Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What comes after

Governor Scott Walker has now signed Wisconsin's 2011-13 budget into law. We have spent so much energy before the signing to lobby at both the state and federal levels for continued resources for our district.  I am taking a moment now to address what comes after.

The immediate fallout from this budget for MPS will be staffing adjustments. We have been warning for months that we will not be able to take an $84 million cut in state aid without the loss of jobs.  This week, we will send out layoff notices.   Meantime, we have asked the teachers' union to discuss pension contributions of up to 5.8% in the hope that we can restore funding to our budget to, in turn, restore some of the jobs. MPS teachers have been good partners. As a result of provisions in the MTEA contract signed last fall, the district has saved in excess of $3 million a month on health care costs.   But the district's needs are growing.  I believe we can all agree that our world has changed dramatically since we negotiated contracts last fall.

State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers is also thinking about the next steps.  He issued a statement this week that says it is time to rally around our students and our schools. In past months I have been impressed with how boldly he cried out for support of public education while the state budget debate so polarized legislators.

Evers' latest statement shows he has already turned his attention to a new battle, a fight to address the flawed state system for funding Wisconsin's schools.  His full statement is here, but here's a quote:    "One step we can take that will build a better future is to improve the fairness and transparency of our school finance system.  It is broken.  Before the next state budget in two years, we can fix our school finance system by adopting my Fair Funding for Our Future recommendations."

I also think it is worthwhile to see a 10-minute WISN-TV interview on the newly passed state budget.  It featured the Governor and State Senator Lena Taylor, and aired Monday morning, June 27. You can find it here.  Senator Taylor did a great job.   She set a tone for continued dialogue that includes a healthy dose of both skepticism and respect.  This is also a part of what comes next:  respectfully continuing the fight for resources to make things better for all kids.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Witnessing history

It's a big week, and for two reasons.

The first reason is that we marked the last day of classes for most of our schools, and released thousands of students for their summer break.  I was at the door when the dismissal bell rang at our school on N. 52nd Street, Milwaukee French Immersion School.

I saw kids excited to start their vacations, and talked with a few of the parents who were there to pick them up.  I wished these families a safe and happy summer break.

We worry sometimes about our kids over the summer.  Many live in neighborhoods where there is little to do, and frankly, some of them go hungry. With most of our children living in poverty, I need to use every chance I can to talk about access to meals during the summer.  Families should call 2-1-1 to find a location near them.  Please spread the word.  We also have summer school ready to start later this month.  Though we have limited seats this year due to budget challenges, many students will have a safe place to go where they can keep their reading skills sharp or recover the credits needed to keep them on target to graduate.   Our Community Learning Centers (CLCs) are safe, fun places to go before and after school, evenings, weekends, and during the summer. CLCs offer educational, recreational, and social activities so that young people don't have to be home alone or on the street. Here's a list of the summer CLC sites.

I said it was a big week for two reasons. 

The second reason is that 90 miles away from here, legislators in Madison are putting the final touches on a state budget that is poised to cut millions from MPS specifically and from public education in general.  It looks as though the way is paved for a larger expansion of voucher schools.  Collective bargaining for public workers is already gone; a separate measure passed this week and the Secretary of State says it will become law June 29.  Already, there are lawsuits from unions.  You can read about one suit here.  I heard that some of our teachers will be headed to Madison on their own time to join a protest in the Square.

We are witnessing history, aren't we?  My sincere hope is that steps taken in Madison this week do not do irreparable damage to the hopes and the opportunities for Milwaukee's already fragile and under-supported children.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Extra funding?

In an opinion piece in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Professors John Witte and Patrick Wolf, researchers associated with the privately-funded School Choice Demonstration Project based at the University of Arkansas, made a curious claim.  If you care to read the article, you can find it at this link.

Here's the claim that most concerns me:  "Public schools have both strong incentives to classify students as requiring special education, because they receive extra funding to teach such students and well established protocols to do so."

Really?  Can they honestly believe that?

The implication is that within public school districts there is somehow a profit to be made by having an increased number of students with disabilities.

That is simply not correct.

The fact is this:  Due to low and declining levels of reimbursement from the federal and state levels, the costs associated with providing needed services to students with disabilities far outpace any so-called "extra funding".  In the 2009-10 school year, using the most conservative method of calculating special education funding, Milwaukee Public Schools incurred unreimbursed special education costs of $42.2 million.

Whatever the merits of the Arkansas group's research might be, it takes little investigation to determine that a loss of $42.2 million cannot be described as a "strong incentive".

With all the loud rhetoric and confusion about funding for public education, it does not help to have opinions such as this one added to the dialogue.  Don't be fooled.  Look for the facts. 

As for MPS' special education students, who now make up almost 20% of our school population, we will continue to do our best to provide the educational services and supports that they need.