to fund student organizations such as Sex Out Loud, the Tenant Resource Center, and Associated Students of Madison (ASM) bus passes.

One essential distinction – which is described in detail by ASM here – is that between allocable and non-allocable fees. This provision would not affect the non-allocable fees, which remain 83 percent of overall seg fees. Non-allocable fees fund things such as University Health Services, Recreational Sports, the Union, as well as all debt services and ongoing payments for building projects.

I’d be curious to see a breakdown of how many students would actually opt out of paying seg fees. My gut instinct tells me the majority of students would continue paying the fee because they enjoy the presence of such services on campus. But if they don’t? That’s their prerogative, and that’s the way it should be.

Increased Flexible Options

The budget proposal requires the Board of Regents to expand the number of degrees offered through the UW Flexible Option program by at least 50 percent by December of 2019. At least one of the new programs created must be geared towards helping certified nursing assistants in becoming registered nurses, and another must help prepare nonteacher school district employees successfully complete standardized exams as a condition of becoming certified teachers. The proposal also offers $700,000 in financial aid for students who are enrolled in programs through the UW Flexible Option platform.

Currently, the Flex Option offers five degree programs and three certificates. The program is “made for busy adults” and catered towards individuals who want to get their degrees but who may already be working full time, supporting a family, or otherwise unable to attend traditional college courses.

Only UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and UW Colleges offer the Flex Option.

Wisconsin Tech College System

It’s not just the UW System – WTCS is also affected by the Governor’s budget. The biggest provision is one which would freeze tech college tuition for two years, providing $5 million to offset lost program revenues. According to the Governor’s office, revenue per full-time enrollee at tech colleges has risen over 20 percent over the last five years and is at its highest level ever. Clearly, the system won’t be bled dry by letting students save more of their hard-earned dollars.

Local tech college districts will be allowed the flexibility to drop tuition lower* than the statewide frozen amount. I won’t hold my breath and wait for any districts to jump at the opportunity to make less tuition money, but it’s nice that they’ll be allowed the option.

WTCS will also be required to submit an annual accountability report* to the Governor and Legislature, just as the UW System already does. Such transparency is necessary and welcome.

Required Work Experience*

I’ve written on this issue here, leaning heavily on my experience as a young graduate who has never had to be told that getting a job is important. Maybe that’s just me, though. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Other Odds and Ends

I could wax poetic on all the provisions in this budget for thousands of words, but in the interest of keeping my readers awake, I’ll go through the last of the provisions here:

  • $11.6 million for a general wage adjustment for UW employees. This will fund both the expected inflation increases in fringe benefit costs as well as two 2 percent bumps in general wages, slated for September 2018 and again in May 2019.
  • $168 million in additional program revenue and 159.22 additional positions to reflect increases in tuition revenues and positions funded by that revenue.
  • $200,000 for the System’s rural physician residency assistance program, spread evenly across the biennium.
  • Tuition fee remission for the children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans: this provision expands tuition fee remission to the children and spouses of veterans who lived in the state prior to serving, rather than just those individuals who lived in the state after service.
  • *Student Housing Leases: the Board of Regents would be responsible for all student housing leases, rather than exempting the Board’s lease authority for leases of real property as student housing, as is current law.

That’s about it, folks. In your opinion, what’s the most important provision related to higher education in this budget? As always, follow us at @MacIverWisc to stay up-to-date on all the latest state budget issues.

* indicates that the item has been removed from the budget, as of April 10, 2017.

May 8, 2017 | By James Wigderson

Free Speech Bill Would Combat National Pattern of Suppression

Governor Scott Walker reiterated his support for free speech on the University of Wisconsin campuses in an interview with Mike Gousha on Up Front on WISN-TV.

“DIsagreeing or even protesting is one thing,” Walker said. “If you come into an auditorium where they’re having a discussion or a conversation on this, and you want to hold signs up, you want to protest that, you want to have a rally out front, perfectly fine.”

“But the minute that you shut down a speaker, no matter if they’re liberal or conservative or someone in between, I just think that’s wrong,” Walker said.

Walker was responding to a question about legislation that would require the UW System universities to punish students and administrators that interfere with a speech by an invited speaker. The legislation is not dealing with a hypothetical.

In November, approximately twenty campus radicals attempted to shout down conservative speaker Ben Shapiro during a speech at UW-Madison. The demonstrators broke into chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “Safety! Safety! Safety,” while campus police looked on without responding. Outside the room, people there to see Shapiro were harassed, including conservative radio talk show host Vicki McKenna.

After Shapiro’s appearance, a group of left-wing activists even tried to have the sponsoring organization, the Young Americans for Freedom, barred from campus.

It’s part of a pattern nationwide. Shapiro is frequently the target of disruptive protests and was even prevented from speaking at DePaul University. At Claremont McKenna College, protesters prevented an audience from seeing Heather Mac Donald by barring the entrances and campus police did nothing. At Middlebury College, protesters violently attacked Charles Murray and a professor at the college, causing her to be hospitalized.

From coast to coast, the new leftist chant has become “shut it down!” The leftists chants accompanied the burning of UC-Berkeley to prevent alt-Right gadfly Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking.

It’s hard to imagine it was possible, but the situation on college campuses has grown so bad, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke out in defense of Ann Coulter’s right to speak at Berkeley, even as the security threats prevented her from appearing.

“To me, it’s a sign of intellectual weakness,” Sanders said at an appearance in Omaha, NB. “If you can’t ask Ann Coulter in a polite way questions which expose the weakness of her arguments, if all you can do is boo, or shut her down, or prevent her from coming, what does that tell the world?”

“What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions,” he concluded. “Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”

But, of course, the intimidation does work, and university administrators cave. Middlebury College is still investigating the Murray incident to see which students should be punished, but such incidents rarely result in any disciplinary actions. Despite the destruction, the protesters that shut down Yiannopoulos’ speech remain unpunished, and the “lesson” Berkeley learned was to prevent conservatives like Coulter from speaking on campus.

Meanwhile, many on the Left are now trying to justify attempts to silence free speech on college campuses. From the op-ed page at the New York Times, to the New Republic, to even former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, the political Left has decided that they have heard enough.

Which is why it is so important for Wisconsin’s legislature to act now to ensure that both conservatives and liberals on college campuses have the right to be heard. The “heckler’s veto,” whether it is disruption of the event by shouting or actual acts of violence, has no place on our state-funded college campuses.

Because the target of these protests right now is conservatism, some Democrats are claiming that such a bill is unnecessary. Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, actually told the Wisconsin State Journal, “I frankly think it’s an artificial, political controversy — and as long as we perpetuate artificial, political controversies we won’t solve problems.”

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, told the Cap Times, “I believe strongly in free speech, and I think we have it now.”

One is tempted to remember how many Democrats were more than pleased when protesters streamed through the Capitol office window of state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, in an attempt to prevent the legislature from acting on Act 10. Perhaps a few of them remember that attempted disruption by protesters a little too fondly.

But even the ACLU, which normally sees threats to free speech everywhere, suddenly is turning a blind eye to what’s happening on college campuses.

“A heckler can be legally removed from an invited speaker’s presentation, but the extreme sanction of suspension or expulsion could chill legitimate, but pointed, questions from the audience,” Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, told the Capital Times.

Except no hecklers were removed at the Shapiro speech, and are rarely removed elsewhere. And of course nobody is suggesting that punishment should be applied to a question the speaker invites from the audience. Dupuis is hiding behind a hypothetical that is false upon its face to justify the continued attacks on campus free speech.

The governor and Republican leadership in the Legislature is right to support legislation that protects free speech on campuses. The Left can pretend that there is no threat to free speech on campuses while giving violent protesters a quick wink at their activities, but there is no reason the state Legislature should go along.

May 8, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

As State Budget Debate Continues, Madison and Milwaukee School Districts Move Forward on 2017-18 Budgets

Madison, Wis. - While the rest of us were focusing on the State Capitol and its contentious biennial budget process, two of the state’s largest public school districts came closer to completing their own 2017-18 budgets.

Finally Requiring Act 10 Savings, then Spending the Savings: The Madison Way

Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) school board voted to change employee healthcare benefits on May 1. The district will, for the first time, require employees to make higher contributions to their own benefits packages, in line with Act 10’s requirements. Those savings, however, will be offset by significant increases in employee salaries. Instead of giving the Act 10 savings back to taxpayers, the school district will increase employee salaries so they do not feel any impact from the change – a deliberate attempt to undermine the law.

MMSD employees will now have two health insurance providers to choose from, rather than three, and will begin paying 12 percent of their own monthly premium costs.

The district anticipates that the shift to fewer providers will save approximately $3 million, all of which will go right back into employee raises. Staff will receive across-the-board raises averaging $1,700, costing about $1.74 million. Starting teacher pay will increase by nearly 10 percent – from $37,401 to $41,096 – for $460,000 total.

Summer school teachers will also see a pay hike from $16 per hour to $25 per hour for district teachers – a whopping 56 percent increase. Those changes add up to $800,000.

As the MacIver Institute has previously reported, the changes are a thumb on the nose of taxpayers, who are still on the hook for significant benefits packages. In the words of the school district’s budget director Mike Barry, that’s simply “the Madison way.”

Act 10 required that employees contribute 6 percent of premiums towards retirement funds, and 12 percent towards monthly healthcare premiums. Until its passage, public school districts were well-known for lucrative benefits packages that far-outpaced benefits in the private sector.

Madison’s school board will take a final vote on their $389.7 million budget on June 26. Until then, the board is taking public comment on the document.

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the $1.2 Billion Budget

Over in Milwaukee, the state’s largest district has proposed spending $1.2 billion in the coming school year. That’s a $21 million or 1.8 percent decrease from the previous year. The small dip in spending falls in line with decreasing student enrollment – MPS anticipates a 0.4 percent drop in enrollment in the coming school year.

The budget document cuts nearly 200 positions that are technically classified as classroom positions. However, the vast majority of those positions are currently vacant. One administrator said that “fewer than 10” district employees will be laid off.

MPS representatives also said that all of the layoffs would occur at MPS’ central office, raising questions as to what exactly is considered a “classroom” position.

Compared to last year, the budget increases spending in nearly every major category – operations, nutrition, extension, and categorical – except for construction. Employee benefits increase by 7.7 percent over the prior year, largely driven by increased medical costs.

MPS recognizes its unsustainable spending patterns within the budget itself, which writes that “stable revenues are not enough to sustain the district’s operations as they are today.”

The district has scheduled public hearings on May 16 and May 23 and will vote on the final document late in the summer.

Both districts are expected to make final adjustments in the fall, when both the state biennial budget and student enrollment numbers are finalized.

Stay tuned as the MacIver Institute follows all the stories important to you – the taxpayer!

May 1, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Wisconsin DPI Releases Every Student Succeeds Act State Plan

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released its state plan for the implementation of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state plan is the culmination of over a year of work, including legislative briefings in the state Capitol and public hearings for stakeholders around the state. The document lays out new academic achievement goals and plans of action for Wisconsin’s students, including specific English language arts and mathematics proficiency goals.

The state aims to cut achievement gaps by half over the next six-year period, with a long-term goal of closing the gaps entirely by 2029. That translates to an average 1 percent annual increase in overall student proficiency for both English and math over six consecutive years. Today, the four-year high school graduation achievement gap between white and black students is nearly 30 points. In math proficiency, the gap totals 38 points, and in English language arts, 35 points.

The State of Wisconsin will submit its plan to the federal Department of Education by September 18. If Secretary Betsy DeVos approves the plan, it’ll guide state education policy for decades. The incredible significance of the state plan inspired one bill – Assembly Bill 233, currently moving through the Legislature – which may increase state legislators’ involvement in the final state plan.

Overall, the state hopes to increase English proficiency rates to 48.3 percent by 2023. Currently, just 42.3 percent of students are proficient in English. In math, DPI set a goal of 47.2 percent proficiency by 2023, up from 41.2 percent.

The current proficiency scores are based off of the Forward Exam, which students took for the first time in March of 2016.

As a brand new requirement of ESSA, schools will begin publishing financial information, including per-pupil expenditures of federal, state, and local funds. That information will also include personnel and non-personnel expenditures, divided by source of funding for every school district and school in the state. According to the state plan, DPI must first build the infrastructure for this data – which will apparently take until the 2019-20 school year to first be published.

Achievement Gaps

Groups of students who are categorized as historically underperforming will have to post larger gains every year in order to meet the goals. Those groups – including racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with disabilities – see the most ambitious goals in the plan.

Black students, for example, must increase proficiency by 4 percent in English and by 4.2 percent in math each year if they are to meet the six-year goal. In English language arts, the achievement gap between Black and White students is currently 35.4 points. Under the state plan, the goal is for that gap to drop to 17.5 points by the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Hispanic students will need to post annual increases of 3 percent in English language arts to reach the goal of 43.1 percent proficiency. Currently, just over a quarter of Hispanic students are reported as proficient in the subject. As for math, DPI set a goal of 45.1 percent proficiency, up from 21.7 percent. Students will have to increase by 3.3 proficiency points every year to reach the goal.

Graduation Rates

DPI wants to see 90.4 percent of students graduating high school in four years by 2023. The current overall rate is 88.4 percent. In order to meet that goal, Black students will have to post the most drastic improvement and improve by 2.7 percent each year. Currently, just 64 percent of Black students graduate in four years, a nearly-30 point achievement gap with White students, 92.9 percent of whom currently graduate on time.

English Language Proficiency

For English learners, DPI hopes to see an 18-point increase in the percentage of learners on-track to reach proficiency by the end of the 2022-23 school year. That amounts to a 3 percent annual increase in proficiency, above the 2 percent annual increase required to meet Wisconsin’s obligations under the No Child Left Behind law.

After six years, DPI will re-evaluate the progress made and potentially reset annual targets for the following six years. That setup effectively creates two six-year terms, which stakeholders decided would help convey the urgency of change needed, while also leaving time for school improvement measures to take root.

In the plan, DPI acknowledges its goals to be ambitious for multiple reasons. Sustaining consistent improvement statewide will be difficult, though students have increased English language arts proficiency at about the same rate over the last five years. Improvements in math – which tends to be a more difficult subject for many students – have not been as consistent.

While the goals are aggressive, they are also aligned with proficiency cut scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). As a result, the college readiness expectations laid out in the plan are on track with national and international benchmarks.

Comprehensive Support Schools, Targeted Support Schools

The state plan identifies two main kinds of schools that require additional support and that will be identified by DPI annually: comprehensive support and improvement schools, and targeted support and improvement schools.

Schools that receive Title I, Part A federal funding and are in the lowest 5 percent of overall scores statewide are identified as comprehensive support schools. Other schools included in this category will be those with average graduation rates below 67 percent. Schools will first be identified in the 2018-19 school year using the most recent data available. The third type of comprehensive support schools will be those that fail to exit the targeted support status after six years. Those will be identified during the 2024-25 school year.

Targeted support schools are those that have two or more “consistently underperforming” subgroups of students. The plan identifies chronic underperformance as average subgroup performance that chronically and consistently places a subgroup of students in the bottom 5 percent of the state in more than one indicator.

No more than 10 pblack student proficiency text box.pngercent of schools in the state will be identified as targeted support schools in order to help ensure that sufficient resources are available to those schools.

It’s likely that many comprehensive support and targeted support schools will be in Milwaukee, where 25,000 students currently attend failing schools.

Intensive reforms at those schools will likely be difficult – perhaps even stonewalled – as in the case of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP), the most recent attempt to reform the perennially troubled district. That saga involved a long summer of disagreement between the Milwaukee County executive, the new OSPP Commissioner, MPS itself, and of course, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.

OSPP would have allowed a new commissioner, appointed by the Milwaukee County executive, to identify up to five of the lowest-performing schools at MPS and allow them to be run by new independent operators, in the hopes of increasing student performance.

The plan came to an impasse when MPS was not included as a failing district on the state’s latest report cards, despite the fact that fewer than 1 in 5 MPS students are proficient in English, and under 15 percent are proficient in math. Under ESSA, however, states will be required to take action in both comprehensive support and targeted support schools.

As written, ESSA allows states to identify additional statewide categories of schools. Wisconsin’s state plan does not do so.

The plan describes at length how Wisconsin would take more rigorous intervention measures for schools that fail to exit the two support categories. It emphasizes the importance of intentionally and explicitly including representatives from all members of the community. The state may provide a team trained in implementation science to provide external program evaluation, as well as school-specific customized improvement plans.

Other options include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Employing a standard, consistent, research-based curriculum throughout the district
  • Using student achievement data to differentiate instruction
  • Providing additional learning time
  • Implementing professional development programs that focus on improving student achievement
  • Creating school improvement councils in the persistently lowest performing schools

DPI’s state plan includes four strategies to address ineffective educators, based off of its ongoing equity plan. Those strategies aim to improve resources for school districts and schools, create a study of school climate factors, facilitate ongoing professional learning to address teacher skills gaps, and evaluation of teacher preparation.

Other sections describe how Wisconsin’s DPI plans to address the education needs of historically underserved populations, such as migratory and homeless children.

Where Next?

The plan now enters a public feedback stage that is open until June 30. There also exists a possibility that the state Legislature will play a more meaningful role.

Assembly Bill 233 (AB 233) would require that a hearing be held on ESSA in both the Assembly and Senate Committees on Education. If any legislators raise concerns or questions to DPI at the hearing, DPI would be required to respond within two weeks. At that point, DPI would need to say whether or not it will modify the plan accordingly, and if not, why.

AB 233 passed the Assembly Committee on Education on a 8-6 party-line vote and is scheduled to be heard by the full Assembly on May 2. It faces an uncertain future, as Senate Committee on Education Chairman Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) has said that he has “no interest” in holding a hearing on the bill.

March 20, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

K-12 Education in Walker’s Proposed Budget

April 6, 2017 Update

The Joint Finance Committee has scrapped all non-fiscal policy items from the Governor’s budget proposal, including many items described in this piece. Read more about the latest move out of the budget committee here. In the below piece, any policy items with an asterisk beside them are now struck from the budget and may be introduced as separate bills.

A deep dive into the numbers

Madison, Wis - Now that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s budget analysis is finally available to the public, let’s look back at Gov. Scott Walker’s K-12 education proposals for the 2017-19 biennial budget. First, the numbers:

Overall, the Department of Public Instruction sees a large increase of overall funding – $648.2 million more in total school aid than the last budget, a 6.0 percent increase. The biggest single increase comes in the form of $508.7 million for per pupil aid.

Currently, districts receive $250 per pupil in aid. Under the Governor’s budget proposal, they would receive $450 per pupil in 2017-18 and $654 per pupil in 2018-19. One major caveat, though, is that districts will need to prove that they’re in compliance with Act 10’s requirements on employee healthcare contributions in order to receive the extra bump in funding. Act 10 required many public employees to begin paying at least 12 percent of total health care costs, but certain districts, such as Madison Metropolitan, extended their old contracts rather than moving into compliance immediately.

Under the provision, districts will need to certify to DPI that school district employees are paying at least 12 percent of their total health care costs for that school year. If districts don’t or can’t ensure that their employees are contributing to heath care coverage, they could miss out on the new funding. Madison Metropolitan and Beloit School District are among the districts that are currently not in compliance.

Rural Schools

Behind per pupil funding and general school aids, the single largest line-item increase in Walker’s proposal is over $20 million for sparsity aid. Under current law, districts qualify for an additional $300 per pupil if they have an enrollment of fewer than 745 pupils and a population density of fewer than 10 pupils per square mile of the district’s attendance area. Under the budget proposal, district payments increase to $400 per pupil, and districts with an enrollment of up to 1000 students with the same population density will also qualify.

Rural schools also receive over $10 million for high cost transportation aid and increased transportation reimbursement rates to the tune of $92,000 over the biennium. Pupils that are transported more than 12 miles between home and school would receive a $65 reimbursement increase up to $365 beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Summer school reimbursement rates would also increase from $4 to $10 for students traveling between two and five miles, and from $6 to $20 for students transported more than five miles.

Special Education

Another $6 million is sent to special education transitions incentives grants. Last budget, these grants received just $100,000, making this fund the single largest percentage increase in Walker’s DPI budget, at 3,050 percent more than the base year funding. This proposal would provide an additional $1,000 per pupil for children who meet the following criteria:

  • attended school in the district or charter school in the 2014-15 or 2015-16 school years
  • had an individualized education program (IEP) in place
  • has been enrolled in a higher education program, postsecondary education or training program, or employed for at least 90 days

Currently, DPI estimates that schools receive $60 per pupil under this program. Gov. Walker’s budget also includes an additional $1.5 million for special education transition readiness investment grants in the 2018-19 school year.

Other focuses on children with special needs in this budget include a provision that requires a DPI ombudsman to ensure that private school pupils have equal access to special education services. To that end, the provision creates a new “fiscal agent” to ensure that private schools receive federal funding for special education services and other benefits.

Along the same lines, the budget also specifies that independent charter schools and noninstrumentality charter schools would be allowed to employ personnel and create special education programs on the basis of demonstrated need. DPI would be required to certify to the Department of Administration the amount expended by each school for salaries and related services, and would be reimbursed for such expenses. Entities such as school boards and the board of control of cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs) would also be required to provide special or additional transportation for students with disabilities, as required in any pupil’s IEP.

The State Superintendent is also required to certify reimbursement costs for special education aid, if satisfied with the services provided. The State Superintendent would be allowed to audit costs related to special education transportation services in order to ensure that reimbursements are limited to the actual costs.

Focus on Milwaukee

Schools in Milwaukee receive extra attention in this budget, with $5.65 million provided for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), district charter schools, independent charter schools, and private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).

About 35 percent of that funding is earmarked for distribution among eligible schools that received scores of “significantly exceeds expectations” or “exceeds expectations” on the most recent school report cards. Each school would receive a payment directly proportional to the number of pupils in that school.

The remaining 65 percent of performance-based funding would be allocated to schools that show performance increases of three points or more over two years prior on their report cards. This funding would also be split directly proportional to the number of pupils in each school.

MPS also receives an additional $2.8 million for summer school grants, split evenly across the biennium. The MPS Board is charged with creating a program to annually award grants for summer school programs to increase pupil attendance, improve academic achievement, and expose pupils to innovative learning. This pot of money is specifically allocated for public schools in the city of Milwaukee, except for independent charter schools.

Mental Health and Bullying

With an increased focus on mental health care throughout the Governor’s budget proposal, DPI sees extra funding in this issue area as well. A new $3 million categorical aid program is created to reimburse school districts and independent charter schools for social workers. Another $2.5 million is provided in 2018-19 for community and mental health collaboration grants. DPI is charged with creating a new grant program for the purpose of collaborating with mental health professionals to provide mental health services to pupils.

Another new program is funded to the tune of $300,000 across the biennium to provide and create an online training curriculum for bullying prevention. Students in grades kindergarten through eight are expected to benefit from this program.

One full time position and $1 million is provided across the biennium to fund training for school districts and independent charter schools to provide mental health screening and intervention services for students.

School Choice Programs

As I wrote here, there are no substantial changes to any of Wisconsin’s school choice programs, which are known formally in law as the Parental Choice Programs. Plenty of new regulations, however, are proposed:

  • **Requirements for annual hours of instruction for public schools and private schools that participate in a choice program are deleted. However, current law requiring that private schools offer at least 875 hours of instruction would be maintained.
  • **Private choice schools would be required to conduct a background check for all potential teachers and administrators prior to extending an offer of employment. Private choice schools would also be required to conduct background checks on all individuals already employed by the school, and would have to regularly conduct such checks at least once every five years after the initial background investigation.
  • Students would be able to participate in the statewide choice program if they attended a school in another state in the previous school year. Such students are not currently eligible for participation in the statewide program.
  • **Pupil parents or guardians, as well as private schools, would be allowed to submit financial information to DPI for the purpose of verifying student eligibility. Under current law, only private schools are able to submit parental income information.
  • **A school would be able to be barred from participating in a private school choice program for two years if it is found to misrepresent any information to DPI. Schools may also be barred from participating in the special needs scholarship program if the school is found to misrepresent any required information.
  • **Change private school reporting requirements so that schools may submit information prior to the first year of participation in any of the choice programs rather than annually. Schools would still be required to provide copies of any policy – such as the school’s policy for awarding a high school diploma – upon request of DPI.
  • **Certain members of school governing bodies will be required to submit signed statements to DPI verifying that the individual is a member of the governing body.
  • **DPI will be explicitly prohibited from requiring any private choice school that is not a new school and that is in good standing with DPI to submit an annual operating budget as evidence of financial viability.
  • **Pupils attending a private school in a nonresident district will be able to be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the nonresident district if the parent or guardian provides written consent. Under current law, pupils who participate in the special needs scholarship program may only be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the pupil’s resident school district.
  • The part-time open enrollment program, which the 2013-15 biennial budget transformed into the course options program, would be gradually restored as the open enrollment program once more.
  • The youth options program would be modified into the early college credit program, allowing public high school pupils to enroll in higher education institutions to take extra classes.

All the Rest of It

Other odds and ends in Gov. Walker’s K-12 budget proposal include:

  • **Eliminating the required hours of instruction for public schools.
  • **Deleting the requirements that school boards meet at least once per month, that common school districts hold an annual meeting on the fourth Monday in July at 8pm, and that union high school districts hold an annual meeting on the third Monday in July at 8pm.
  • **Eliminate the current rule that school district’s employment contracts not exceed two years.
  • **Allow school boards to contract with each other and to offer shared services required under state law. Such services would include a shared bilingual-bicultural program, emergency nursing services, guidance and counseling services, among others.
  • **School boards would be allowed to compensate student teachers for classroom time spent directly with students.
  • **Delete the requirement that school districts provide statements showing bonded and all other indebtedness of the district.
  • Specify that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) can inspect the premises and records of any child care program established or contracted for by a school board that receives childcare subsidies. DCF is also permitted to investigate and prosecute any alleged violations at such programs.
  • **Exclude school districts from a law requiring local units of government to maximize the purchase of recycled materials when possible. School districts are also exempted from law requiring local units of government to award contracts for material, supplies, and equipment based on life cycle cost estimates.
  • A new renewable energy appropriation of $29,000 across the biennium is created for the generation or purchase of electric energy.
  • The Very Special Arts program, which provides arts activities for children and adults with disabilities, is provided $23,400 across the biennium, restoring funding levels to the 2008-09 fiscal year.
  • The five-year renewal requirement for teaching and administrator licenses would be eliminated. However, school boards would be required to conduct background checks on all employed individuals at least once every five years.
  • A teacher development program grant program is created to increase collaboration between the Department of Workforce Development and schools of education in the UW System.
  • **A faculty member of an institution of higher education would be allowed to teach in a public high school without a license or permit from DPI.
  • **The requirement that an individual receive an offer of employment from a school in Wisconsin to be eligible for a teaching license based on reciprocity is eliminated.
  • An additional $52,200 across the biennium is provided for a program that provides newspaper access to the blind.
  • The State Superintendent will be required to work with DCF to develop success sequence-related materials to be incorporated into academic and career services. The document defines the success sequence as graduating from high school, maintaining a full-time job or a partner who does, and waiting until after age 21 and marriage to have children. Every school board is required to incorporate success sequence information into its career services materials by the 2019-20 school year.
  • **School report cards will be required to include additional information, including: the number and percentage of pupils participating in early college credit programs, the number and percentage participating in a youth apprenticeship, the number of community service hours logged by pupils, the number of advanced placement courses offered and the amount of credits earned, and the number of pupils earning industry-recognized credentials through a technical education program.
  • Finally, DPI is required to create a report on the population overlap of families that receive public benefits and children who are absent from school for 10 percent or more of the school year. The report must be submitted on or before December 30, 2018.

Phew! That was a lot, wasn’t it? As always, follow our budget coverage here at maciverinstitute.com and on twitter at @MacIverWisc. Comment below and let us know what you think about the Governor’s K-12 budget proposals!

** indicates that the item has been removed from the budget, as of April 6, 2017.

March 16, 2017 | By Brett Healy, MacIver President

No Surprise Here: MPS Blames $12 Million Less In Federal Title I Funding On School Choice

Just one problem – Congress changed the law so more federal funding would go to actual services and less to administrative bloat at MPS

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver recently announced that the district could face significant financial challenges, once again, as she begins her work preparing for the upcoming 2017-2018 budget deliberations. During an interview with Mike Gousha at a Marquette Law School program, Driver discussed the $1.2 billion dollar budget she will present in May and a potential $50 million dollar shortfall facing MPS. While a $50 million budget gap would normally cause concern, anyone who has followed the trials and tribulations of Wisconsin’s largest and most troubled school district just shook their head in disbelief.

One source of MPS’ budget trouble? Less Title I funding. The Title I program provides extra federal funding to school districts with high percentages of poor children. The Journal Sentinel covered Driver’s comments this way in a March 8th article:

“Driver said she is anticipating a cut of about $12 million in federal Title I funds for low-income students under the new Every Child Succeeds Act, in part because it would allow some of those funds to flow to non-public schools.”

The way Driver describes the situation, or maybe the way the Journal Sentinel reported the conversation, leaves the reader with the impression that federal Title I funds have been cut by $12 million dollars compared to last year.

The problem is that the assertion that Title I funding will be cut by $12 million doesn’t appear to be true. According to MPS’ own budget, chart 3.39 found below, MPS is anticipating an $7.6 million dollar increase in Title I funding in 2016-2017.

See the full MPS budget here, and see the above chart on page 3-38.

What did change? Congress and former President Obama made it clear that more of your federal tax dollars should go to help actual children and less should go to pay for bureaucrats at MPS. Oh my goodness! How could President Obama be so heartless and treat bureaucrats in such a callous and uncaring way?

Title I requires school districts to provide equitable funding for children regardless of what kind of institution they attend – public or private. This is not new – equitable funding for public and private students has existed at least since the No Child Left Behind law was passed back in 2001. When President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), his cornerstone education reform bill, ESSA required that school districts equitably distribute Title I funding among all low-income students residing in the district. Rather than treating certain students preferentially, the ESSA calculation requires funds to be allocated the way they always should have been allocated – equally for every child. No skim for public school bureaucrats.

Of course, neither Driver nor the writers of the Journal Sentinel piece took the time or care to explain this. Readers are left once again with the false notion that school choice takes funding away from MPS.

Our education system exists to serve all of our students. Education funding should follow the child, regardless of where they choose to receive the education that best fits their needs. Education funding of any kind – Title I, equalization aid, categorical, etc. – should NEVER go to fund bureaucrats or buildings. And MPS would be best to stop blaming everyone else for their continuing troubles. If MPS spent less time looking to blame others and spent more time actually working to fix their problems, the children of Milwaukee would be much better off.

March 10, 2017 | MacIver News Service

Chart of the Day: Parent Satisfaction with District, Charter, Private Schools

The research group Education Next has released a report that surveys parent satisfaction across different types of schools, including traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools.

The survey, which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that charter school parents are 13 percentage points more satisfied with expectations for student achievement than district school parents. Overall, private school parents report the highest satisfaction with expectations for student achievement, with 87 percent of respondents reporting that they are satisfied or very satisfied.

District school parents are most dissatisfied with teacher quality, instruction in character or values, and school discipline compared to private and charter school parents. District school parents also reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction with school safety.

Such results are not a new phenomenon – as MacIver News reported, despite years of efforts and billion of dollars spent, federal efforts to improve public schools through carrot and stick incentive systems often fail to have any meaningful impact on academic outcomes.

For more information, check out the interactive map at Education Next to view parent satisfaction with teacher quality, school discipline, safety, and more.

Note: The survey reports both raw and adjusted values. In this piece, we utilize the adjusted response values.

March 6, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

With “Surplus” Revenue, Why No Further Expansion Of Choice?

[Madison, Wis…] Back in January, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau set the context for the coming budget debate and published its latest revenue forecast for the next few years. According to director Bob Lang, the state of Wisconsin is expected to have $714 million more in its coffers than it anticipated in November. One might spend time debating how close this projection will be to reality, but the real debate for the purposes of this biennium, of course, is how that money will be split up.

Other than an increase in per-pupil aids, Gov. Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal includes no substantial changes to any of Wisconsin’s school choice programs. After two budgets that included considerable wins for school choice – the creation of the Racine program in 2011 and statewide expansion in 2013 – choice advocates are asking themselves what happened.

Many in the school choice movement had hoped the Governor would use some of the state’s expected budget “surplus” to lift the last remaining enrollment cap.

After Governor Walker released the details of his budget proposal, pro-choice groups School Choice Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Federation for Children released a joint statement, writing:

“We are disappointed that none of these funds will be used to help hundreds of families get their children off of waiting lists and into the school of their choice. Across Wisconsin, demand for the Parental Choice Programs and the Special Needs Scholarship continues to grow. Unfortunately, program caps and limitations constrain supply and restrict access to quality schools by parents and students.”

The expected “surplus” amounts to $21 million across the biennium, according to the memo.

Student enrollment in the statewide program – formally known as the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – remains limited by district. Currently, no more than 1 percent of pupils residing in a public school district can participate in WPCP. Once the current school year ends, that limit will increase by 1 percent each year until the 2025-26 school year, when a 10 percent threshold is reached. The following year, the caps will be removed entirely.

Neither the Racine nor the Milwaukee programs utilize such caps. While pro-voucher groups have pushed for other administrative measures that would increase efficiency within the programs, WPCP’s district enrollment caps are one of the last substantial barriers for the growth of school choice in Wisconsin.

The ultimate goal? Ensuring that access to school choice in this state does not hang at the whim of one election. Though with over 33,000 students and more than 200 schools currently participating, that goal seems to be getting further and further away.

From the perspective of the Governor’s office, choice schools do just fine under the budget proposal, with a $217 per pupil aid increase.

“There’s been no greater advocate for choice and charter schools across the nation than Governor Walker over the last six years,” Tom Evenson, a spokesman for the Governor, said. “We think that with this increase, they do well.”

When funding goes up for children in traditional public schools, per pupil funding must go up an equal amount for students in the choice programs. In other words, the additional per-pupil funding is required by law.

“Hopefully, the legislative process will produce solutions for parents on waiting lists across Wisconsin,” School Choice Wisconsin and Wisconsin Federation for Children’s joint press release reads.

Hope exists in the Legislature, where Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald said that lifting the enrollment caps in choice programs would “absolutely” be part of the discussion moving forward. During a wispolitics.com luncheon, Fitzgerald said that Republican lawmakers were interested in continuing their substantial efforts towards school reform this budget.

School choice in Wisconsin is not going away. Demand on the side of students and of schools is constantly growing, with many districts already hitting their artificial caps on enrollment. Choice schools are posting ever-improving academic outcomes, in some cases even outperforming their full-income public school counterparts. The Governor knows this, having nodded to the movement in his budget address when he said that he trusts parents.

For now, the budget moves onto the Legislature.

March 6, 2017 | By Jason Crye, Executive Director, Hispanics for School Choice

Crye: An Idea for the President – Trump Student Success Zones

The following column originally appeared at The Fordham Institute.

20 billion dollars.

With that kind of investment in education President Trump can create a program more recognizable than that omnipresent comb over. Sure, some will argue that it shouldn’t be done, but this is Wonkathon 2017 and we’re going to spend that money like we’re at the Trump Taj Mahal–before it closed.

So let’s create Trump Student Success Zones!

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify schools that perform among the bottom 5 percent on their accountability systems and where fewer than 67 percent of students graduate from high school. Such designations have to be made at least every three years and are based on both academic and nonacademic criteria. If underperformance persists for four years, states are required to intervene.

The Trump Student Success Zones will be geographic areas that include the schools the ESSA mandate identifies and their surrounding neighborhoods. No one relishes telling individual schools they are failing, and increasing student success in a larger, multi-school area will avoid the political wrangling that often stalls individual school turnaround efforts.

Trump zone czars would be appointed to manage each zone. The czars would execute their duties in cooperation with a volunteer advisory board they form composed of leaders representing participating schools and community leaders in each zone. Metro areas may have more than one success zone. Instead of closing struggling public schools, the success zones will provide the resources to turn them around. At the same time, the capacity of high quality, high potential, and start-up success zone schools in all sectors will be fostered.

This would be an optional federal program, but the Trump administration would incentivize state participation by providing all schools within designated success zones a “huge” per pupil funding increase if they commit to the implementation of any number of recommendations for their zone. This could include, for example, an overhaul of teacher recruitment and training, extended school years, or the establishment of zone wrap around services to assist families. The Trump zone per pupil increase subsidy would pay for program reforms and help finance school expansion and start-ups.

The Trump Student Success Zones would also include two additional educational savings account (ESA) programs.

The first would provide funding for out-of-school educational, arts, and recreational activities within the success zones. This ESA would be made available to all students attending schools in the success zones.

The second ESA would provide funding for success zone students who have been identified as gifted. Individual schools cannot be expected to develop programming appropriate to every gifted child they serve. This ESA would enable parents to tend to the individual needs of their gifted children. Tutors and non-public online learning programs are examples of how this program would help underserved gifted students maximize their potential.

In sum, the Trump Student Success Zones will support traditional public schools by providing a framework to turn around consistently underperforming schools, support poor families via wraparound services and neighborhood cooperation, and advance the principles of school choice while improving educational opportunities for all students.

While efforts in each success zone will vary greatly, all Trump Student Success Zones will share the following guiding principles:

Community engagement

Community members will be included in the process. The zone czars shall include parents and community members among the appointees to the success zone boards to help guide program development and ensure community input is considered at all stages. Church and business leaders within the zones would be natural advisors and organizers.

Research supported reform

Under ESSA, districts are required to design “evidence based” strategies to turn around their perennially underperforming schools. As we know, there’s been some discussion about what constitutes “evidence,” but the Trumps zones will help states seize the day and encourage innovative, research-based ways to improve schools.

All sector participation

In addition to members of the community, no success zone will be successful if it fails to meaningfully involve all types of schools within its borders. While the goal is to have every zone school fully participate in the program, realistically that may not always be possible. In such cases the success zone czar and board will actively find ways to include non-participating schools.

Jason Crye is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

March 2, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

National Study: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Underserving Black Students

A recent study has revealed that only 1 in 5 black students at UWM graduate in six years

Washington, DC - Only one in five black students graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in six years, a new study from the Education Trust has revealed. The survey, which uses data from the national Center for Education Statistics, examined graduation rates among black students at 676 colleges and identified UWM as one of 21 universities with the worst academic outcomes for black students.

The study shows that just 21 percent of black students, or one in five, graduate the university in six years. That’s about half the overall six-year graduation rate – 41 percent for black students – observed across the entire study. Overall, the study found that white students are more than 20 percent more likely to graduate in six years.

UWM also posts particularly large achievement gaps between black and white students, another reason that the institution made it on the lost of bottom-performing colleges in America for black students.

Eighteen schools are identified as high-performing institutes for black students, with Georgia State University posting the best results. None of the top-performing schools are in Wisconsin or even in the midwest, but are scattered across the south and the eastern seaboard. By contrast, nearly all of the bottom-performing institutions are in the midwest.

The findings fall in line with past trends in Milwaukee, where high schools are now working more closely with colleges to align curricula and better prepare graduates for success in higher education. Last year, the University of Wisconsin Remedial Course Report showed that 175 Wisconsin high schools sent more than six graduates to the UW System who needed remedial education. In 12 schools, 50 percent or more of the graduating class who went to the UW System needed remedial education.

The issue runs deep at Milwaukee Public Schools, where some high schools typically touted as high-performing were revealed to be graduating kids who are woefully unprepared for the real world. Reagan High School, for example, was named 2nd best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report – but sent nearly 43 percent of graduates to college needing math remediation.

Milwaukee’s issues with education black children start early – just 7.5 percent of black students in the third through eighth grades are proficient in math. Just over half of black students, or 55 percent, graduate from MPS high schools in four years. By contrast, 68 percent of white students graduate MPS in four years. And yet, as the MacIver News Service has reported, MPS dropped off the list of failing school districts last year.

The report’s authors point to institutional barriers as a main reason for such underperformance, pointing to institutions with similar statistics such as SAT score, enrollment, percent of Pell Grant recipients, but with vastly different academic outcomes for black students. Notably, the authors strongly reject the notion that the differences in graduation rates are a result of factors that institutions cannot control.

February 8, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Walker’s Education Budget: Act 10 Compliance Required for Per-Pupil Funding Boost

[Madison, Wis…] Gov. Scott Walker introduced his 2017-19 budget proposal on Wednesday, and as expected, the document includes massive spending increases for education. The proposal calls for $648.9 million in new state aids for K-12 education and more than $100 million more towards the UW System. Increases to per-pupil aid will be sent to school districts under the condition that they certify to the Department of Public Instruction that they met pension and healthcare savings made possible in Act 10.

Some school districts – most notably, Madison Metropolitan School District – do not currently require their employees to contribute towards their healthcare premiums. Under the proposal, MMSD and other districts not currently in compliance would need to adjust those requirements in order to receive the bump in per-pupil spending. Employees would need to start paying roughly 12 percent of their healthcare premiums and 6 percent of their pensions for school districts to receive the extra dollars.

All told, the $11.5 billion education proposal is the largest investment in K-12 education Wisconsin has ever seen.

In the past several months, the governor has repeatedly stated that he hopes to send more money to public schools in this budget. The new spending – nearly $649 million – is more than three times larger than the 2015-17 budget’s increase, which grew public school spending by $203 million overall.

The proposal includes a $509.2 million increase in per-pupil state aid across the biennium, including a $200 per-pupil increase in fiscal year 2018 (FY18) and a $204 per-pupil increase in

Gov. Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal sends $648.9 million more to K-12 schools and over $100 million to the UW System. FY19. Similar to his 2015-17 proposal, the per-pupil increases will go into categorical aid funding rather than the general fund.

The 2015-17 budget increased funding by $150 per-pupil in FY16 and by $250 per-pupil in FY17 for a total of $338.1 million. In November, DPI requested a total of $460 million for per-pupil aid, meaning that the Governor’s proposal allocates an additional $49.2 million more than DPI asked for.

The K-12 proposal puts state funding at 64.6 percent in the second year of the biennium, the highest level since FY09, when state K-12 contributions amounted to 65.8 percent of funding.

In line with state law, students who use vouchers for their education would receive a per-pupil increase of $217 in each year. The budget proposal does not make any other significant changes any of Wisconsin’s parental choice programs.

Focus on Milwaukee

The budget proposal offers significant investment in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), including a new $5.6 million incentive fund for which failing public, charter, and choice schools will be able to compete. This performance-based funding is the latest in a line of ideas about how to reform Milwaukee’s troubled schools. Gov. Walker said that he would opt to improve schools by introducing more market competition rather than by making changes to MPS’ governance, such as reforming its school board.

Under the proposal, Milwaukee would also receive $2.8 million for its summer school program, including $1.4 million in each fiscal year for grants to schools that have plans to increase student achievement in summer school. Another $500,000 is allocated for FAST, a mental health initiative that addresses family functioning, abuse, delinquency, and maltreatment issues at home. All told, nearly $9 million is targeted directly towards Milwaukee.

Mental Health Initiatives

The Governor’s proposal also creates a new categorical aid program for school social workers. Under his proposal, the new program receives $3 million. Another $2.5 million is allocated for Mental Health Expansion, a new grant program that helps districts connect students with mental health professionals. Finally, $1 million is included for mental health screening and training opportunities for district employees.

Workforce Development

In line with his workforce development initiatives, Walker proposes putting more than $10 million in training for students, keeping in line with his viewpoint that students must begin preparing for their careers at an earlier age. The brand new Early College Credit Program would get $2.9 million to help students receive college credit while in high school. The Special Education Transitional Jobs Program would receive $7.6 million towards awards for school districts who help students with disabilities successfully obtain employment.

Rural Schools

In the last few months, Walker has said that he would focus on rural schools in the coming budget. Indeed, his proposal offers massive commitments towards rural areas through sparsity aid, which is funding for small rural districts with fewer than 745 pupils and a population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile of district attendance. Walker’s proposal increases Sparsity Aid by $20 million, bringing the fund to $55.4 million over the biennium, or $12.3 million more than DPI requested. The 2015-17 budget allocated $35.3 million to Sparsity Aid across the biennium.

The proposal increases per-pupil reimbursement rates to $400 per-pupil for districts that previously qualified for Sparsity Aid. In order to address this particular aid “cliff,” created when districts tip just over 745 pupils and thus no longer qualify for any additional aid at all, Walker’s proposal creates a new tier of Sparsity Aid funding for districts with 746-1000 pupils at $100 per-pupil.

Rural school districts would see a 100 percent reimbursement from the state in the High Cost Transportation Aid program, which provides additional transportation funding to districts with a density of 50 pupils per square mile or less and transportation costs that total more than 150 percent of the state average. Currently, this fund is reimbursed at about 60 percent. Walker’s proposal offers $25.4 million over the biennium, an increase of $10.4 million over the previous budget. At $92,000 across the biennium, DPI’s budget proposal for pupil transportation is fully funded under Walker’s proposal.

As expected, the proposal offers significant funding for broadband and technology advancement – $13 million more is added to the Broadband Expansion Grant Program and $22.5 million is allocated to Teacher Training Grants through Technology for Educational Achievement (TEACH). TEACH lets schools apply for grants and reimburses districts for improving information technology infrastructure. Another $3 million is allocated over the biennium for the Teacher Training Grant Program, which awards grants to districts to train teachers in new educational technology.

The proposal also offers a few provisions that would aim to help rural school districts with regulatory obligations – school districts would be allowed to share or jointly provide certain specialists rather than be required to have specialists on staff at each district. By law, each district is required to hire individuals for roles such as reading specialist, emergency nursing services, guidance and counseling, and attendance officer.

Finally, the budget proposal adds another $1 million for the Fabrication Labs grant program, paid through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

University of Wisconsin System

In line with his announcement that his administration will not only freeze tuition at the UW System, but cut it this budget, the Governor’s proposal includes a 5 percent tuition cut for resident undergraduate students in the second year of the biennium. The 5 percent tuition cut “costs” an estimated $35 million, which Gov. Walker will pay for by increasing the UW’s general purpose revenue funding. The $35 million for the tuition cut is in addition to a planned $100 million increase in state commitment to the UW. The proposal includes a tuition freeze in the first year of the biennium.

The other major news for the UW System is a proposed new requirement that schools come up with plans for students to complete Bachelor’s degrees in three years. Under the proposal, the UW System will have to create pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of programs by January 1, 2018, and for 60 percent of programs by the start of 2020.

Last budget, the UW received $2.05 billion in state funding. This budget, the System receives $2.2 billion in general public revenue across the biennium, a 7 percent increase.

Some of the funding will come in the form of performance-based grants totaling $42.5 million. Rather than simply cutting schools a blank check, the universities will get to receive money based on how well they do on certain metrics. The grants would be distributed by the Board of Regents to the different UW System institutions based upon performance on improving affordability, work readiness, and other state priorities.

UW students would be allowed to opt out of allocable segregated fees, which provide support for student activities such as clubs and organizations. Under the proposal, the UW System would be required to outline plans to allow students to complete their bachelor’s degrees in three years.

The Governor’s proposal offers several new pots of money for research at the UW System. Alzheimer’s research at UW-Madison would receive $100,000 across the biennium, and $200,000 is allocated for the Wisconsin Rural Physician Residency Assistance program.

Make sure to keep following the MacIver Institute for updates as the state budget continues to take shape.

January 30, 2017 | MacIver News Service

Study: Obama Department of Education Effort Spent $7 Billion, Had No Effect

Washington, D.C. - A new report from the federal Institute of Education Sciences has revealed that the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program failed to create any academic gains for students. The controversial grant program spent $7 billion over eight years, and was the largest-ever federal investment in failing schools.

Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised that the major effort would turn around 5,000 failing schools through a series of incentives. Duncan declared it to be the administration’s biggest bet.

Now we know – as some have been warning for years – that the schools which received federal dollars posted no significant differences in academic outcomes, graduation rates, or college enrollment than the schools which received no money under the program.

Read more over at EdNext.

January 3, 2016 | By Ola Lisowski

The MacIver Institute’s Top Ten Education Stories of 2016

Madison, Wis. - It was a busy year in education. From brand new report cards, reports that offered interesting new peeks into our education system, to a vexed turnaround program, we’re counting up the top ten most important education stories for you, the MacIver reader.

We’ll start at number 10 and work our way to the single most important education story of the year. First up…

10. School Districts Skim Millions from Local Taxpayers, Some Blame School Choice

For our first major education story of the year, we go back to February and the end of the legislative session. The MacIver Institute broke this story on public school districts raising local property taxes to cover “losses” from the expansion of the school choice program. According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, 115 school districts raised local property taxes more than the amount they lost to choice schools, and raised taxes by a total of $19.8 million statewide. This figure is $3.7 million more than the districts lost in state aid.

From the perspective of taxpayer advocates, if a child leaves a public school district and that district no longer incurs expenses to educate that child, the district shouldn’t need to raise taxes to make up for “lost” aid. Fewer kids served, less money for the district. It’s that simple – successful business owners know that this is the way life works, but in the vortex that is public education spending, this point somehow gets lost.

Racine Unified School District (RUSD) raised local property taxes the most, by $5,580,980 in 2015, while it lost only $4,164,500 as a result of students leaving for the choice program. As a result, RUSD made a net profit of $1,416,480.

Legislators got word of this and in a last-minute fix, passed an amendment to make it clear that when a student transfers to a choice school, public schools can levy for the amount lost in state aid and no more.

When Democratic legislators cried out against the solution, saying the bill would “gut millions more from public schools,” Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma) had some choice words for the legislators.

“I hate to say this, but I guess math is not your strong suit. We are not cutting schools,” Czaja said. “We’re allowing the schools to levy for the exact amount that will be transferred to the voucher. Exact amount. So the schools will have enough dollars coming in and enough dollars going out. No more dollars will be taken out of the school districts than what they would normally have. Because for every child that they are counting in the levy, that exact amount goes back out. They won’t be educating those children. So I think, I think you have to have a more honest answer to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin. Public schools will be held harmless.”

9. The Every Student Succeeds Act, America’s New Federal Education Law

Just about one year ago, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law with bipartisan support, making it the first major federal education law since 2011’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB). To make a long story short, from a small government perspective, ESSA is a surprisingly good law coming from the Obama administration. Where NCLB created massive federal overreach into education, ESSA brought the reins back and handed them to the states.

ESSA allows states to create their own rules and standards on education – now called “state plans” – and while it does not spend much time dictating what those rules are, it requires states to have guidelines. State plans must include evidence-based interventions and strategies to improve schools. In ESSA, “strict flexibility” is the name of the game. Of course, such openness had already led to differences in interpretation, which will likely cause some battles in 2017.

This past summer, Wisconsin’s DPI held listening sessions for the general public and for educators in order to gather input from the public on testing, achievement gaps, state monitoring, and other important education issues.

DPI will submit a state plan to the feds some time around March 2017. You can bet that the MacIver Institute will be on the issue – stay tuned.

8. WEAC Membership

Since our inception, the MacIver Institute has diligently reported on union membership in the state, especially in our post-Act 10 world. As many of you may remember, Act 10 allowed Wisconsin’s public employees the freedom to decide whether or not they want to join a union and pay dues. Unions must also now hold annual recertification votes.

The result? Membership in the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) has dropped by 58 percent since 2011. This is in line with a national trend, but the drop in membership is larger than that of any other state. Almost 5,100 members left WEAC in just the last year. Before the passage of Act 10, WEAC had nearly 100,000 members. Today, the union membership stands at 36,074.

Survey says: people don’t want to be forced to pay for things they didn’t ask for. We’d also argue that while WEAC’s membership has more than halved in five years, they now have an opportunity to reorganize themselves and prove their value in the 21st century, or risk losing even more members. It’s simple competition, and the ball’s in their court.

7. University of Wisconsin Update: Another Tuition Freeze in Our Future?

Four years into the University of Wisconsin System’s popular tuition freeze, Gov. Walker indicated that he’d be open to another two-year tuition freeze in the coming budget. Great news for our taxpayers and families looking to send off their kids to get a great education at a great price.

To remind our dear readers of the state of tuition before Walker’s freeze – tuition had increased by 118 percent in the decade before the freeze. The average UW student has saved a whopping $6,000 as a result of the freeze. These are significant amounts of money that truly help Wisconsinites who are just trying to get an education.

As for the UW System itself, their 2017-19 budget proposal asks for $42.5 million in new general public revenue and does not increase tuition for Wisconsin residents. Looks like this battle is all but won for the Governor and ultimately, for Wisconsin taxpayers.

6. Forward Exam/ACT results

Wisconsin’s public school students took three different standardized tests in three years. This year, the Forward Exam made its debut, and whether you like the test or hate the test, you probably agree that we shouldn’t change the test at least for a while. Why? Well, in the last three years of data, it’s tough to compare proficiency rates across different exams. Education officials and honest data wonks alike will tell you that it’s not a strong or significant comparison because of the differences between exams. And so, Wisconsin’s students have suffered from a lack of year-to-year comparisons in the form of test scores, which is why other indicators – such as remedial education and graduation rates – are useful to lean on.

So other than the fact that we shouldn’t compare this exam to the others, how did students do? Not great. Nearly six out of ten Wisconsin students are performing below grade level. Statewide, 42.5 percent of students were proficient in English while 42.3 percent were proficient in math. Students fared the best at science, with 50.1 percent having achieved proficiency.

It’s a sorry tale when the fact that half the students passed in science – supposedly now the state’s best subject – becomes the highlight of the release. Half? Half. The disconnect between plugged-in education officials and average Wisconsin citizens who know that half is not a good rate of success is real, and it’s an issue we’ve been going back to all year.

Within MPS, 19.7 percent of students achieved English proficiency, and 14.9 achieved math proficiency. Of black students, just 7.5 percent achieved math proficiency while 36 percent of white students fared the same. In a perhaps surprising reveal, achievement gaps between white and black students at Madison Metropolitan were bigger than the gaps in Milwaukee.

The true highlight of the release for MPS: the fact that older students did better than younger students in English Language Arts, reversing a long-static trend that still exists statewide. That achievement must be highlighted and it must be replicated in more schools across the state.

On the ACT, students scored an average of 20.1 out of 36, a small increase from the previous average of 20. Students achieved an average English score of 18.6, down from 19.3. In math, students achieved a 20.1, a small increase from last year’s average of 20.

As we’ll highlight later in the list, choice students did outstanding on this exam. Students in all three parental choice programs, who are primarily low-income, outperformed their full-income peers in public schools across the state. A system that’s getting less money per kid with better results? I’m interested. And as the data shows, so is the public – but more on that later!

5. Return of the School Report Cards

DPI’s public school report cards provide a glimpse into how schools and districts around the state are faring, but as we’ve covered throughout the year, the report cards often show one thing when the situation on the ground may be totally different. This year, the report cards returned after having skipped a year. The big news was that MPS fell off the list of failing districts and was replaced by Racine United and four smaller districts – more on that later!

Fifty-four districts and 329 schools are ranked as significantly exceeding expectations. Five districts and 99 schools are ranked as failing to meet expectations. I’ve written extensively about the issues with the report cards and such complicated and convoluted rankings, but ultimately, it’s important to have such accountability and feedback so that parents actually know how their local schools are faring.

Unfortunately, the reality on the ground in many of these schools doesn’t reflect what their formal rankings say. One needn’t go much further than MPS to see this – again, more on that later – but it’s true in other parts of the state. Racine United, for example, the largest district to have been added to the “failing” list, sent 33 percent of its graduates needing remediation upon entry at the UW. That number is a whopping 56 percent at MPS, and yet one of the districts is “failing” while the other “meets few expectations.”

4. Remedial Education Report: Is High School Education in Wisconsin Failing?

One study that we kept going back to this year was the Remedial Course Report released by the University of Wisconsin System in October. The report revealed – for the first time – the extent of the remedial education problem in the state.

The report was prompted by a new law championed by Rep. John Jagler (R-Watertown), which required the UW System to list all public high schools that sent more than six graduates into the System needing remedial math or English. Jagler discovered that 20 percent of all freshmen at the UW System required such coursework – which counts for zero credit and costs full tuition – but the UW could not tell him from which in-state high schools those students came. The remedial course report changed that.

We now know that in 2015, 160 schools graduated senior classes where more than 10 percent of students needed math remediation at the UW System. Twelve schools – nearly 7 percent of the list – graduated classes where 50 percent or more – half! – of their graduates needed math remediation when they arrived on campus.

The report was able to take a new datapoint and make it clear to the public that no matter what our Department of Public Instruction says, there are schools all over the state that simply aren’t fulfilling their duties. What’s more, the report revealed some serious dissonance when several schools touted as high achieving were shown to be sending a lot of kids off to college who didn’t pass their entrance-level math exams. Rufus King High School, for example, was named 8th best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report, but one-third of King graduates needed math remediation. Reagan High School was named 2nd best high school in the state by U.S. News and World Report but sent nearly 43 percent of graduates to college needing math remediation.

Not only was this one of the biggest and most important education stories of the year, but it was seriously underreported. Have no fear, the MacIver Institute will stay on top of this issue.

3. Choice Programs Are Still Helping Students Get a Better Education

This year, nothing terribly new or groundbreaking happened with the choice programs in Wisconsin. The three programs – Milwaukee Parental Choice, Racine Parental Choice, and Wisconsin (statewide) Parental Choice – educate a stunning 32,350 students. Almost 30 percent of all families statewide exercise some type of choice in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, over 80 percent of students attend a school of their choosing. The programs certainly have their political enemies, but the participation of Wisconsin families in choice makes their position pretty clear: Wisconsinites want choice. Polling supports this fact, but more importantly, the growth of student and school participation makes clear that the demand is there.

And one last time, for the record – no, school choice is not a program for the ultra-rich to get private school educations that they otherwise would have been able to afford. All three programs are income-limited. If the state wants to start increasing or even removing the income caps, that’s a separate debate – but as it stands today, school choice is giving primarily disadvantaged children the opportunity to get a great education. Though the anti-choice forces are strong: if you ask some people, choice’s expansion is “heartbreaking.” I wonder how the kids getting the better education feel.

And getting a great education they are. Without much fanfare, choice students did great on standardized tests this year, beating even their non-economically disadvantaged public school peers on ACT scores. On the Badger Exam results from back in March, students in school choice programs outperformed their peers in public schools in nearly every category. In Milwaukee, income-limited choice students outperformed kids at MPS by every single proficiency measure. Not every school is perfect, but this system is giving students options. That matters.

2. The Ever-Troubled Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program

Education news in the summer of 2016 can be summed up by one frustrating acronym: OSPP. The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, championed by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), was established with the intent of turning around up to five of the poorest-performing schools within MPS per year. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele appointed Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means to the post of OSPP Commissioner, and all was well. Sort of. Not really. Well, they said things were going swimmingly and they were looking forward to working together and all that other fancy press release talk but then – surprise! – Means resigned, citing the “toxic” atmosphere around education.

To be fair to Means, the man was between a rock (the MPS school board) and a hard place (the teachers’ union, which wanted nothing to do with this plan from the beginning). It was never going to be an easy job. But after all that – the spinning of wheels and protests and proposals and counter-proposals – someone still needs to help these kids. It’s a moral demand as well as a legal demand – ESSA requires states to intervene in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools.

These days, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program is on hold because no school districts technically qualify for it anymore. Does that mean there are no schools in Wisconsin who could seriously benefit from different types of leadership and radical new approaches to education? Of course not. But as of today, the state isn’t working to help those kids. Which brings us to our next point and the most important education story of the year…

1. Milwaukee Public Schools Taken off List of Failing School Districts

The biggest education news story of the year, without a doubt, came out of Milwaukee when the Department of Public Instruction announced that MPS would no longer be classified as a failing school district on the new report cards. Pack it in everyone, we did it! Wait, what’s that? Is it the sound of bureaucratic doublespeak whooshing by? After all, only 19.5 percent of MPS students are proficient in English and only 14.9 are proficient in math. Of black students at MPS, only 7.5 percent are proficient in math.

With numbers like that, how can one possibly proclaim that MPS is succeeding? The district is failing the tens of thousands of kids missing out on a good education while the education bureaucrats pat themselves on the back. But as I’ve written over and over again this year – don’t hold your breath for MPS to serve up some much-needed self-criticism.

Ultimately, the story of MPS moving off the list is one of cognitive dissonance. More than 25,000 kids are at schools at MPS which are still individually classified as failing schools. The district itself managed to swoop by, a miraculous 2.4 out of 100 points above the cutoff for failing schools. As it turns out, “fake news” isn’t just a potential issue in our media but also in our government institutions, how they work, and what they tell the public. For the truth, dig deep and start downloading those excel spreadsheets and dig through the numbers yourself – you’ll be shocked, just as I was when I began covering education.

Or, you know, keep reading the MacIver Institute’s coverage for the latest education news as we head into 2017!

Credits:

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