Supreme Court Dismisses Wisconsin Redistricting Case

By John Forester | June 18, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the state’s redistricting case, sending it back to federal district court.

The decision, though, doesn’t address the broader issue of partisan gerrymandering, and the court noted providing a remedy to the issue doesn’t “necessarily require restructuring all of the State’s legislative districts.”

Today’s opinion comes after the court heard oral arguments in the case last October. Before that, a three-judge panel in 2016 had ruled the maps Republicans drew in 2011 amounted to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Chief Justice John Roberts in the opinion wrote the court will return the case to the lower court for the plaintiffs in the case to provide “concrete and particularized” evidence that would show Wisconsin’s political lines affect their votes.

See the opinion here.

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Priority Legislative Alert: Educator Licensure Rule Changes (PI 34)

By John Forester | June 14, 2018

The SAA is issuing a Priority Legislative Alert on the Educator Licensure Rule Changes (PI 34).  The licensure flexibility that WASDA, WASBO, AWSA, WCASS and WASPA worked so hard to achieve in the PI 34 rule is in jeopardy.

The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) held a public hearing last Thursday, June 7th on the stakeholder workgroup revisions to licensure.  The Committee called the hearing because of opposition from the Reading Council to Tier 1 licensees being able to teach without having passed the Foundations of Reading Test (FORT).  Following the hearing, the Committee decided to “hold” the rule and meet again on July 13th, at which time they will likely seek modifications to the rule.  These modifications could weaken the licensure flexibility afforded under the PI 34 revisions.

We urge all SAA members to take action nowPlease contact the members of JCRAR, in support of CR17-093, the PI 34 rule revision.

In your communication, please consider using the talking points listed below.  Also, it is critical that you share with JCRAR members the challenges that you face in hiring high-quality educators in this environment and that your district needs the flexibility afforded under CR 17-093.

Talking Points:

  1. Wisconsin school districts are facing growing school staffing issues including high turnover, fewer applicants for positions, and candidate shortages in a variety of disciplines. With fewer new teachers entering the profession, new approaches to educator recruitment and retention are critical to ensure all children have access to high-quality educators.
  2. The licensure flexibility afforded under CR17-093 is universally supported by school leaders in their effort to address the growing workforce challenges faced by Wisconsin school districts.
  3. We must also point out that districts are currently operating under these proposed rule changes as part of the current Emergency Rule. These proposals are already making a positive difference in meeting these workforce challenges in districts throughout Wisconsin.
  4. School administrators support all aspects of the proposed rule but, of particular importance are the flexibilities and candidate expanding aspects in the Tier 1 license. This will allow for a much-needed district sponsored pathway to licensure, immediate licensure for out of state candidates, licensing for speech and language pathologists with a Department of Safety and Professional Services license and licensing for individuals coming into a district on an internship or residency status.  These are effective, no-cost solutions to a significant workforce need in Wisconsin school districts.
  5. Educator licensure is simply a minimum requirement.  District leadership is responsible for hiring and developing successful educators, and ultimately determining educator quality based on actual teacher performance and student outcomes.
  6. Reducing the Tier 1 license flexibility in the rule has the potential to impact as many as 2,400 teaching licenses, many of which are FORT-related stipulations.  Any portion of these licensees that lose their ability to teach will exacerbate an already troubling workforce challenge and reduce educational opportunities for children.

For your convenience in contacting the JCRAR members, we have provided a link to the JCRAR webpage (which includes contact information for each committee member).  We have also provided direct email links to each committee member below.

Representative Ballweg (Co-Chair)

Senator Nass (Co-Chair)

Senator LeMahieu

Senator Stroebel

Senator Larson

Senator Wirch

Representative Neylon

Representative Ott

Representative Hebl

Representative Anderson

If you should have any questions please email me.  Thanks for listening and, as always, thank you for everything you do on behalf of Wisconsin school children.

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20 More School Districts Receive Safety Grants

By John Forester | June 14, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

Attorney General Brad Schimel yesterday announced 20 school districts across the state are getting nearly $1.4 million in new school safety grant funding.

The news comes after Schimel earlier this month announced the state’s first recipient of a grant: Kenosha Unified School District, which is getting nearly $890,000 for building safety improvements and training.

The 20 newly announced districts are planning to use the grant funding for building improvements such as updated surveillance, camera and telephone/PA systems; improving district-wide notification systems; training a new safety coordinator; and reconfiguring an entryway by securing the door system, among other things.

The following districts received grants today: Barneveld School District, $38,949; Benton School District, $57,975; Big Foot Unified High School District, $13,975; Bristol #1 School District, $22,925; Crivitz School District, $20,000; Kettle Moraine School District, $190,395; Kewaskum School District, $106,347; La Farge School District, $53,352; Luck School District, $39,516; Mauston School District, $188,275; Prentice School District, $81,272; Randall J1 School District, $21,935; River Ridge School District, $55,000; Rock County Christian School, $39,951; St. Joseph School; $20,750; Stevens Point Area Public School District, $279,827; Trinity Evangelical Lutheran School, $18,334; Union Grove J1 School District, $19,872; Wautoma Area School District, $84,435; and Williams Bay School District, $28,960.

The grants were awarded under the newly created Office of School Safety. Under the $100 million grant system, there are two different categories schools can apply for: Primary School Safety Grants, for baseline improvements to schools such as door locks; and Advanced School Safety Grants, for schools that have already met minimum security thresholds.

Schools had until June 8 to submit their grant applications.

See the DOJ news release here.

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Will U.S. Supreme Court Toss Out Wisconsin Redistricting Plan?

By John Forester | June 14, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s partisan redistricting plan could come as early as today.  Check out this news story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about what is at stake and what the possible outcomes may be.

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84 Schools to Participate in Special Needs Voucher Program

By John Forester | June 13, 2018

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has posted a list of the 84 schools that have registered to participate in the Special Needs Scholarship Program (SNSP) for the 2018-19 school year. The list includes 56 schools that will be new to the program. The application period begins July 1.

For more information, see the DPI News Release here.

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Split Decision in Tuesday’s Special Elections

By John Forester | June 13, 2018

From WisPolitics.com …

Dem Caleb Frostman won a special election Tuesday for the vacant 1st SD, flipping a seat in northeastern Wisconsin that Donald Trump won by 17.5 points two years ago.

Meanwhile, Republican Jon Plumer kept the 42nd AD in GOP hands, running close to the president’s 2016 performance in the district northeast of Madison.

Frostman, the former economic development director for Door County, had 51.4 percent of the vote over GOP state Rep. Andre Jacque, according to numbers WisPolitics.com collected from county websites. By comparison, Hillary Clinton won 39.8 percent of the vote there in 2016.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, noted it was the first time a Dem had represented the seat since Gerald Ford was president.

Frostman, who will replace Frank Lasee after the Republican resigned to take a job in the Walker administration, said his campaign worked the doors hard. He also said voters in Door County, where he lives, remember the things he accomplished on a non-partisan basis with Republicans, Dems and others.

“That resonated with folks, and they remember that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Plumer largely matched Trump’s performance in the 42nd AD as he beat Dem Ann Groves Lloyd.

Plumer pulled 53.9 percent of the vote, according to unofficial numbers collected by WisPolitics.com, though that tally doesn’t include votes for the independent candidate in the 42nd or write-ins. The results will not be official until after county boards of canvass meet.

Trump, meanwhile, took just shy of 53.9 percent in 2016 as he beat Clinton by more than 14 points with write-ins and third-party candidates included.

The final days of the race included stories about social media posts from both candidates and Plumer’s disorderly conduct charge more than two decades ago. The two will face each other in a November rematch for the seat northeast of Madison.

Plumer told WisPolitics.com in a phone interview he didn’t plan to change his message in the November race, though he expected the spotlight to shift to other races.

“At my age, this is what you get,” said Plumer, who owns a karate studio in Lodi. “I’m not going to change.”

Plumer will replace Republican Keith Ripp, who resigned to take a job in the Walker administration.

After Lasee and Ripp resigned their seats in the Legislature, Gov. Scott Walker declined to call special elections for either seat. But Eric Holder’s national Democratic Redistricting Committee filed a lawsuit that eventually led to an order for Walker to call the elections. Republicans briefly sought to change state law in an attempt to thwart a Dane County judge’s order to call the elections. But another Dane County judge and one from the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha County refused requests to delay the order to call the elections so lawmakers could debate the bill. The measure ultimately did not come up for a floor vote in either house.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, promised a competitive race in the fall for the 1st SD and complained the seats should have been filled in the fall election.

“With low turnout in the special election tonight, it proved yet again that this was a complete waste of taxpayer money,” Fitzgerald said.

Holder, meanwhile, hailed Frostman’s win. His group has pledged to play in legislative races this fall in an effort to help Dem candidates and reverse maps Republicans drew in multiple states in 2011 during the last round of redistricting.

“Scott Walker and his Republican allies gerrymandered this district for their own partisan benefit, but the citizens of Wisconsin are clearly speaking out this year to demand a state government that better represents their values,” he said.

Shilling said the results showed momentum is on the side of Dems headed toward the fall, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos argued Plumer’s win shows what Republicans can do with the right candidate and a good operation.

Insiders were watching both seats for signs of the political climate as the November elections approach after Dems won the 10th SD in a January special election, flipping a seat Trump won by 17 points, and watching liberal Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet win an open seat on the state Supreme Court by a dozen points.

Assembly Republicans immediately proclaimed talk of a “blue wave” this fall had slowed to a “blue trickle. But Shilling said the “electorate is turning” now.

The La Crosse Dem, who is on the verge of turning a 20-13 minority to start 2017 into an 18-15 deficit, said the win continues to expand the map in Wisconsin. She said a Dem has represented the seat for only six of the past 72 years and that her party was even competitive in the district shows a “massive” public opinion shift toward Dems.

“They are dissatisfied with the agenda that has been pushed for the last eight years,” Shilling said. “The electorate is swirling.”

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the state GOP poured resources into Plumer’s campaign in the final days of the race. A check of campaign finance reports shows the two combined to put $196,278 into Plumer’s campaign since May 29.

Vos acknowledge he put “all hands on deck” to hold the seat. The Rochester Republican said it’s the kind of district Dems would have to win in November in order to take back the majority, which will be back to 64-35 after Plumer is sworn in.

“Them not having a victory tonight goes to show the formula for Assembly Republicans of good organization, candidates and messaging works,” Vos said.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Plumer’s performance was short of the 58.6 percent of the vote that Ripp pulled in 2016 even as he ran on Dem issues.

“One of the things to look at is voters here elected a candidate who supports investments in public education, funding transportation, redistricting reform and protecting pre-existing conditions,” Hintz said. “So the blue wave happened. It just happened with a Republican who endorsed the Democratic agenda.”

See Wisconsin Public Radio coverage here.

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SAA Testifies At Blue Ribbon Commission

By John Forester | June 4, 2018

This morning, SAA Executive Director John Forester testified before the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding.  This was the Commission’s eighth and final public hearing.  The SAA attended every Blue Ribbon Commission public hearing and meeting, and we worked very hard to develop testimony that was representative of the entire SAA membership.  We hope you think it meets its objective.

If you should have any questions or require additional information regarding the SAA testimony, please contact John at 608-242-1370.

Stay tuned.  We will continue to keep the membership up to date on developments coming out of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

SAA Testimony

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School Law Update: Legal Issues Regarding Student Fees

By John Forester | May 31, 2018

From the Legal Side…

With summer school right around the corner, districts should be aware of the legal limitations in collecting and refunding summer school fees.   The Boardman & Clark law firm has recently issued a School Law Update on this topic.

The SAA regularly receives these updates and we believe this is valuable information for SAA members.  We are distributing this update to SAA members with the permission of Boardman & Clark.

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SAA to Testify at Final Blue Ribbon Commission Hearing June 4th

By John Forester | May 30, 2018

The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding will hold an informational hearing at 9:00 a.m. followed by a public hearing at 1:00 p.m. or immediately following the conclusion of the informational hearing on Monday, June 4th in Room 412 East, State Capitol.  This is the last of eight public hearings the Commission has scheduled.

During the informational hearing, the Blue Ribbon Commission will hear testimony from invited speakers, including representatives of the following organizations: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance, Education Commission of the States, and EdBuild. Following the informational hearing, members of the public are invited to testify and share their thoughts on school funding with the commission at the public hearing. To ensure the commission hears from all members of the public that would like to testify, public testimony will be limited to 5 minutes or less per speaker at the discretion of the co-chairs. The hearing will conclude at 5:00 p.m.

As a reminder, here are the SAA’s discussion points for the Blue Ribbon Commission.  The SAA’s testimony before the Commission will be based on these discussion points.  The SAA encourages members to use this information as well as examples from your district and your own expertise, in developing your communications to the Commission.

Stay tuned.  The SAA will keep members informed of Commission developments.

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Kitchens, Olsen Split on Major Funding Formula Overhaul

By John Forester | May 29, 2018

From WisPolitics.com . . .

After eight public hearings across the state in five months, the co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding are split on the extent and nature of changes they could propose to the formula.

Still, both Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Joel Kitchens say they’ll meet Speaker Robin Vos’ call to “be bold” in the group’s recommendations as they zone in on aiding districts with declining enrollment, addressing special education reimbursement rates and more.

The two also said in separate interviews with WisPolitics.com this week they don’t anticipate the commission will touch school choice or open enrollment, two topics they had said were on the table when the body was first announced in December.

Still, Olsen and Kitchens, who are also both chairs of their chambers’ respective education committees, said they were looking at some changes to the formula, although they differed as to how far the commission would go to alter it.

Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, left the door open to “completely overhauling it,” saying it’s “pretty clear there will be some fundamental changes we will recommend, but the extent of that is up in the air.” Olsen, R-Ripon, was more measured, emphasizing the need to provide more funding to districts with declining enrollments.

“I don’t see us overhauling the whole thing … (The formula) works really, really well for slowly increasing school districts. It doesn’t work so well if you’re stagnant, and it really works bad if you’re declining,” Olsen said.

Currently, as school districts lose students, the per-pupil revenue they get from the state decreases by around $10,500 on average per student, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Enrollment is calculated on a three-year, rolling average.

“Obviously your costs don’t go down by $10,000 when you lose a student,” Kitchens said. “So that’s, I think, one of the real key things — and I think that was one of the basic faults from the beginning in the system — is that districts that are losing students are really struggling because it’s just not fair.”

Roughly two-thirds of school districts are in declining enrollment, according to DPI. The districts range in size and demographics.

Kitchens said it was possible the commission would look at whole grade sharing as another way to address the issue. Under the practice, one district sends its students to another for instruction.

He added the commission should “look at some creative ways for districts to be able to combine services as well as to consolidate (districts).”

But Olsen said the body hasn’t “really had anybody come in to talk to us about that yet.”

Gov. Scott Walker last year nixed an Assembly GOP budget provision that sought to create grants to encourage the practice.

Kitchens also pointed to potentially creating a clearer path in state law to allow for the creation of more K-8 districts as an option to consolidate school services across declining enrollment districts. Currently, there’s no option to organize as a K-8 district, according to DPI, but it’s unclear whether that would hold up in court.

“Towns are so afraid of losing their identity if they lose their schools, but if you can do some of these things, then maybe you can allow those towns to still have their elementary schools then just share a high school,” he said.

Olsen also mentioned tweaking a component of the three-tiered equalization aid formula to better ensure districts that increase their revenue aren’t losing state aid.

“We have school districts that raise revenue through taxes. And they have to raise more than they are going to spend, because of their negative tertiary aid, so a percent of that they lose in state aid,” he said. “It’s a disincentive to increase their revenue.”

The tertiary aid tier of the formula seeks to hold in check those districts that spend a lot of money and aid others with extremely low property values.

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said if there’s no increase in state aid, the approximately 25 percent of districts currently impacted by negative tertiary aid would see a boost in state support and lower property taxes. But most other districts would see a property tax increase.

Olsen also said he’s open to making changes in the secondary aid tier. That tier’s cost ceiling is 90 percent of the statewide average cost across each district, a level Olsen said should be raised, possibly to 100 percent.

Bumping up the tier’s cost ceiling, McCarthy said, would mean some 95 percent of districts would see an increase through the secondary tier of the foruma, the primary driver for aid to districts.

Dem commissioner Rep. Sondy Pope, of Mt. Horeb, knocked the suggestions, saying the ideas didn’t go far enough to affect the formula’s fundamental problems.

“From what I’m looking at right now, we’re going to offer up a suggestion to further tweak a funding formula that has failed and I wanted more from this,” she said, after WisPolitics.com summarized Olsen’s and Kitchens’ comments to her.

Pope also noted much of the testimony the commission heard revolved around putting the brakes on the expansion of private school vouchers, adding she was “disappointed” the co-chairs seemed to have “taken off vouchers as part of the discussion.”

And she stressed the need to invest more money into K-12, saying “it is absolutely clear to me that the school districts and the public feel that we need to increase financial resources for schools.”

“If we don’t add considerably more financial resource to schools, I don’t think that we are really responding to what we heard because that was clearly asked for,” she said.

Meanwhile, on special education, Olsen said the commission has heard from many districts that are asking for an increase in the reimbursement rate after having to use regular education money, or Fund 10, to pay for special education costs.

DPI had previously requested an increase in the amount of money available to reimburse districts, with the intent to raise reimbursement rates to 28 percent in 2017-18 and 30 percent in 2018-19. The current rate, 26 percent, stayed static after those requests weren’t included in the budget.

Still, the budget did include an upper in the high-cost special education reimbursement rate. Under the change, if a district incurs more than $30,000 in special education costs for one student, the district would be reimbursed at 90 percent instead of 70 percent.

Neither Olsen nor Kitchens seem to have the appetite to go beyond a new plan to boost the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts. Under the sparsity aid law Walker signed earlier this year, districts now capped at spending $9,100 per year on students through a mix of property taxes and state aid would see that limit go up to $9,400 in 2018-19. The cap would then increase $100 annually to $9,800 in 2022-23.

“We really did that in the legislation, so I think we’ve got that covered,” Olsen said.

And Kitchens also said he could anticipate legislation from the commission to encourage retired educators to come back and substitute teach in schools, based on concerns surrounding the state’s teacher shortage.

Following the commission’s hearing in Madison June 4, Olsen and Kitchens are planning to sit down individually with each member along with representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see what legislation they’d like to come out of the body.

The 16-member commission includes nine lawmakers and seven education experts, including superintendents from Green Bay and Grantsburg, two representatives from Milwaukee-area Catholic schools, a UW-Madison professor, a member of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and a representative from Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6.

While the commission’s original plan was to slide the recommendations into the next biennial budget, Kitchens said it could ultimately be a combination of standalone bills and budget recommendations, depending on what provisions Walker would get behind.

Hear Olsen’s interview here.

Hear Kitchen’s interview here.

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