Over the coming weeks, our state legislators will debate the contents of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal and establish a version to be considered for approval by the Senate and Assembly.
Assuming there is agreement between these branches of our state government, the governor may be in position to sign the budget bill by mid-June. Between now and then, however, much in the proposed budget remains uncertain for K-12 education.
The governor’s budget proposal includes a rollback of $150 per student in categorical aid for the first year of the budget. If the budget were signed in the form that it is today, our Board of Education will need to account for nearly $1 million less in student aid next year.
At the same time that school districts are finding ways to reduce their 2015-16 budgets by $150 per student, the governor’s budget proposal expands the funding for private school vouchers while legislators are unable to agree on uniform accountability measures for all taxpayer-funded schools. Testing requirements, report card ratings and consequences for perennially low-performing schools are areas in which the Senate and Assembly remain at odds with one another.
Moreover, there is a scurry of discussion regarding the new Badger exams, which are currently being administered across the state. The governor’s budget proposal prohibits the use of these tests after one year and requires the Department of Public Instruction to adopt new tests to be used for the 2016-17 school year.
Because of this change, lawmakers are considering an “accountability holiday,” ensuring that the test results from this year’s administration not be used for the state’s report cards or employee evaluations next year.
Based on my classroom visits this spring, you can be certain of something even more important. Despite the efforts in Madison to reduce funding to Wisconsin’s great public schools; despite expanding a voucher program without equal accountability systems; and despite the abrupt effort to change the state’s required testing system; there is but one thing that remains certain in this milieu: Our educators remain steadfast in their commitment to children. To that, I say thank you.
Randy Nelson is superintendent of the La Crosse School District.