Walker proposes significant education reforms

Education reforms to be included in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget are significant steps forward in terms of educational access, accountability and equity, according to said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

“You can’t have an economy that is ‘open for business’ without a well-educated workforce to mind the store,” Sheehy said. “The initiatives laid out by Governor Walker are critical steps toward making quality education in Metropolitan Milwaukee more accessible, more accountable and more equitable for all children.”

Walker’s proposals would increase general school aids to Milwaukee Public Schools, create additional avenues for the creation of charter schools, and increase state per pupil funding for students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In addition, Walker has proposed new incentives to reward high-performing schools and to provide incentives for failing schools willing to engage in aggressive turnaround strategies.

Sheehy said Walker’s proposal to increase per pupil funding for Choice students was especially critical in light of the fact that state support for these students has been essentially frozen for the past decade.

“The Governor has taken an important step to begin addressing the separate and dramatically unequal way the state funds the education of low-income children in Milwaukee,” said Sheehy. “The per pupil increases he has proposed are only a start toward a system of true equity, but they are a stopgap measure critical to keeping the broadest possible array of quality educational options viable and available to children and families in Milwaukee.”

Walker also is proposing changes to the school Choice or voucher program that would open it to nine more districts, beyond Milwaukee and Racine. He will release his plan Wednesday night, as part of his budget address.

The new districts that would qualify for Choice would include West Allis-West Milwaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha, Green Bay and Madison.

Walker also is proposing special scholarship vouchers for students with special needs.

Walker said, “While it is our goal to help struggling (public) schools succeed, we need to make sure students and parents can choose the best option and make sure each child receives a truly great education.”

Critics of Gov. Walker’s proposal say taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund private education.

Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) and Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) expressed concerns about Walker’s budget initiatives.

Walker and the Republican Legislature cut school aids by 10 in the last budget and now they are proposing to add back a mere 1 percent increase for the new biennium.

“Last fall we held an informational session in the Education and Corrections Committee and we repeatedly heard that Walker’s massive cuts only magnified the inequity in the current school funding formula,” said Lehman. “If the Governor was serious about helping education he would address the flaws in the funding formula by adopting Superintendent Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future proposal or something similar rather than offering a Band-Aid.”

“At this pace, it will take nearly 12 years to return to the funding commitment the state made before Walker’s devastating cuts,” Pope said. “That means a student entering kindergarten will not enjoy the same state investment in his or her education as those that came before them until they are graduating from high school. And without additional spending authority, this funding commitment will not increase the amount our schools are allowed to spend educating public school students. Not one more pencil, not one more course offering and not one more teacher will be funded under the Governor’s proposal.”

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