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Past Issues | January 26, 2015 |
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1. Budget Proposal Expected Soon

The budget process is moving more quickly than usual this year, with the governor’s budget address slated for Tuesday, February 3 — some weeks earlier than the usual timeframe.

Sitting governors describe their intents in budget addresses, typically finalizing and introducing their official budget proposals in the days immediately thereafter.

The proposal is directly relevant to education for two reasons: it includes proposed school funding numbers for the next two years (these numbers may take into account the state superintendent’s budget, submitted earlier), and the budget may also include education policy measures.

This year, Governor Scott Walker has said his budget will include, as part of a group of “Workforce Readiness Initiatives,” a proposal to create additional alternative pathways to teacher licensure. These would recognize content knowledge gained through real world experience, as Wisconsin’s existing Alternative Route Pathway already does. However, in contrast to existing pathways, Walker’s proposal would require only a competency exam to demonstrate that someone with this real-world experience is qualified to teach students. State Superintendent Tony Evers told Wisconsin Public Radio that “While we value life experiences, we equally value how to teach. Essentially, what this proposal tells the teachers of the state is, ‘You know, it’s not important how to teach. That just comes naturally.’ That’s just baloney.”

After the governor’s budget proposal is released, it becomes the raw material for legislative debate and honing, including opportunities for public input. In past years, legislators have generally held three or more listening sessions on the budget proposal with citizens around the state.

The process may move more quickly this year, but a final budget will likely not be adopted any earlier than May because of the various steps in the process.

The DPI will analyze and respond to specifics of Governor Walker’s budget proposal after they are available.

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2. Rural Budget Priorities

A DPI news release entitled “Rural school students deserve a piece of the budget pie” makes the case for several measures in State Superintendent Tony Evers’ education budget which would support all, and especially rural, school districts.

Those include school finance reform through Evers’ “Fair Funding for Our Future” plan and investments in other key aid programs such as special education. His “Investing in Rural Schools” package would address some of the most pressing issues facing rural and small schools.

Sparsity aid, designed to offset special costs incurred in sparsely populated areas, would be fully funded to avoid the prorating of recent years.

Reimbursement for transporting students who live at least 12 miles from school would increase by $25 per student. In addition, the budget would increase reimbursement for the state’s “high-cost transportation aid” program begun in the last budget and would modify eligibility requirements to ensure funding goes to districts with low population density and large relative use of transportation by the students they serve.

Fully funding the open enrollment transportation aid program is one of a number of changes requested for the state’s open enrollment program. The department also requests full funding of the transportation aid associated with the state’s Youth Options program.

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3. Gap-Closing Work Featured in National Report

Wisconsin is among four states highlighted in a new national report for efforts to close achievement gaps.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Four States’ Efforts, was released by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a non-partisan organization funded by 52 states and territories and the District of Columbia.

Chosen for the report were Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin — states which “boast average or strong academic achievement levels, but ... are facing achievement gaps.”

The report says efforts highlighted “were chosen because they are robust, long-term, creative, or unusual approaches to addressing this ongoing issue.”

Wisconsin stands out in the list for its focus on classroom- and school-level strategies to close gaps, and for having teachers and school-level administrators comprise its task force. It is also the only state in the report whose gap-closing efforts have been led by the state superintendent without legislative involvement.

Reflecting the recommendations of the task force, the DPI’s Promoting Excellence for All website puts forward four categories of strategies found by the task force members to be successful in closing achievement gaps at their schools. The ECS report lists these four focus areas — effective instruction, student–teacher relationships, family and community engagement, school and instructional leadership — and includes in an appendix the full list of strategies in each category.

The report also highlights other relevant aspects of State Superintendent Tony Evers’ Agenda 2017: “goals around the graduation rate, third-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency rates, and creating a more equitable and transparent funding system.”

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4. Graduation Rates Still Among Tops

A new data table from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) ranks Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate among the top states in the nation for three consecutive years.

The NCES web table reports the national graduation rate at 81 percent for the 2012-13 school year, based on an adjusted cohort graduation rate. Wisconsin’s 88.0 percent rate, reported to the public last spring, is behind Iowa at 90 percent and tied for second with Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Texas.

State Superintendent Tony Evers gave a “bravo” to students and educators in the DPI news release about the data report. “We also,” he continued, “are working to ensure that a high school diploma has prepared our students for what comes after high school: college and careers.”

The upward trend in Wisconsin’s graduation rate — half a percentage point over each of the last two years — looks relatively flat compared to other states, most of which saw graduation rates improve by one or more percentage points between 2011-12 and 2012-13.

“We cannot expect our schools to keep doing more with less,” Evers said, referring to cuts in school funding and revenue authority in the previous state budgets. “My 2015-17 budget calls for fixing our school finance system through ‘Fair Funding for Our Future’ and reinvesting in several critical aid programs so we can ensure prosperity for all our children, our citizens, and our future.”

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5. Visioneer Design Challenge

Middle- and high-school students can try out being architects, product designers, urban planners, fashion designers, game creators, or five other kinds of professionals, in a competitive event that also gives them feedback from professionals in these various “STEAM” fields.

STEAM” is a term sometimes used for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields with the added infusion of art or the arts.

The Visioneer Design Challenge, a project of the Wisconsin Art Education Association, is now accepting applications for participation this semester.

Two students explaining poring over plans with a photograph of a plot of land in front of them

Photo: Visioneer Design Challenge.

Schools have until March 6 to register their groups (up to 12 students for a fee of $100). Students then work on a long-term design challenge — intended as something which could be used for “design curriculum” in a school if desired.

On Friday, April 24, 2015 — a day brimming with creative energy — they bring their long-term projects to a statewide competition at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts, and also try out their abilities in a short-term challenge, under the guidance of a professional (who also judges the winners at the end of the day).

The program’s website features testimonials from design professionals who have helped out over the years.

“It was a wonderfully charged symbiotic experience all day long,” Animator Travis Whittey said. Graphic Designer Kwasi Amankwah said that “this program gives the students a better idea of what a future in art can be.”

It’s a one-of-a-kind event, says Kathy Bareis, an art and adaptive education teacher at DeLong Middle School in Eau Claire, who is this year assuming some aspects of leadership of the event, created by “visionary” Virgi Driscoll. “When someone asks me about Visioneers and how it impacts my students’ learning, I explain that students apply their knowledge and skills learned in my art classroom to real life challenges. Students evaluate and defend their work and in the process make connections with designers and businesses within our community.”

Professor John Caruso of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design even reports that a leading industrial designer, Bill Moggridge, had called for plans to do “exactly what we have already done in our state” on a national level. “The Visioneer Design Challenge program is a tremendous success and a model for the entire country to pattern after,” Caruso said.

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State Superintendent Tony Evers


1. Budget Proposal Expected Soon

2. Rural Budget Priorities

3. Gap-Closing Work Featured in National Report

4. Graduation Rates Still Among Tops

5. Visioneer Design Challenge

DPI-ConnectEd comes from the office of State Superintendent Tony Evers
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For questions about this information, contact Benson Gardner (608) 266-3374