Act 10 and Quality Education
Written By: Karen Schroeder - Advocates for Academic Freedom | Posted: Thursday, May 17th, 2012
Governor Walker has been bringing state educational organizations such as Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), teacher organizations and others to the table to discuss educator effectiveness and concerns facing school districts. While ACT 10 is holding individuals accountable for their choices, many administrators believe it is time to change the political focus from ACT 10 to the constant struggle for revenue needed for districts to fulfill the ever-growing list of responsibilities that schools are required to address.
Jim Jones, Superintendent of Stanley-Boyd Area Schools, believes that "ACT 10 does not tear apart the basic tenets of our contracts. The law allows districts the ability to become competitive by providing salary and benefit packages that will attract the best teachers while remaining fiscally responsible." Mr. Jones also explained that "the wisdom of our teachers is an asset we must tap if the district is to continue making progress with student academic achievement." Mr. Jones showed his support for these views in an article he wrote for School News, a WASB publication. Administrators seem to agree that attracting highly skilled teachers is a primary responsibility of their school districts.
Mr. Jones believes that Governor Walker has given administrators more power to control the financial aspects facing their school districts. He is pleased that the Governor is not playing accounting tricks by manipulating the distribution of money to the school districts. Fiscal concerns are shared by John Gaier, Superintendent of Neillsville School District, who also hopes that the economy improves so there is more money available to support public education. Mr. Jones admits that, "Society can't fund things with money we don't have. If a district enters into a contract that is unsustainable, why sign it? Act 10 simply takes away excuses for those who have an imbalanced budget." District leadership across the state seems to agree that the flexibility ACT 10 provides is necessary to manage school finances responsibly. Schools and educators are being held accountable for making ethical choices.
Until the economy improves, Mr. Gaier and other administrators have asked Governor Walker and legislators to take the tax levy credit and put it in the equalization aid formula. According to Superintendent Gaier, "This would add almost 900 million to the equalization aid formula to help high poverty districts and would benefit over 80% of the students attending schools in Wisconsin." While Superintendent Gaier is justifiably concerned with the impact poverty has on the educational system, it is important that Wisconsin continue to be innovative in all aspects of education.
The effect of poverty on education has been studied recently by Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University Education Professor who directs the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and was the founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Her current research shows that American children who attend "low-poverty" schools are doing quite well and, in some cases, are out-performing many high performing countries including Finland and Singapore. Professor Darling-Hammond's research shows that countries like Finland and Singapore provide strong social safety nets which ensure that most schools have fewer than 10 percent of their students living in poverty. Effective preschool education, health care, and social support systems are credited with limiting poverty and improving student achievement.
Governor Walker's Press Secretary, Cullen Werwie, explained that "Governor Walker's education reforms have saved taxpayers millions, controlled property taxes, and ultimately benefited Wisconsin school children."
"Survey data compiled from WEAC, the Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators show that the Governor's reforms are working" according to Cullen Werwie. The Governor's Press Secretary reiterated that the 2011-12 school year provided a variety of improvements including lower class sizes and fewer teacher layoffs while keeping property taxes in check. According to the Governor's office, educational opportunities for Wisconsin students are the best they have been in a decade.
Research shows that any student who wants to learn has the opportunity to receive a quality education in Wisconsin schools. Ample research reveals a number of impressive opportunities have been made available to those districts which implement the ACT 10 legislation.
Karen Schroeder is the President of Advocates for Academic Freedom and an education consultant for political candidates. She has thirty-six years of teaching in public schools and Master Degrees in Special Education and Learning Disabilities.