State Superintendent Tony Evers sees problems with Gov. Scott Walkerís plan to fund education in the next state budget.
In an interview Tuesday on Newsmakers, Post-Crescent Mediaís online issues show, Evers weighed in on voucher schools, education funding in the upcoming state budget and changes he hopes to make on teacher licensing.
Evers is campaigning for his second four-year term against state Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford. The election is Tuesday. Hereís an edited transcript:
Are there regulations or rule changes youíd like to implement in the next term, if youíre re-elected?
Weíve been implementing one that I think is going to be very helpful, and thatís the issue around providing some more flexibility around licensure. Certainly, we arenít suggesting that we put inadequately prepared teachers in classrooms, but there are many instances every year where Ö some of the decisions we made because of our administrative rules just donít make sense. An example is a teacher who is licensed and has taught out of state for a number of years as a chemistry teacher and was a chemist before that, but because of our rules, he moves to Wisconsin and we say, ĎYou have to go back to school for two years.í Those kinds of things we just absolutely have to stop. And weíve really started down the road to doing that.
In the last year, the DPI came out with the first individual rating system for schools. In your mind, whatís the true purpose of that rating system?
That rating system was developed, not to be a hammer but to be a flashlight. And to help us identify the highest-performing schools and dig down deeper and find out the practices they have that cause them to be high performing and share those best practices. And the other reason I believe was to identify the lowest-performing schools and again dig down deep into what the issues are and provide resources for them to improve. The way itís played out legislatively recently, it seems like weíre making high-stakes decisions around this report card that I donít believe was ever the intent.
A University of Colorado researcher looked at the rating system, and in general didnít rate it very favorably. But one thing he found was there was a very high correlation between those schools that were in the two lowest categories and their socioeconomic level. Is it that those schools are struggling, or is it that those schools are doing the best they can under the most challenging circumstances?
That truth is also evident at the top end. Most of the schools that score in the top end have greater wealth. In essence, in some ways itís telling us what we already know. We already knew that poverty does have an impact on learning. What it does though, as we drill down into the data and the individual schools and finding ways we can improve student learning with good interventions and early warning systems. Yes, it does reflect the poverty and thatís intuitive, and we understand that. Thatís one of the reasons that we are concerned about using the rating system for other purposes.
One of the arguments for voucher schools is that if itís based on per pupil funding, it makes them cheaper. How would you counter that argument?
Itís countered because school districts have a lot more responsibilities for those kids, like transportation. Itís my belief that the percentage of kids that have special education needs is far less in the voucher schools, and I would suggest that most of the kids that have high-cost special education needs are falling back into public schools. Thereís significant differences in expectations and the kind of kids that both systems have. My budget included an increase for funding for voucher schools in addition to an increase for public schools, it was just tied to the same percentage. Whatís being offered here is to break that connection between public school and private school increases.
In the most recent expansion of the voucher school program to Racine, a study found that many of the students joining the program didnít come from public schools, but from private schools. Is that right?
That is right. Thatís the way it started in Milwaukee, thatís whatís starting in Racine. Essentially, many of (the kids) getting the vouchers already existed in those private schools. Essentially the upshot of it was that the state of Wisconsin is now subsidizing private school education. Thatís an issue, and it also plays out in the tax levy. A Republican assembly-person and the business manager of the Racine school district and a supporter of choice indicated that itís $1.3 million that the taxpayers in Racine are paying now that they werenít paying before because of (school) choice.
The property tax increase part of it seems to be a point of contention ó that the Racine school district didnít have to do that. But did they?
In order to kind of maintain their fiscal stability I think they did have to do it. No school board has to raise the levy if they donít want to, but in order to maintain some fiscal stability they have to. I donít know if it was the chamber, but someone did a study on the Green Bay school district, indicating the same kind of situation, that it would raise property taxes.
ó Megan Nicolai: 920-993-1000, ext. 290, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @MeganNicolai