Senate recall candidates discuss schools
State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, is among the six Republicans and three Democrats who face recall elections this summer.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, is challenging Olsen in the recall election for the 14th Senate District.
Under state law, the Government Accountability Board has 31 days to review the signatures on the recall petitions. The GAB asked a circuit court to give it until June 3 to certify the petitions.
Once the petitions are certified, officials would call an election for the first eight petitions, including petitions to recall Olsen. The recall elections of eight of the candidates are expected to occur on July 12.
Education is a top priority for both candidates. Clark is a member of the Assembly Education Committee, and Olsen is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and served on the Berlin Area School Board from 1986 to 1995.
Below are the candidates’ answers to two questions regarding the future of public education in Wisconsin. Their answers to two more questions will appear in the May 19 County Post.
Assembly Bill 92 would expand the Milwaukee private school voucher program.
Currently, the voucher program is limited to no more than 22,500 students in the city of Milwaukee. Low-income families may send their children to private schools and the state will provide up to $6,442 for their tuition.
In the 2010-11 school year, the state diverted $130.8 million in funds from public schools to subsidize private schools through the voucher program, while Milwaukee taxpayers provided another $50 million to private schools.
Under AB 92, the program would be expanded to include private schools throughout Milwaukee County.
Walker has also proposed raising the voucher program’s maximum income limit from $38,587 for a family of four to $71,662.
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is on the Joint Finance Committee. He wants to expand vouchers to other cities in the state.
Proponents of the voucher system say private schools spend less than half of what public schools do per pupil to educate their students. Milwaukee Public Schools spent $14,183 per pupil while taxpayers only paid $6,442 per pupil for voucher students.
Opponents note that the voucher does not represent the total cost of educating a student, but the cost of the state subsidy.
Opponents also note that students in voucher schools not only perform below the state average on state proficiency exams, but they perform below the lowest ranked group in the state, Milwaukee public school students.
Statewide, 83 percent of public school students scored proficient or advanced on the reading portion of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE). In math, 77.2 percent of all Wisconsin students scored proficient or advanced, and in science, 76.3 percent scored proficient or advanced.
Among Milwaukee students, 59 percent scored proficient or advanced in reading, 47.8 percent scored at that level in math and 42.2 percent in science.
Among voucher students, 55.2 percent scored proficient or advanced in reading, 34.4 percent in math and 35 percent in science.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed ending the requirement that students at voucher schools take the WKCE tests.
Do you support expanding the private school voucher program beyond the city of Milwaukee? Do you support expanding the voucher program statewide? Do you believe that the state should require students at voucher-subsidized private schools to take the WKCE tests?
Clark: There is no reason to expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice program outside of the city of Milwaukee. Every city of Milwaukee taxpayer will be unfairly forced to pay for the operation of out-of-city private schools under this proposal.
If passed, it would result in even further weakening of the Milwaukee Public Schools, and further worsening of educational outcomes for the 80,000 students in MPS. Our efforts should be directed at reforming and improving MPS, not killing it off.
Expanding voucher schools statewide will only weaken and may eventually eliminate public schools in Wisconsin, which is clearly the agenda being pursued by special interests and national private school advocates and their lobbyists who are pushing this legislation.
Our public schools in most of Wisconsin produce some of the best students in the country. Our efforts should be directed at maintaining and improving our excellent public school system, dealing with problems and implementing reforms when needed, and making the investments necessary to keep public schools educating our future citizens.
Olsen: The Milwaukee Public School District (MPS) has the largest achievement gap between African-American students and white students in the entire country. The graduation rate in MPS is only about 60 percent.
This is a tragedy and is not acceptable. We are leaving low-income and minority children behind every single day.
Assembly Bill 92 expands the choices for voucher students to allow them to attend schools within Milwaukee County. It does not allow students outside of the city of Milwaukee to participate in the program.
Wisconsin has other large urban cities that are facing large achievement gaps and large dropout rates. I would consider expanding the voucher program to those large urban cities if their communities supported it. However, I would not support the voucher program going statewide as I don’t think there is a need or the funds to support a statewide voucher program.
I strongly believe that students that attend the voucher schools need to take the WKCE test, as long as we use that test and any new statewide test that the state may adopt in the future. It is important evaluate how the voucher schools are performing and you can only do that with a common test.
Walker has proposed slashing state and local funding for Wisconsin public schools by $834 million over the next two years.
Walker’s budget also plans to reduce school districts’ revenue caps by 5.5 percent in 2011-12 and keep them at the same level in 2012-13. As a result, the average per pupil revenue cap statewide would drop about $555 from $10,100 in 2010-11 to $9,550 in 2011-12.
Republicans have argued that Walker’s plan to increase the amount teachers pay toward their health care and retirement will offset the lost revenues.
In your opinion, how will Governor Walker’s plans to reduce school district revenue caps and cut state aid to schools impact public education in Wisconsin? What, if any, alternatives would you support to cutting state and local public school funding by $834 million?
Olsen: I am a member of the Joint Committee on Finance. State Superintendent Tony Evers testified in front of our committee on the education budget in the governor’s 2011-13 budget.
He responded to a question that I asked him about what the quality of K-12 public education would be like in five years under the governor’s budget. He responded by saying that our students would still receive a high-quality public education that is less expensive and more nimble to make the changes necessary. I fully agree with him.
This budget will require that schools do business differently by sharing resources, better implementing technology to advance learning and continue to maintain high quality.
Schools will need to collaborate with their teachers to be innovative practitioners and to develop ways that they can lower their costs and become even more effective.
As a member of Joint Finance, my No. 1 priority in this budget is to find money for schools so that we don’t have to make the $834 million cut to education.
Clark: The cuts to school funding that Governor Walker is proposing will result in crushing challenges for public schools.
In addition to the $834 million reduction in state aid, Governor Walker proposes reducing total revenues to schools by $1.7 billion. Even under the worst of fiscal circumstances in the last 18 years under revenue caps, Wisconsin lawmakers have always increased allowable revenues for Wisconsin schoolchildren.
While every school board and school administrator I work with understands our fiscal challenges and was prepared to handle budget reductions, the reductions proposed by the governor clearly indicate the low priority his administration places on public education. To make cuts of this size, while sending additional millions in increases to private schools, and sending over $300 million from the general fund to build freeways in Milwaukee is a sign of badly misplaced priorities.
Based on the numerous budget hearings I have hosted and attended around Wisconsin, I am certain that a strong majority of Wisconsin citizens do not support them either. We can make much better choices and I will be proposing specific alternatives to our Joint Finance Committee in the weeks ahead.