MMAC education agenda moves forward

Four months ago, at the onset of Wisconsin’s state budget process, we asked Gov. Scott Walker and state legislators to partner with us toward our MMAC goal of increasing the number of high-performing educational options in Milwaukee.

Whether they are in public, private, Choice, Charter or MPS schools, ensuring that Milwaukee’s children have access to a world-class education is not only a moral imperative, it is also an economic necessity.

I am extremely pleased that the state budget blueprint approved this week by the Joint Committee on Finance contains a number of important gains for our MMAC education agenda. While there is still work that remains to be done, the budget approved by the Finance Committee makes significant strides that will strengthen education across the state but particularly here in Milwaukee.
MMAC priority items approved by the Finance Committee included:

  • Choice Per Pupil Funding – Increasing per pupil funding for Choice students from the current $6,440 per pupil to $7,210 per pupil in K-8 and $7,856 per pupil in high school, beginning in 2014-15.
  • Accreditation Reform – Requiring more rigorous continuing accreditation of schools in the Choice program to ensure more consistent academic quality.
  • Teach for America – Providing $1 million in state funding to help increase the number of Teach for America (TFA) teachers in Milwaukee schools.
  • Teacher Licensure and Experience Reforms – Creating a more flexible Charter School teaching license and allowing TFA teaching experience to count toward a school administrator credential.
  • MPS Revenue Limit Increase – Allowing Milwaukee Public Schools additional authority to raise funds under the revenue limits in an effort to stabilize district finances. This equates to nearly $12 million in new spending authority for MPS.
  • Common Core – Continuing state support for the state’s adoption of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards in the key academic areas of reading, math and science.
  • Charter Schools – Increasing per pupil funding for independent charter schools and expanding the authority of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to create innovative high quality charter school options in the region.

Make no mistake, there is still work to do, particularly in the area of state funding equity for students in the Choice program. Some modest funding increases were included in the budget for Choice pupils. However, the fact is that Choice schools still only receive about 75 percent per pupil of what public schools do. That disparity threatens to financially strangle quality schools and reduce educational options for poor children in Milwaukee. This inequity must be must be addressed in the future by the Legislature.

In addition, while the Committee did make changes that take the cost of the Choice program off the local property tax rolls, as long as Choice students are not counted toward the City’s poverty rate, Milwaukee’s valuation will be incorrectly inflated to the City’s detriment when it comes to the distribution of state aid.

On balance, however, the budget approved by the Finance Committee is a major victory for MMAC’s education priorities, but more importantly is a major win for Milwaukee parents and schoolchildren. I am extremely grateful to Sen. Alberta Darling, Rep. John Nygren, and the rest of the members of the Committee for their leadership, their vision and their willingness to be champions for Milwaukee’s children.

Tim Sheehy is president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

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