“Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools”

The latest Forward Institute study has been released, titled “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” (full study in pdf at link). The full raw data set will be posted in the coming days.

The following is the text of remarks from Scott Wittkopf, lead author of the study, at the press conference this morning in Spring Green with State Senator Dale Schultz(Power Point at the link):

Introduction

Why are we here today? It may seem odd to release a study about Milwaukee schools in Spring Green. In truth, public education is about community. In fact, public schools are the heart of the community – and as goes a community, so go the public schools. Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress. That fact is true whether the “community” is considered rural, urban, a state or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.

This study, while focused on Milwaukee School Report Cards, tells us something critically important about what is happening in the Milwaukee education system. Our study of significant factors associated with Report Card Scores, why 2R charter schools APPEAR to have higher Report Card Scores, and how publicly subsidized “opt-out” schools impact public schools has statewide implications. As Milwaukee now serves as the laboratory for education experimentation in Wisconsin and the nation, we can extrapolate what is happening in Milwaukee to examine the impact of such a system if it were to be expanded statewide – into rural districts like River Valley. 

Summary of most significant findings

1. School to school comparisons:

  • MPS/2R raw scores – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy and student poverty rates. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter school type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • 2R/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy rates and higher rate of fully licensed teachers. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • MPS public/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that MPS public schools have higher disabled enrollment, teacher experience, and student poverty rates than MPS charter schools.  When we equalize for these factors, we find that the difference BECOMES significant. This means that MPS public school Report Card Scores actually ARE higher than MPS charter schools. 

2. The most significant factor in the Milwaukee School Report Card scores is habitual truancy (Truancy effect slope figure). We can explain almost the entire effect on Report Card scores by three significant factors – habitual truancy rate, student poverty, and the percent of teachers with at least five years of experience. It is important to underscore that “Percent of Teachers with 5 years experience” have the same POSITIVE effect with scores as student poverty has negative effect. The negative truancy effect is 3 times that of the teacher and student poverty effects.

3. The negative effect of truancy is equal across schools. No school type counters these effects through educational effectiveness. 

4. The data presented in this study along with other cited research indicates a strong likelihood of student selectivity (“skimming”) by 2R charter schools. This factor creates perceived positive effects which are overstated and unrelated to school type. 

5. We suggest that school and parental bias factors are theorized to have a negative effect on the students left behind by an opt-out system which functions as a new form of segregation based on prior student achievement, parental participation, and schools picking “desirable students.” (Power Point Slides on truancy) 

  • 9-year truancy trend – WI and MKE stable, as student poverty increases; 2R sees 50% decrease.
  • Zip Code – Community level – 2R charters not characteristic of community school. 53210 – stark difference in truancy rate/report card score.
  • 2012 – 2013 – Effects of truancy across all schools. No school type counters effect, only through selection. 

The big picture presented in this study is consistent with a large body of research which tells us that these multiple levels of selection bias are occurring in “opt out” parallel school systems as in Milwaukee. It also tells us a great deal of how that system is fundamentally flawed, and that expansion of this type of system statewide would have devastating effects on community school districts like River Valley.

Connecting the dots

                1. There is strong evidence that 2R charter schools have selection biases which reinforce each other, and have nothing to do with educational efficacy – confirming theorized “skimming” effects.

2. Recent published research (Dr. Kern Alexander, U of I, Journal of Education Finance, Fall 2012)[1] confirms what is now known from 20 years of Cognitive Science research[2] – that people make decisions based on deeply held values, beliefs, and cultural biases – not from best information. This is critical in understanding how ANY publicly subsidized, parallel education system is based on a false premise – that people will select a school based on educational effectiveness. THIS IS FALSE. In education decisions, as in economics, people do not behave as rational actors. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

3. The system in Milwaukee is leading to selection bias on the part of schools and parents, which is causing predictably higher performing students to opt out of public schools for multiple bias reasons, leaving higher concentrations of higher needs student in the public schools.

4. Higher concentrations of higher needs students places more stress on a school, requiring more resources – which are not there because of funding required for the parallel, publicly subsidized schools which are skimming funding as well as students.

5. The cycle is now continuous as funding for higher needs, public school students continues to be cut. These are the schools in our most distressed communities which will be faced with closure, only to be replaced by 2R style charter schools which do NOT offer a better education for a more select group of students – leaving many behind.

This is becoming a vicious, downward spiral in Milwaukee. Current policy being debated would perpetuate this cycle through inappropriate use of School Report Cards. School Report Cards provide local schools with another rung on the educational ladder of success. They provide insights into what works, and what requires further development and investment to ensure educational opportunity for every child. Instead, there are policymakers who would have the Report Cards be used as a wrecking ball – to literally wreck public schools in our most distressed communities, and replace them with schools that do not provide equal opportunity for every child. 

Policy Recommendations

                1. The entire Milwaukee community (and the state of Wisconsin) should commit to a proactive, wide reaching truancy project. One place to start is the model program “Walking School Bus” which has been successful in getting kids to school in other urban areas.

2. A ten year plan to sunset the 2R charter and any publicly subsidized private schools. A 20 year experiment has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and shown no real educational benefit or effectiveness beyond what is available in public schools.

3. Develop criteria for proper use of School Report Cards as another means for local districts to gauge successes and further needs – not as a wrecking ball.

4. Address the issue of inequitable funding in Wisconsin Public Schools in the face of increasing populations of high needs students.

5. The state needs to begin addressing the real issues facing communities in distress, as schools will follow.

[1] Alexander, Kern, “Asymmetric Information, Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stiglitz”, From the Journal of Education Finance,  Fall 2012

[2] Damasio, Anthony, “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” Penguin Books, 1994

New Forward Institute study to be released

The Forward Institute will be releasing a new study next week in public press events which will be announced soon. The latest research began in August, 2013 and examines School Report Card scores in MPS, MPS charter, and 2R charter schools.

The report will have significant implications for education policy both in Milwaukee and statewide. It is also the first to examine the differences between the two charter school and public schools sets while controlling for multiple independent variables through multivariable regression analyses.

Press event notices will be posted on the Forward Institute website as soon as available. Follow Forward Institute to get instant notification of the event schedule.

 

CAFO Settlement after Decade of Violations

A factory farm in Wisconsin has agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement after a decade of violations. The hazards of concentrated livestock operations to public health are becoming well documented, as evidenced in recent Forward Institute posts on this website. Forward Institute statement on this settlement follows (Press Release):

Wisconsin Factory Farm to pay Six Figure Settlement to State

                A stipulation entered in Kewaunee County Circuit Court on September 12, 2013 resulted in $100,000 in fines levied against Keith Duescher, owner of the former “Legendairy Farms” CAFO. After nearly ten years of violations which subjected neighbors, wetlands, and Lake Michigan to manure runoff contamination and toxic emissions, the defendant (Duescher) has stipulated to the facts in evidence and the fine levied by the State of Wisconsin.

“This case is a stark illustration of how factory farms in Wisconsin are a threat to people who simply wish to live free to breathe clean air and have clean water to drink. Factory Farm oversight and accountability to the people of Wisconsin is absolutely necessary to ensure quality of life and quality of our local farms.” 

The State case outlined violations committed by Duescher and Legendairy Farms resulting in significant impact to the community and the environment beginning in 2004:

1. Manure runoff discharged into navigable waters that feed into Lake Michigan, resulting in a significant threat to water quality in the Great Lake and local tributaries.

2. The failure of Duescher to comply with permit and monitoring requirements posed a significant threat to public and environmental health.

3. Duescher compromised, damaged, or destroyed numerous wetland habitats, even after multiple contacts with DNR specialists instructing him to remove material discharged into those wetlands.

4. The open burning of a demolished barn and plastic containers resulted in airborne emission of dioxin and asbestos, two highly toxic and hazardous chemicals.

5. A second open burning incident occurred 8 months after Duescher had been warned by DNR against open pit burning. 

The full text of the stipulation and order can be read here

:Legendairy Farms Stipulation and Order

Wisconsin’s legislature and state agencies have created rules and accountability for a good reason, and this case is an illustration of why. We need continued oversight of factory farms and their practices for three important reasons. First, we have a fundamental right to live our lives with clean water and air. Second, our food supply needs to be safe and clean. Finally, factory farms engaging in unscrupulous practices without regard for their negative impact on people, land, and water are a scar on the long heritage of the Wisconsin family farm as part of the community. 

While we appreciate the efforts of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Department of Natural Resources beginning to enforce the law, that there is much more work to be done in this area. There is a significant amount of research demonstrating the need for oversight and enforcement of CAFO operations.

Duescher’s “Legendairy Farms” is now owned and operated by Ebert Dairy Enterprises LLC of Algoma, WI.

New Messaging Campaign Unveiled at Fighting Bob Fest

You are invited to visit us at Fighting Bob Fest 2013 this weekend, where we are unveiling the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign…

“We CAN win the messaging war!” 

Forward Institute is spearheading a new, collaborative effort with progressive organizations and grassroots groups to take back Freedom for Progressives.

“What is this campaign all about?”

            The Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign (WPFC) is a broad effort that has no precedent in Wisconsin or the US. For decades, progressives have been mere observers as conservatives have dominated messaging and communications on politics and policy. Through the WPFC, we will counter that dominance, and reclaim a value that has always represented progressives – Freedom. 

“Who is involved?”

Forward Institute is partnering with progressive organizations, individuals, and statewide grassroots organizations to create a long-term, multi-pronged structure for communications and values-based messaging on progressive issues. Consulting is Cognitive Science and Messaging expert George Lakoff from the University of California-Berkeley.

“How will it work?”

WPFC creates a four-pronged structure to address significant needs in progressive policy messaging and communications. Each will serve internal and external needs for partner organizations and all progressives statewide:

1. “Framers and Trainers” – Core group trained as messaging experts and trainers for work with grassroots and policy organizations statewide.

2. “Research” – Unique capacity to conduct independent, academic quality research on progressive policy issues to ensure accurate, authentic messaging. Also serves as resource for grassroots groups without research capacity.

3.”Strategic Communications/Booking Agents” – Creates capacity through multiple media formats to disseminate values-based messaging. This segment works to educate key media in progressive values policy language. Assemble and train issue experts on progressive values language for media appearances and contact.

4. “Social Forums/Donor Development” – Creates and plans social event forums with featured speakers to engage the public on progressive values and issues. Engages donor development through direct interaction with the WPFC, potential donors, research, and messaging on policy issues.

“How can I help?”

1. Donate to our secure pay pal account below to support this critical and progressive effort. Forward Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization.

2. Follow Forward Institute to stay informed about this important campaign, and check our website often – look for the “Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign” tab.

3. Email us to get involved with the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign:             info@forwardinstitutewi.org

4. Visit us at Fighting Bob Fest to get more information!

Through a collaborative, consistent, authentic, and values-based messaging campaign – we WILL reclaim FREEDOM for PROGRESSIVES!

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Forward Institute Statement on Budget Passage

The Forward Institute Board of Directors issued this statement regarding legislative passage of the budget:

The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a budget which will do long-term damage to education in Wisconsin. In expanding the private voucher program statewide, failing to keep up with inflation in funding public schools, failing to address student poverty issues, and unfairly rewarding select schools and students, Wisconsin Legislators are basing bad policy solely on multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and lobbying efforts, not the evidence for what works in schools.  The most important function of state government is the support of public education (Brown v. Board of Education, majority opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren, 1954); the majority party in Wisconsin has passed a budget which is a fundamental governing failure. Every citizen in Wisconsin will be negatively affected by this budget. 

1. Statewide expansion of private voucher schools increases spending by hundreds of millions of dollars on a program which has failed in its fundamental purpose:  provide a better educational alternative for children of poverty. After twenty-plus years of the Milwaukee experiment, voucher schools have shown no positive benefit to student outcome and have almost no accountability to the taxpayers.

2.  Voucher school expansion increases the financial burden on local public schools, especially those in areas of high poverty, as state funding fails to keep up with inflation. Students in rural and urban areas of poverty continue to be denied equal access to educational opportunity compared to their more fortunate peers.  This is fundamentally in violation of Article X(2) Section 3 of the State Constitution and Wisconsin state statute 121.01.

3. Property taxes will continue to increase. Funding for the private voucher program is taken from the education budget first, with public school funding coming out of the remaining revenues.  As state revenue for public education continues to diminish relative to costs and inflation, property taxpayers will shoulder the burden for the local funding gap in public education. This is also in violation of state statute 121.01 on public school financing.

4. The budget provisions allow existing voucher schools to accept students statewide, without the new students counting toward the enrollment cap. This statewide expansion is contrary to the original, bi-partisan voucher experiment as established during Tommy Thompson’s tenure as Governor.

5. The budget limits accountability for educational outcomes by explicitly forbidding the Department of Public Instruction from reporting voucher school and student data without the consent of individual schools, data that public schools are required to provide. This intentionally prevents comparative analyses of the effectiveness of voucher school programs.

Forward Institute applauds lawmakers’ agreement with our policy recommendation to abandon the use of School Report Cards to make critical school financing decisions. The remainder of the education budget is a disaster, ignoring critical evidence presented in the months preceding debate. Legislators who advocated for passage of the education budget have demonstrated they are not interested in creating evidence-based policy.  Wisconsin’s heritage of forward thinking public education is threatened by policies driven by outside   lobby groups that want to compete for public funds, instead of focusing those funds on improving our troubled schools. The Forward Institute will continue to advocate for effective, evidence-based public policy in Wisconsin through independent research and communication efforts, and engagement across partisan lines.

Forward Institute Board of Directors

(A pdf file is available here: Forward Institute Budget Passage Statement 2013)

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Report – Education Budget Places Heavier Education Funding Burden on Property Taxpayers

Based on the reported provisions of the education budget and state fiscal data, Forward Institute analysis shows that local property taxpayers will shoulder an increasing share of public education funding. This is potentially a violation of Wisconsin State Statutes regarding school finance.

Wisconsin Statute 121.01 regarding school finance, general aid:

“It is declared to be the policy of this state that education is a state function and that some relief should be afforded from the local general property tax as a source of public school revenue where such tax is excessive, and that other sources of revenue should contribute a larger percentage of the total funds needed.”

Compiling data from the Department of Public Instruction and Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that for the first time since the adoption of Wisconsin Statute 121.01, local property taxes will fund a greater portion of the public education budget than state aid.

Capture

Hastily written, behind-the-scenes political deals never result in good public policy. This budget proposal is no different. Not only does it potentially violate state education funding statute 121.01 and place a greater burden on local property taxpayers, but it has opened the door for Governor Scott Walker to use the line item veto to simply eliminate the student enrollment limit on the voucher program. The result, as is clear from our analysis, would continue Wisconsin down a fiscally irresponsible path for public education.

The full report can be viewed at Education Budget Report June 6, 2013.

Forward Institute Chair Testimony against Election Omnibus Bill

The following is the testimony of Scott Wittkopf, Chair, Forward Institute, registering against AB225: 

Madame Chair and Members,

Upon review of AB225, the full scope and nature of this egregious bill can be found in the provisions which seek to revise the current Recall Statutes. The recall is provided for in the State Constitution under Article XIII, Section 12. It is abundantly clear that in providing citizens with the recall mechanism, the Constitution continued to affirm the principle of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin Government. In even considering AB225, this legislative body is systematically dismantling one of the foundational principles of Wisconsin government – that “the will of the people is the law of the land.”

The proposed change to the Recall Statutes in AB225 may be intended to apply only to local and municipal elected officials, but make no doubt, it flies in the face of the very letter of the Constitution. Article XIII, Section 12(7) states:

“This section shall be self−executing and mandatory. Laws may be enacted to facilitate its operation but no law shall be enacted to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.” 

AB225 does exactly that, and worse yet, attempts to hide behind the creation of two distinct classes of recall – one with a higher standard than the other. By any reasonable evaluation, AB225 hampers, restricts and impairs the Constitutional right of the recall. It is an erosion of the principle of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin Government – making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to recall an official for any reason related to their duties. As I stated previously, this is the nature of the entire bill – the destruction of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin.

That can be the only explanation for a bill which would allow private corporations to increase their unreported, unregulated, and unlimited “independent” political campaign influence; while at the same time prohibiting a School District, which has full accountability to the citizens, from spending a single dime of those very same taxpayers’ funds to inform them about important funding referendum. This is absurd and a travesty. This provision in AB225 will serve only to increase the already outsized influence of private, unaccountable corporations, and continue to diminish the voice of citizens in local elections.

AB225 also continues to increase the influence of lobbyists in Wisconsin elections, through extending the contribution time limit. We already have lobbyists writing our laws on behalf of their corporate sponsors. These same lobbyists will now have increased power to influence elections. Again I reiterate, decimating the principle of popular sovereignty.

You will hear a great deal of testimony today, and most of it will be against AB225 relevant to the rights of citizens to express their political will through the vote. This is compelling testimony. I also ask you to consider legacy in the context of my remarks.

This committee is now taking up a bill, just as your colleagues in Joint Finance are, which will create the legacy that this legislative body will leave behind.  Passage of AB225 will ensure that legacy will be one of destruction. It is not overstating that AB225, if passed, will result in the destruction of popular sovereignty as Wisconsin has known for over a century. Your legacy will be that private corporations, through highly partisan political committees, will have greater control and influence in the Wisconsin political and governing process. Wisconsin citizens’ voices will be diminished even further in their own government.

The principle of popular sovereignty as intended in the State Constitution will be lost, as it was in the late 19th Century. History will judge your actions as harshly as it did the legislators of the “Robber Baron” era. We may look to history for the consequences of that era, and I hope my testimony today gives you pause as you consider the legacy you will leave should you pass this bill. The Constitutional right of the recall which AB225 intends to impair represents the principle and precedent of popular sovereignty in Wisconsin government. AB225 is an assault on that principle. Today, this committee has a clear choice.

The passage of AB225 means that you choose the destruction of popular sovereignty, in favor of increased private, corporate power and influence over Wisconsin government and, therefore, its people. I ask you today to choose rejection of AB225, respecting the legacy of those who came before you in this legislative body, and the generations of citizens who have exercised their right of popular sovereignty so that we all may do the same.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott Wittkopf, Chair

Forward Institute, Inc.

Letter to Joint Finance Committee Concerning Education Budget

Forward Institute Chair Scott Wittkopf submitted the following letter to the Joint Finance Committee today, Tuesday, May 28 (JFC Letter 2013):

Dear Senator Darling, Representative Nygren, and Members of the Joint Finance Committee,

The Forward Institute’s recent study; “Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education” has received bi-partisan support and addresses critical issues regarding education funding, state budget, and student outcomes. This letter is to urge you to adopt education funding policy based on the best evidence available, setting ideology aside. Our report addresses the following educational policy issues relevant to the current DPI budget:

The private school voucher expansion proposal should be removed from the budget and introduced as separate policy legislation. It is inappropriate to continue pushing voucher expansion as part of a public education budget proposal. Our study clearly demonstrates that after more than twenty years, the Milwaukee private school voucher experiment can show no measurable educational outcome benefit to students when compared to Milwaukee Public Schools. Studies conducted by the pro-voucher School Choice Demonstration Project reach similar conclusions. Private voucher schools in Milwaukee are underperforming the Milwaukee public schools they are supposed to be a better alternative for, and are actually more costly per pupil to the state for worse results in student proficiency. This important debate must take into account all relevant facts and statewide impact of expanding such an expensive subsidy, which will not happen under cover of the biennial budget.

The Joint Finance Committee should begin to implement Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding Formula” as the first step to addressing the harsh inequities in Wisconsin’s existing education funding system. In the face of increasing economic stress and growing student poverty in public school districts statewide, we submit that it is not appropriate for the state to continue subsidizing unaccountable private religious education that produces questionable results. As our report clearly shows, the best use of the taxpayer education dollar is the public schools. Further, the impact of poverty on education in Wisconsin is not being addressed by current policy. In fact, we can predict with certainty that under the status quo the student effects of poverty will get worse in the coming decade.

The critical issues surrounding the growing dichotomy in Wisconsin education between children of poverty, and those of non-poverty must be addressed by the Legislature. There is a direct correlation between student/school outcome and rate of poverty not being addressed by the Legislature. The state of Wisconsin is failing our students, public schools are not failing. The current budget proposals will only make the situation worse. Further, as our report demonstrates, the current funding and delivery system in Wisconsin may no longer be Constitutional.

It is time to begin addressing these critical education issues in Wisconsin. Two immediate steps the Joint Finance Committee ought to take are removing the voucher program expansion proposal from the budget, and begin adopting Dr. Evers’ Fair Funding Formula. We urge you to make these education policy decisions based on evidence, not ideology.

Sincerely,

Scott Wittkopf, Chair

Forward Institute

scott@forwardinstitutewi.org

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education

Forward Institute has released its new study at a press conference in Milwaukee’s City Hall. The following remarks were made by Chair Scott Wittkopf, highlighting the most important findings of the comprehensive study.

Wisconsin has always been a leader in K-12 public education because we have long valued the right of every child to receive a quality public education. The fundamental nature of our values is reflected in the State Constitution, which guarantees all children equal access to educational opportunity in our public schools. That constitutional right is now being systematically eroded and defunded. The research presented in this report shows that current fiscal policy and education funding are depriving our poorest students access to a sound public education. Public schools are not failing our children, Wisconsin legislators and policymakers are failing the public schools that serve our children.

Our comprehensive report documents in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the state funding they receive.

The following seven points highlight critical findings of our study:

1. The number of students in poverty has nearly doubled since 1997, increasing from 24% of all students to 42% (Reference Poster Figure 1). At the same time, inflation-adjusted state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in over 17 years. On average, schools with higher poverty enrollment levels have experienced per-pupil funding cuts over 2 times the cuts in the most affluent districts.

2. Analyzing state testing data revealed a paradox within economically disadvantaged (ED) students scoring proficient or advanced. As ED enrollment increased, the percentage of ED students scoring proficient or advanced also increased. Our analysis discovered that as more children dropped into ED due to economic circumstances, they brought their typically higher test scores into the ED group. This has resulted in the false perception that poorer students’ test proficiency rates have been rising. Further, as ED enrollment approaches 50%, we are seeing a plateau and beginning of a downward trend in ED scores. A student who begins in poverty does not have previously higher scores to bring into a cohort, as we observed over the past decade. Therefore, we can expect to see a growing achievement gap between ED and non-ED test scores in the coming decade. 

3. If the Walker proposal to increase voucher school funding is adopted, over $2,000 more will go to a K-8 voucher student than a public school student. A voucher high school student will receive nearly $3000 more in state aid than a public school student (Reference Poster Figure #2). When controlling for inflation, K-8 voucher schools will have seen a $400 increase, and voucher high schools a $1000 increase in per student funding from the 1999 school year. In comparison, public schools will have seen a $1000 per student decrease from the 1999 level. The economic disparities in state funding between voucher and public schools are important in the education funding debate. As we will demonstrate, there is evidence that voucher schools have no positive effect on student graduation/attainment levels or test scores. This raises the question, is there sufficient evidence to support the claim of voucher advocates that voucher schools afford a better educational opportunity to students? Based on the data, we conclude the evidence does not support this claim.

4. The new School Report Card scores released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have a strong correlation to the level of poverty in any given school and school district (reference poster figure #3). Nearly half of the school-to-school difference in Report Card Scores can be explained by the difference in poverty level from school to school. When compared to other factors at the school district level such as teacher experience, racial demographics, and per pupil revenue limits, poverty still accounts for 44% of the school district difference in Report Card scores. This fact makes any use of the DPI School Report Cards for significant funding or incentive decisions poor public policy.

5. The Walker budget proposes to expand voucher schools into districts where School Report Card scores “fail to meet expectations.”  This proposal will assure that more schools and school districts of high poverty will lose resources. As we have shown, School Report Card scores are directly correlated to level of poverty, and districts with underperforming schools are therefore districts with schools of higher poverty. Funding to operate the voucher school expansion will come directly out of those public schools of highest poverty. 

6. Milwaukee voucher program students underperform Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students on statewide tests, with a lower percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. In the Milwaukee voucher program (based on two years’ (2010-2012) data) over 20 children graduate for every child testing proficient in 10th grade reading. The statewide ratio is about 1:1. The MPS ratio is about 2:1. In mathematics, the statewide ratio is about 1:1, MPS ratio is about 3:1, and the voucher student ratio is over 50:1.That means over 20 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade reading, and over 50 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade mathematics. This translates into a much higher cost in state aid for a voucher student to become proficient or advanced than an MPS or high poverty statewide student to become proficient or advanced (reference poster figure #4).  This provides a stark illustration of the high cost to taxpayers for low student proficiency in the voucher program, and raises a significant question of educational adequacy for voucher schools, as the expectation should be for a high school graduate to be proficient in reading and math.

7. As a result of recent budget decisions resulting in education austerity, there is strong evidence that the current public education funding and delivery system in Wisconsin is unconstitutional. When compared to their more affluent peers, students of poverty are not receiving an adequate public education as defined by State Supreme Court precedent, statutes, and the State Constitution. Further, the system has created two distinct classes of students, those of poverty and non-poverty. Both groups have predictable outcomes based on level of poverty. Recent budgeting decisions are exacerbating this dichotomy.

Based on our conclusions, we present the following 5 policy recommendations:

1. Fair Funding – The Legislature should approve, and the Governor should sign, Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding” formula into law. This would be a first step toward addressing the increasing needs of rural and urban districts most affected by poverty.

2. Address Issues of Poverty and Education – The two greatest challenges to ensuring a prosperous and vibrant Wisconsin for future generations are poverty and education. The Governor should join with non-partisan, bi-partisan, broad-based constituent groups to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Commission.” This commission should be charged with a one-year mission to develop a statewide plan bringing parents and communities (rural and urban) impacted by poverty together for the purpose of implementing an intervention plan to address poverty and education issues. There are already successful models in communities that address the external poverty issues that have negative effects on education. Achievement gaps are largely attributable to factors outside of school walls. If Wisconsin is to substantially narrow these gaps, education policy must incorporate health and nutrition supports and after-school enrichment to address barriers to learning that are driven by child poverty.

3. Voucher Program Sunset – The twenty-year Milwaukee and one-year Racine private school voucher experiment should be sunsetted by the Legislature in 2024. The voucher experiment can show no positive voucher school effects on student outcomes and attainment, beyond what already can be attributed to the voucher schools’ select student demographic and parental factors. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund a second statewide school district, nor an expensive entitlement program, when the public schools are not failing. It is, in fact, the state of Wisconsin that is failing public schools and the children they serve. Dividing resources between two statewide school districts exacerbates this growing problem in the face of increasing poverty rates.

4. Charter Schools – Charter schools eligible for state aid should be allowed only under the auspices and as an instrumentality of an existing public school district to ensure public accountability in fiscal, academic, staff, and student functions.

5. School Report Cards – School Report Cards issued by DPI should be used as part of the big picture to measure overall school and student performance along with other standards and measures, balancing “input” (educational access, quality, services, resources, etc.) and “output” (student results). It should be acknowledged that the use of School Report Cards exclusively for reward, incentive, funding, penalty, or other fiscal consequence is improper, poor public policy, and would further erode access to educational opportunity.

This report demonstrates in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and indeed are facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the funding they receive. The failure of Wisconsin policy makers to acknowledge and address these issues is creating a generation of economically disadvantaged students that will lag far behind their more fortunate peers.

Public schools are not failing Wisconsin’s students, the state of Wisconsin is failing the public schools which serve these students.

The full report can be accessed here:

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education 2013

The full data will be posted within two days on our “Research” page.

Forward Institute Report to be released tomorrow

Forward Institute will release its new study, “Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education, a Study of the Impact of School Funding on Educational Opportunity” at a press conference at Milwaukee’s City Hall. The public press event starts at 10:00 am, and the public is encouraged to attend.

The research presented in this report shows that current fiscal policy and education funding are depriving our poorest students access to a sound public education. Public schools are not failing our children, Wisconsin legislators and policymakers are failing the public schools that serve our children.

Our comprehensive report documents in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the state funding they receive.

The press events continue at the Central Library in Green Bay, 3:00 pm Wednesday (May 15); La Crosse, Southside Neighborhood Center, 11:00 am Thursday (May 16); Kickapoo High School, 1:30 pm Thursday (May 16); and concludes in Madison, at the State Capitol Hearing Room 225 NW at 10:00 am on Friday (May 17).

For further information, contact Scott Wittkopf – scott@forwardinstitutewi.org