Wisconsin must demonstrate that we value our teachers, Governor Evers writes

In a column released Wednesday, Governor Tony Evers says Wisconsin must do better in demonstrating that it values its teachers.

“We must … recognize that part of supporting our kids in the classroom means supporting the educators who teach our kids,” Evers writes.

“Wisconsin pays our public school teachers less than the national average, which makes it harder to recruit and retain talented educators. According to recently-released data, Wisconsin has fallen to 33rd in the nation for average teacher pay. Teacher salaries in our state are some of the lowest in the Midwest. Teachers moving across the border to Illinois or Michigan can see pay bumps of $10,000 or more.

“That’s just not good enough, folks.

“As we continue to fight for the resources our schools need to invest in our kids, we must do everything in our power to ensure that educators know the work they do is valued and that they mean something to our kids and the people of our state.”

Read the governor’s entire column, published by the Capital Times:

Last month, Kathy and I escaped Madison for a weekend and celebrated our 50th high school reunion back in Plymouth.

We got to catch up with friends, attend the homecoming parade and football game, and tour the new multi-purpose facility and fitness center at the high school.

While I was in town, I also sat down for an interview with two high school students. They asked me everything from my favorite memory of Plymouth High School (starting at the school when it was brand new) to my thoughts on Greta Thunberg’s advocacy on climate change (I think she is an incredible human being and appreciate her work). The students also posed the question: “What is the biggest change you’ve seen in Wisconsin in the last 50 years?”

It might sound hokey, but here’s what I told them — what stands out for me is that a whole bunch hasn’t changed. Being back in our hometown was an important reminder of how important our kids and our schools are to our communities. And kids are as good and smart and dedicated now as they were when I was in high school.

That’s why after spending my career fighting for our kids, I decided to run for governor. Because I believe what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state.

Since taking office, I have traveled the state listening to the people of Wisconsin, and at every stop, I saw educators and heard folks say how important their local schools are.

That’s why I proposed a bold budget with significant investments in education, including a commitment to return to two-thirds funding and a $600 million increase in special education, among other important priorities.

Now, I know this is not quite where the final budget ended up. We didn’t get everything we all wanted. And, quite frankly, no one was more disappointed than I was by what Republicans did to the budget we put together.

But I wasn’t going to negotiate against what we were able to give our kids with the budget we were sent, knowing that our kids could have ended up with less in the end.

And I sure wasn’t going to let our kids, our educators and our schools become bargaining chips by going back to the negotiating table when it would hurt them the most.

So, at the end of the day, I went back to that fundamental creed: that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state.

And that’s why I’m proud of where we ended up and what we were able to do with the budget we were given.

We provided $95 million in special education categorical aid — the first increase in a decade.PauseCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:00Stream TypeLIVELoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00Fullscreen00:00Mute

We provided nearly $330 million in state general aid — the largest increase since 2005.

We also doubled state support for school mental health programs to help our kids in need.

And finally, through my vetoes, we were able to increase per-pupil state categorical aids by nearly $100 million over the next two years.

Our budget was a down payment on important priorities, but there is more work for us to do.

I said I wanted to return to our state providing two-thirds funding for our schools, and we have to get that done. And, yes, we increased special education aid, but we’re nowhere close to where we need to be, and we have to do more.

We must also recognize that part of supporting our kids in the classroom means supporting the educators who teach our kids. Wisconsin pays our public school teachers less than the national average, which makes it harder to recruit and retain talented educators. According to recently-released data, Wisconsin has fallen to 33rd in the nation for average teacher pay. Teacher salaries in our state are some of the lowest in the Midwest. Teachers moving across the border to Illinois or Michigan can see pay bumps of $10,000 or more.

That’s just not good enough, folks.

As we continue to fight for the resources our schools need to invest in our kids, we must do everything in our power to ensure that educators know the work they do is valued and that they mean something to our kids and the people of our state.

Because, by golly, I can tell you that our educators mean something to our kids. I see it in every classroom I visit. And I heard it straight from one of those two students who asked me what’s changed since I graduated. She told me that her favorite thing about Plymouth High School is her teachers. That she appreciates how she can talk to them even about things that happen outside of school. That they make her feel like she is important and that she is the future.

As I said, a lot has changed in the last 50 years, but our values have stayed the same. We work hard, we cheer for the Packers, Brewers and Bucks, we look after our neighbors, and we care about our communities.

That’s why it’s time to get serious about investing in our kids, our schools and our educators, because what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state.

Gov. Tony Evers: What’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state

Last month, Kathy and I escaped Madison for a weekend and celebrated our 50th high school reunion back in Plymouth. We got to catch up with friends, attend the homecoming parade and football game, and tour the new multi-purpose facility and fitness center at the high school.

Evers asks Godlewski to head new Retirement Security Task Force

Governor Tony Evers has formed the Retirement Security Task Force, and announced that State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski would lead the effort.

In a news release, Godlewski said, like citizens nationwide, Wisconsinites are not saving enough for retirement and that an estimated 400,000 Wisconsinites are at risk of retiring in poverty by 2030. The task force, she said, will “identify effective and achievable solutions that will provide an opportunity for all Wisconsinites to save that is separate from the WRS (Wisconsin Retirement System).”

Below is State Treasurer Godlewski’s overview:

Why a Retirement Security Task Force? 

Wisconsin’s growing elderly population is ahead of the national trend. By 2030, there will be a projected 60% increase in the number of people age 65+. Further, Wisconsinites are not set-up for success. The typical working-age household has less than $3,000 in retirement savings. It’s not that Wisconsinites don’t want to save, it’s that they have been living under economic conditions that have made saving either impossible or inaccessible. Recently, AARP of Wisconsin did a study that identified 1 in 7 registered voters in Wisconsin have no way to save for retirement at work. Yet, 82% would take advantage if a savings program for retirement was available. The Governor and Treasurer believe hard-working Wisconsinites deserve to have peace of mind and feel secure when they retire. 

Financial Risk if No Action is Taken to Address the Retirement Crisis. 

The long-term financial health of Wisconsin is at risk if no action is taken. Projected expenditures on senior programs (i.e. Medicaid, Homestead Tax Credit, Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program and Supplemental Security Income) are estimated to be $4.7 billion annually by 2030 an increase of $3.5 billion from 2015. With the cost of living increasing and retirement savings decreasing, it is estimated that 400,000 Wisconsinites are at risk of retiring in poverty by 2030. If lower and moderate income households (up to $40,000/year) were to save 3% of their income through 2030, state expenditures in 2030 may decrease by $3.1 billion annually. 

Why should Public Employees care? 

Public employees work hard and deserve to retire in a financially secure manner. There is a misperception that state employees, to include public educators, have an unfair advantage with savings through the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). That said, what the Governor and Treasurer are proposing with this Task Force is to identify effective and achievable solutions that will provide an opportunity for all Wisconsinites to save that is separate from the WRS. 

For more information about the Retirement Security Task Force, please reach out to the State Treasurer’s Office at treasurer@wisconsin.gov or 608-266-1714.

Legislative Update

In other legislative action this week, the Senate and Assembly Committees on Education held a joint public hearing Thursday on a series of bills created as a result of the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. To see the full slate and email the Senate and Education committees, click here. WEAC has not taken a formal position on the bills, having no opposition to the proposals.

To contact your elected officials on any issue, use the “Find Your Legislators” link at www.weac.org/take-action. For more information to get even more involved, email Christina Brey, WEAC Public Affairs.

Bills We’re Watching
See all the bills we’re watching at www.weac.org/bills.

Racine educators, students, parents, community members demand a budget that supports students and educators

Photo by BG Pfeifer.

Dozens of Racine educators, students, parents and community members packed a school board meeting Monday night to demand a budget that supports all students and gives educators the tools they need to help students succeed.

“I realize public school districts across this state are in crisis mode,” said Racine Educators United President Angelina Cruz. “But I strongly believe in the collective power of educators and community to fight back for what’s best for kids.”

Cruz asked administrators and school board members to join all educators at the Capitol “to demand legislators stop playing politics with our kids.”

“It’s imperative we come together to debunk the myth that our kids are failing.” she said. “The state is failing our kids.

“We must stand together to demand that our public schools – the only schools with the commitment, capacity, and legal obligation to serve every child who walks through our doors – be fully funded; that the voucher program be ended; that something be done about the massive teacher exodus in Wisconsin; and to put an end to punitive legislation targeting urban districts.”

Cruz presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures from educators, parents, and community members calling on the school board to approve a budget that:

  • Keeps cuts away from the classroom.
  • Provides planning and prep time educators need to meet the needs of all students, rather than filling that time with meaningless meetings.
  • Provides a sensible and competitive salary schedule and benefits package that attracts and retains the best and brightest public education workers.

“Our ask is simple,” she said: “Keep what’s best for kids at the center of all local budget decisions. Stop cuts in programming and supports that most directly impact student learning. Chop from the top.”

Find out more on the REA-REAA Unity Facebook page:

Read more from the Racine Journal Times:

Racine teachers’ union protests proposed cuts

RACINE – A chorus of teachers who repeatedly chanted “chop from the top” filled the Racine Unified School Board meeting room on Monday night. Attendees of the meeting spilled into the hallway outside the meeting room as members of the Racine Unified teachers’ union, Racine Educators United, protested proposed cuts in next year’s budget that would affect teachers and students.

Legislative Update: Republicans strip Evers’ budget of key items

The Joint Finance Committee Thursday killed a plan for $1.4 billion in federal funding that would have helped fund schools, roads and healthcare. The party-line vote to deny full Medicaid expansion was followed by a vote on a huge package of recommended budget provisions that would have increased special education funding and teacher quality measures, plus require transparency and accountability for taxpayer-funded private schools. 

EMAIL THE LEGISLATORS WHO VOTED NO!

“Wisconsin educators and parents have turned out in droves to be clear about our No. 1 priority – our students,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “Our dedication is strong – we will continue to advocate in the best interest of our students for equitable funding for public schools.”

See the interactive map on what Medicaid expansion would mean to your county

Legislative updates:

  • The Senate and Assembly will be in session May 15. The Assembly will act on a series of bills including AB-022, which would require driver education instruction to include information on spotting and reporting human trafficking.
  • Mental health. Governor Tony Evers will proclaim Friday, May 10, Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.
  • The Legislative Audit Bureauhas released a new audit of the UW System. (Full Report, Highlights)

Bills we’re watching:
For a list of all the bills in the Assembly Ed Committee, click here.
For a roundup of all the bills we’re watching, with analysis, click here.

  • Minority Teacher Loan Program AB-051. The Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee has approved this bill.

Bills Circulating for Co-Sponsorship

  • Prohibiting the Investment Board from making investments in firearms companies (LRB-3060/1). While not currently investing directly in the firearm industry, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) has in the past been a shareholder. Prior to May of 2018, Wisconsin was just one of eleven states that continued to invest in the firearms industry. According to the filing from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission covering state’s holdings as of 12/31/17, SWIB held 400,000 shares, or $5.1 million worth, of American Outdoor Brands Corp. stock (formerly known as Smith & Wesson). 
  • Wisconsin Reading Corps (LRB-2754 Memo). Funding for Wisconsin Reading Corps. Republican legislators are circulating this bill, even though Governor Tony Evers’ proposed budget eliminates former Governor Scott Walker’s “Read to Lead” program (read more here) and funds the Wisconsin Reading Corps at $700,000 a year. 
  • Teacher Appreciation Week (LRB-3201/1). While this is just circulating now – it calls on Wisconsin to recognize this week and the important work of educators.

Legislative Update: May 3

GOP lawmakers are formally taking steps to stop Medicaid expansion and strip out key education provisions from Governor Tony Evers’ budget proposal, including school funding fixes that would result in more tax dollars actually entering our schoolhouse doors instead of being used for property tax reductions. The Medicaid expansion funding would make it possible for Governor Tony Evers to deliver on what Wisconsin voters elected him to do – increase public school funding by $1.4 billion, fix roads and ensure health care. 

The Joint Finance co-chairs have released a memo outlining 131 proposals they plan to pull from the budget when the committee meets May 9, including measures to phase out voucher schools and fix public school funding flaws. In the past, those memos have focused on policy items. But this year’s list includes items with a big fiscal impact such as the Medicaid expansion and minimum markup on gas. Here’s the Wisconsin Public Radio story.

SOME KEY ITEMS TO BE EXCLUDED FROM BUDGET CONSIDERATION:

  • Teacher Prep Time. Guarantees paid preparation time for teachers.
  • Teacher Licensing. Eliminates licenses based on fast-tracked diploma mills.
  • Rehiring Retired Teachers. Allows districts to rehire retired teachers after 30 days. 
  • General School Aids & Revenue Limits. Moves property tax credit funding to general school aids.
  • Private School Tax Deduction. Sunsets private school tuition deduction.
  • Private School Voucher, Privately Run Charters and Open Enrollment. Creates accountability and transparency for, and begins phase-out of, taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs and independent charter schools through a series of measures including capping participation, requiring teacher licensing changes, requiring accreditation and eliminating the Milwaukee city levy. Additionally, changes definition of poverty level for voucher schools and requires information about the cost of vouchers on tax bills. 
  • Student Loans. Creates student loan refinancing study committee.
  • School Safety. Transfers the Office of School Safety from the Department of Justice to the Department of Public Instruction.
  • Lead Testing. Allows revenue limit adjustment for schools to do lead testing and remediation.
  • 4K. Expands 4-year-old kindergarten throughout state.
  • Referendums. Removes limit on number of school district referendums.
  • Driver Education Aid. Provides aid to districts offering driver’s education.
  • Tech College System. Requires a two percent minimum increase in the revenue limit.
  • Teacher Grants. Creates teacher development grants.
  • Medicaid Expansion. Accepts full federal Medicaid funding.
  • Worker’s Comp. Transfers worker’s compensation hearings functions.
  • Equal Rights. Increases minimum wage, repeals right-to-work-for-less, restores prevailing wage, family and medical leave and project labor agreements.
  • Minimum Markup. Repeals the Minimum Markup of Motor Vehicle Fuel.
  • Elections. Modifies automatic voter registration and voting requirements.

$83.5 million in earmarks. There are $83.5 million in earmarks, the largest of which is $29 million to benefit Fincantieri Marinette Marine in the district of JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. The second largest earmark was $20 million for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Walker appointees. Three Scott Walker appointees to state cabinet positions, temporarily pushed out of their jobs in the legal fight over the lame-duck session, will receive back-pay.

Governor Tony Evers signs first bill into law.The law, banning words such as “retarded” from administrative code, was advanced by Republican legislators after Evers issued an Executive Order to the same effect early in his governorship.

Bills We’re Watching:
For a list of all the bills in the Assembly Ed Committee, click here.
For a roundup of all the bills we’re watching, with analysis, click here.

  • Out-of-State Teacher License Reciprocity. AB 195 would change the way a person who has been educated and licensed to teach out of state can become licensed to teach in the state of Wisconsin. This bill would continue to allow a person who is educated and licensed out of state to begin teaching in Wisconsin with a one Year License with Stipulations.  After two successful semesters, that person would then be eligible for a License Based on Reciprocity. Furthermore, this bill would move the License Based on Reciprocity to a Tier II Provisional License. Referred to Assembly Education Committee.
  • Sparsity AidAB 196 This bill creates a new aid program for certain consolidated school districts. To be eligible for this aid, the consolidation that created the consolidated school district must take effect on or after July 1, 2020, and the consolidated school district’s maximum allowable levy rate must be greater than the lowest levy rate of the school districts that were consolidated to create the school district (underlying school districts). In general, the levy rate of a school district is the total amount of property taxes levied by the school district divided by the school district’s equalized value.
    • If a consolidated school district satisfies the above-described criteria, in the first school year following the consolidation, the consolidated school district is entitled to aid in an amount equal to the consolidated school district’s equalized value multiplied by the difference between the maximum allowable levy rate of the consolidated school district and the lowest levy rate of the underlying school districts (base aid amount). In the second school year following the consolidation, the consolidated school district is entitled to aid in an amount equal to 80 percent of the base aid amount. In the third school year following the consolidation, the consolidated school district is entitled to aid in an amount equal to 60 percent of the base aid amount. The amount of the aid continues to be reduced by 20 percent each school year so that in the sixth school year following the consolidation, the consolidated school district no longer receives this aid.
    • Current law limits the total amount of revenue a school district may receive from general state aids and property taxes in a school year. This limitation is known as a school district’s revenue limit. The new aid provided under the bill is a general state aid for purposes of school district revenue limits. As a result, the new aid reduces the amount of property taxes that the consolidated school district is allowed to levy.

Reminder of what passed out of the Assembly Ed Committee earlier this month:

  • Pupil Records (SB57 AB53). 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. (Action Alert). The Assembly Ed Committee passed the bill on expanding the information that may be included in directory data, on a 10-5 vote. The companion bill is SB 57, and the Senate Ed Committee has not held a hearing on the bill.
  • Safety Drills. (AB 54 / SB56). Under this bill, the person having direct charge of the public or private school may provide previous warning of any of these drills if he or she determines that providing previous warning of the drill is in the best interest of pupils attending 
    the school. Currently, no advance notice is allowed. The bill passed out of committee unanimously, 15-0.
  • School Report Cards. AB 67 / SB 64, which would require school report cards to include the percentage of pupils participating in music, dance, drama, and visual arts to be amended to clarify that changes would begin with the 2020-21 school year under an amendment offered by Rep. Joel Kitchens. Under the bill, DPI would include this information for each high school and school district, along with the statewide percentage of participation in each subject. The bill specifies that this information may not be used to evaluate a school or district’s performance. The bill passed out of committee with a 14-1 vote. 
  • AB 194. Licensing for Special Education Teachers. Currently, special education teachers can have a license with stipulations for three years and then are required to take and pass a FORT examination, which can be costly, time consuming, and has no correlation with transfer of knowledge to children in the classroom. This legislation creates an additional option to the FORT exam that enables special education teachers to earn their professional license. It does not in any way change or eliminate the FORT exam; it simply creates another option. This bill was drafted in response to feedback that candidates for the professional teaching license would rather receive meaningful instruction, coaching, and feedback through rigorous coursework than memorize terms and study guides to pass a standardized test. In addition, there is compelling data which states that receiving feedback from a professor or coach directly transfers to students in the classroom, while testing does not.
    • WEAC analysis shows this bill, which contains technical errors, is almost identical to one that was circulated a couple of years back. This makes exceptions for particular license area, which could open the doors to more carving out of exceptions in specific licensing areas and lowers the standard for special education teachers, those teachers who serve Wisconsin’s most intellectually vulnerable population. 
  • Human Trafficking (AB22)Establishes 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. This bill passed unanimously out of the Committee on Colleges and Universities. 

Circulating for Co-Sponsorship:

  • LRB-3051 & LRB-3128, Energy Efficiency Revenue Limit Exemption
    • These companion bills restore the ability of a school board to adopt a resolution to exceed its revenue limit by the amount spent on energy efficiency projects.