A big year for Wisconsin public schools: Superintendent Evers delivers "State of Education" address

MADISON (WITI) -- In his annual State of Education address, delivered on Thursday, September 25th in Madison, State Superintendent Tony Evers called for finding common ground to move education forward for Wisconsin students.

“We’re doing more in this single year than in any of my previous 37 years in public education,” he said. “Let’s work together to find common ground that unites us and stand strong on behalf of our kids.”

His speech included a long list of initiatives that educators have been working on for several years, a spotlight on his Achievement Gap Task Force and its work to advance strategies to close achievement gaps, and a push to fix the state’s school funding inequalities by reintroducing Fair Funding for Our Future.

Following Through on Initiatives

Evers stressed the importance of the daily steps going on in the state’s public schools to transform teaching and learning. He noted that educators are working on higher, rigorous new academic standards; better assessments; a new educator evaluation system; new investments in career readiness; and continued improvements in the state’s accountability system.

“This year, thanks to higher academic standards, embraced by Wisconsin educators, our students are learning more in mathematics, English language arts, and reading.”

“Thanks to partnerships between K-12 and higher education, more high school students are earning college credits. And this year, our new incentive program gives more students the chance to earn industry certifications…he Education Commission of the States rated Wisconsin’s school report cards as among the nation’s best.”

Promoting Excellence for All

Evers shared his pride in Wisconsin’s nation leading ACT scores and Advanced Placement results. However, he cautioned that the state has much more to do to reach the Agenda 2017 goals to have every child graduate college and career ready.

“It’s unacceptable that Wisconsin is worst in the nation when it comes to the well-being of African American children. It’s unacceptable when Hispanic and American Indian students drop out of school at a rate of one in four, and African American students at a rate of one in three. It’s unacceptable that wide gaps still persist for students with disabilities, English learners, and students in poverty.”

“Today, our task force released its final report and we launched a website — resources developed by Wisconsin educators, for Wisconsin educators.”

“This group did not disappoint — they zeroed in on the real issues and proposed real solutions to classroom life with diverse groups of kids. They clearly understood that poverty matters. However, and this is very important, the task force concluded that if we don’t address the issue of race head on, we will have failed. I agree.”

“Many of their recommendations revolve around the importance of relationships: between educator and student, and among adults, as well as honoring cultures that are not our own. These are changes of heart and mind and will be the most difficult to navigate. But, if we follow our moral compasses, we can change.”

“The task force also reinforced the importance of meaningful family engagement. Families must be more than informed — they must be involved and invested in their child’s learning on a daily basis from the classroom, school, and district level. We can all do better at this.”

“What mattered was the common ground they found in their daily work to help all children reach their full potential. Their focus was right where it belongs — on the kids, on the classroom, on achievement. Heading into the next legislative session, this is a lesson we can all take to heart. There certainly will be proposals that will divide and distract us. But, we can accomplish so much more when we tackle the harder work of finding common ground.”

Funding Our Schools

Evers commended the work of the Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools, comprised of rural legislators from both parties. He noted the group heard loud and clear what educators have long known: the state’s school funding system is broken. He said the toll of cuts, freezes, caps, and a failure to reform the school funding system is an increasing divide among rural, suburban, and urban school districts. And, he suggested that the school funding system is threatening Wisconsin students’ fundamental right to an equal opportunity for a sound basic education.

“In its 2000 Vincent v. Voight decision, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court found our school finance system constitutionally sound, so long as it met certain conditions.… Yet, school funding decisions since have gone the other way.”

He cited data that showed state aid hasn’t kept pace with inflation; frozen special education aid only covers about a quarter of district special education costs; state funding for English learners is lower now than it was in 2005, covering only 8.5 percent of eligible costs for a growing population; increases in student poverty, with 43 percent eligible for free and reduced-price school meals; and more districts experiencing declining enrollment, leaving rural districts poorer, with fewer kids.

“We can no longer ignore these realities, and what they mean for our students.… This November, I will again propose Fair Funding for Our Future — a comprehensive school funding reform package. I’ll propose increases in general aid and revenue limits and more support for special needs students, English learners, students in poverty, and rural schools.”

“I call on our governor and Legislature to finally tackle this issue and adopt these long overdue reforms. … Let’s fight for and finally achieve meaningful school finance reform that provides all students from all parts of the state the equal opportunities they deserve.”

READ IT: State of Education Speech as prepared for delivery

State Superintendent Tony Evers unveiled the Promoting Excellence for All report and website during his speech on Thursday, products of the task force he appointed in April to tackle Wisconsin’s achievement gap.

LEARN MORE about the Promoting Excellence for All report and website

The Promoting Excellence for All website is available by CLICKING HERE.