Legislative Update – JFC hears from State Superintendent

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction testified on its proposed 2019-21 budget in front of the Joint Finance Committee today, Wednesday, April 3.

The DPI budget proposal, which would increase public school funding by $1.4 billion, is a move toward restoring what’s been cut over the past eight years. Democratic legislators on the committee and State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor stood their ground on the need to increase funding for students while Republican JFC members repeatedly knocked the proposal.

While the JFC is holding hearings on the governor’s budget proposal, they’ve made clear they are considering they’ll ignore his proposal altogether and instead introduce their own budget. Given public sentiment to reinvest in education, Republican leaders have said a funding increase is on table but have questioned how much money that would include – and how it would be divided between public and private voucher schools. Republican members of the JFC did point out the funding for education in their last budget, which did not restore funding they had cut previously but marked the first time they hadn’t made cuts in many years. They also spoke out against capping voucher enrollment.

Key points from the hearing:

  • “…the focus of our budget — and my agenda as Wisconsin’s state superintendent — is educational equity. Educational equity is providing each child the opportunities they need to achieve academic and personal success. It’s about fairness.” – State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor
  • “…taxpayers probably can’t afford it.” – Luther Olsen, Senate Education Committee Chairman
  • “This budget to me obviously indicates a real true investment in K-12 education, but it also underscores how much we haven’t been paying in the past budget.” – Sen. Jon Erpenbach

Some examples of how the budget advances fairness in education:

  • Increases investment in student mental health by $63 million. State support remains far short of demand and this budget significantly expands school-based services, pupil support staff, and mental health training. One in five students faces a mental health issue, and over 80 percent of these students going untreated.
  • Invests in early childhood education. All Wisconsin students benefit from full-day 4K, and there are 3K grants for the five largest school districts. To eliminate achievement gaps, Wisconsin will finally address learning deficits early. All children deserve access to high quality, developmentally-appropriate, early learning environments – no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.
  • Establishes after-school program funding. $20 million in aid to fund after-school programming provides more children opportunities for high-quality, extended learning time.
  • Creates Urban Excellence Initiative. Multiple strategies tackle achievement gaps in the five largest school districts that educate 20 percent of all Wisconsin students.
  • Addresses the needs of English learners. Extra support, including an increase of the state reimbursement rate from 8 percent up to 30 percent by 2021, will help this population achieve academic success.
  • Funds special education for the most vulnerable students. This budget ends the decade long freeze on primary special education aid with a $606 million investment to increase the state’s reimbursement rate from 25 percent to 60 percent by 2021.

JFC takes up transportation

Along with the DPI, the Joint Finance Committee took up the governor’s proposed transportation budget. Prevailing wage and an increase in the gas tax were among questions the committee members posed to Transpo Secretary Craig Thompson. Here are the key points:

  • While Republican members of the JFC said they doubt the guv’s proposed 8 cent/gallon increase would be offset by the elimination of the minimum markup, Dems said the gas tax increase would build a path to a long-term plan to fund roads.
  • Thompson said the governor’s plan to reinstate prevailing wage will save money over time, ensure there are qualified workers on the job, and increase competition, but Republicans on the committee expressed firm desire not to bring it back – having just eliminated it.

Bills We’re Watching

  • Character Education (AB 149 / SB 138). The Assembly version of this bill was introduced Wednesday. This authorizes the Department of Public Instruction to award grants to school districts for teachers, pupil service professionals, principals, and school district administrators to participate in professional development trainings in character education. Under the bill, DPI is authorized to make these grants for 24 months.

Legislative Update: Education committee to take up student privacy and more

The Assembly Education Committee will hold public hearings on three bills at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 4, at the state Capitol. On the docket is a bill to expand student information schools can release to the public, safety drills and including arts opportunities in school report cards.

To weigh in on any of these bills, use the WEAC Action Alert!

CLICK HERE NOW TO SEND AN EMAIL
TO THE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

  • Pupil Information (AB53 / SB57). Expands pupil information allowed to be disclosed by a public school to include the names of parents or guardians. Under current law, the information that may be included in “directory data” that may be disclosed to any person (as long as a public school notifies families of the categories of information and informs families an opt out procedure) includes pupil name, address, telephone, date/place of birth, major field of study, activity/sport participation, attendance dates, photographs, weight and height as member of athletic team, degrees/awards, and most recent school attended. School districts may include all, some or none of the categories to designate as directory data.

  • Safety Drills (AB 54 / SB56). Allows the person having direct charge of the public or private school to provide previous warning of any of these drills if he or she determines that is in the best interest of pupils attending the school. Currently, no advance notice is allowed.

  • Arts Opportunities (AB67 /SB64). Requires the Department of Public Instruction to include the percentage of pupils participating in music, dance, drama, and visual arts in annual school and school district report cards. The DPI would include this information for each high school and school district, along with the statewide percentage of pupils participating in each subject. This information would not be allowed in evaluating school performance or district improvement.

To weigh in on any of these bills, use the WEAC Action Alert!

CLICK HERE NOW TO SEND AN EMAIL
TO THE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE

 

Legislative Update: Judge blocks GOP’s lame duck session laws

Legislative Updates

A Dane County judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing enforcement of Republicans’ lame duck laws, ruling the Legislature didn’t lawfully convene. The judge refused to dismiss the suit brought forward by Democrats and denied a Republican request to stay his injunction. “There can be no justification for enforcement of the unconstitutional legislative actions emanating from the December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session’ that is consistent with the rule of law,” he wrote.

On Friday, GOP lawmakers went to the 3rd District Court of Appeals seeking an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling.

Withdrawal from ACA suit. Governor Tony Evers immediately called on Attorney General Josh Kaul to “take whatever steps are necessary” to withdraw from the multi-state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. The lame duck laws included one barring the Department of Justice from withdrawing from lawsuits without the Legislature’s approval.

Tentative JFC hearings. A letter sent to agencies included the following tentative schedule for Joint Finance Committee state budget hearings:

  • Friday, April 5 – Janesville Area
  • Thursday, April 11 – Milwaukee Area
  • Monday, April 15 – River Falls/Hudson Area
  • Wednesday, April 24 – Green Bay Area

Dueling branches. Since Evers’ budget address in late February, there is plenty of back-and-forth between the governor and Republican legislative leaders over dueling versions of similar initiatives, such as middle-class tax cuts. In that example, Republicans passed their own tax cut plan, which was vetoed by the governor before he introduced his own as part of his budget. Things continue to heat up, as Republicans have begun hinting at introducing some education provisions as stand-alone bills, instead of supporting them as part of the governor’s budget. One of those is rehiring retired teachers. More here:

Rehiring retired teachers. Evers’ budget plan includes a provision to allow retired teachers to be rehired while continuing to collect their pensions and earn a new salary. That would reverse a 2013 change Republicans pushed through and also lines up with a recent recommendation from the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Education Funding. Evers’ plan would require a 30-day break in service instead of 75, prohibit teachers from having an agreement in place at the time they retire, and hold their pension payments steady instead of increasing from the salary they earn by working again. Supporters say it’s a common sense solution, since waiting 75 days after retirement means a teacher could not be rehired in time for the start of a new school year.

According to the Department of Employee Trust Funds, there were 4,407 retirees who were rehired to public jobs in 2018. Of those, 55.7 percent were teachers. The vast majority worked less than two-thirds of full-time hours, allowing them to continue collecting their pensions. 

Capital deadlock. The state Building Commission deadlocked on Governor Tony Evers’ $2.5 billion capital budget, believed to be the first time that’s happened in the commission’s 70-year history. Evers was mystified that Republicans refused to recommend passage after every project in the document unanimously cleared committees earlier this week. “Disappointed is an understatement,” Evers said. 

Bills Circulating:

County jailers and the WRS (SB5/AB5). Public hearings were held for this bill, which would classify county jailers as protective occupation participants under the Wisconsin Retirement System and under the Municipal Employment Relations Act.

Human Trafficking (AB22)A public hearing was held on this bill that would fight human trafficking through trucker education. This legislation would establish industry-specific materials on the recognition and prevention of human trafficking for use in the instruction in driver education courses that provide instruction in the operation of commercial motor vehicles. This will affect new drivers only.

Prohibiting Conversion Therapy (SB107). Prohibits certain mental health providers from engaging in conversion therapy with a minor.  Conversion therapy is any practice that seeks to change an individual’s gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In addition, the bill specifies that a violation of the prohibition in the bill by a mental health provider is grounds for professional discipline by the appropriate credentialing board.

Banning the ‘R’ Word. A bill was already introduced to ban terms such as “mentally retarded” from administrative rules when Governor Tony Evers recently issued an executive order to remove “mentally retarded,” “mental retardation” and “handicapped.” The Republican sponsor of the bill says he will continue to bring the bill forward, despite the executive order, because the legislative action would be a permanent solution because an executive order could be rescinded by a later governor. Evers has indicated he would sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

School Lunch Requirements (AB-084). A bill imposing requirements related to school lunch and breakfast programs in certain schools was referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

Apprenticeship Grants (SB-044). A hearing was held on this bill to provide grants to technical college students for apprenticeship expenses. 

 Youth Apprenticeship Program (SB-072). A hearing was held on this bill requiring certain occupational areas to be included in the youth apprenticeship program.

Youth Apprenticeships (SB-088) A hearing was held on this bill regarding youth apprenticeship programs.

School Hours (SB-112). An emergency exception for high performing school districts to the number of hours of direct pupil instruction requirement. 

Minority Teacher Loan Program (SB55/ AB51). An amendment to include tribal schools in the expansion of the minority teacher loan program has been added to this bill.

Circulating for Co-Sponsorship:

 UW Tuition Grants (LRB-2266). Grants for certain University of Wisconsin and technical college graduates who paid nonresident tuition; granting rule-making authority.

WRS Military Service (LRB-0930). Creditable military service under the Wisconsin Retirement System. 

Addressing mental health needs is a key element of school safety, Martin says

WEAC President Ron Martin (right) joined Attorney General Josh Kaul (to his right) and other education and law enforcement officials this week in releasing a set of school safety and security policy documents. (Photo provided by the Attorney General’s Office.)

Attorney General Josh Kaul announced this week the release of the Wisconsin School Threat Assessment Protocol and Wisconsin Comprehensive School Security Framework, providing educators and partners a comprehensive set of policies that support school safety efforts.

WEAC President Ron Martin joined Kaul and law enforcement and education officials in announcing the framework at a news conference in the West Allis – West Milwaukee School District.

“The Wisconsin School Threat Assessment Protocol and Wisconsin Comprehensive School Security Framework will be incredibly beneficial for schools, and specifically for educators and administrators,” Martin said.

Martin said there is a need to focus on school safety as means of preventing incidents. 

“A significant part of prevention is recognizing and addressing the mental health needs of students and staff,” he said. “While we strengthen our response and recovery capabilities, we must also strengthen our capacity to identify and address mental health issues and create a positive and healthy learning environment for the entire school community.”

The Wisconsin School Threat Assessment Protocol provides schools access to a threat assessment process developed by subject matter experts from Wisconsin, and reviewed by the National Threat Assessment Center, a division of the United States Secret Service. School Threat Assessments can be applied as an early intervention tool to help identify students that may need additional resources or support, in order to prevent them from committing violence. The use of a school-based threat assessment and team is recommended by the U.S. Department of Education and United States Secret Service.

“Keeping our schools safe is a priority for the U.S. Secret Service.  We appreciate the opportunity to have worked with the Wisconsin Office of School Safety on this initiative, which will greatly enhance prevention efforts in the state,” said Dr. Lina Alathari, Chief of the National Threat Assessment Center at the U.S. Secret Service. “We remain committed to furthering this partnership, and we applaud the Wisconsin Department of Justice for recognizing the importance of threat assessment and early intervention.”

The Comprehensive School Security Framework provides a comprehensive set of policies, practices, and procedures to help guide local efforts to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from violence. The framework provides best practices for preventing violence through climate and culture, student engagement, school policies, and physical structure. The framework also provides guidance on assessing potential violence indicators and diverting identified hazards before violence takes place. When violence occurs, the framework addresses how proper planning, preparation and training can minimize the severity of the incident and help the school recover more quickly.

“These resources provide critical policies and tools to keep our students, families and staff physically and psychologically safe,” said Trish Kilpin, a school social worker in Greendale. “These materials provide the framework to develop, improve, and implement best practices in threat assessment. Systems guidance is provided to increase the collective capacity of school and community members to recognize the risk factors and warning signs that indicate when further stabilization and support of an individual is necessary. These materials empower and support threat assessment teams to make decisions, mitigate threat, and take actions, and are in the best interest of our schools and community.”

Each of these guides were developed in partnership with educators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals, including the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin School Psychologists Association, Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association, Wisconsin Safe and Health Schools Center, U.S. Secret Service, and many others.

“The Comprehensive School Security Framework and the School Threat Assessment Protocol each provide school districts throughout the state important tools in ensuring the safety of their students and staff,” said State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor. “The framework is an easy to use, proactive resource for districts developing a comprehensive school safety plan. Plans developed using this framework will be based on the most recently identified effective practices. The School Threat Assessment Protocol also provides a methodical approach for districts to use in evaluating and responding to potential threats making sure they are neither ignored nor handled in a one size fits all manner. When districts use this protocol, they will find they are not just identifying threatening behaviors but also the underlying causes of the behavior.”

The Office of School Safety is also holding a school threat assessment conference in Lake Geneva this week. More than 250 educators and law enforcement from around the state will receive training from state and national exerts on how to establish a comprehensive safety framework in schools. Topics at the conference include threat reporting, school-based threat assessments, and interviewing children with disabilities, information sharing, and training from the National Association of School Psychologists on the effects of trauma in a critical incident.

Learn more about the DOJ Office of School Safety here: 

https://www.doj.state.wi.us/office-school-safety/office-school-safety

Wisconsin School Threat Assessment Protocol

Wisconsin Comprehensive School Security FrameworkP

New teacher pay schedule delayed after Racine educators voice opposition

Photo from REA-REAA Unity Facebook page.

The Racine Unified School Board failed to approve a new pay schedule for educators after more than 100 people packed into a meeting this week to protest it.

Educators said the proposed new pay schedule did not provide enough incentive for continued professional development or future salary reassurances.

The Racine Journal Times quoted Pam Harris, a 41-year teacher, as saying that the new pay plan would fail to attract new teachers to the district.

“We can’t survive without young, new teachers … why should young people go to college and come out with loan debt and know that they’re going to make approximately 40 percent less than many other professions?” she asked.

Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz presented the board with a petition signed by more than 800 people asking the district to provide a budget “that attracts and retains the best and brightest public education workers to work directly with RUSD students and families.”

“Rather than metal detectors and the further criminalization of black and brown students, we should hire more social workers and psychologists,” Cruz said. “We should provide professional development and trauma informed care, culturally relevant pedagogy, racial bias training, and we should desegregate our schools, particularly our middle school.”

She also called for reducing high-stakes standardized testing and eliminating top-heavy administration.

“Instead we should look at attracting and retaining the highest quality and experienced educators to work directly with our kids,” she said. “We should ensure that the very least of students are receiving the most.”

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Tied vote means no new Unified teacher pay scale — yet

RACINE – Following 14 months of planning and discussion, a tied vote on Racine Unified’s new pay scale means the process will drag on even longer. The board room was bursting at the seams during Monday’s School Board meeting, as more than 100 teachers packed in to protest the new pay schedule.