Urban Education Task Force Reports Highlight Solutions to Improve Educational Outcomes
In August of 2015, Speaker Robin Vos (R-Racine) created a bipartisan Urban Education Task Force to provide tangible solutions to improve educational outcomes. Members of the Task Force included: Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Franklin), Chair Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains), Vice Chair Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), Rep. Thomas Weatherston (R-Caledonia), Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma), Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Wausau), Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview), Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee), Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse), Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay), and Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).
The Task Force visited and held hearings in Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Kenosha/Racine and Madison. Each hearing was focused on a different topic, with the focus in Green Bay being education alternatives: technology for virtual/online learning, charters, choice.
On November 17, 2015, the Urban Education Task Force visited the Green Bay Area Public School District and toured Leonardo da Vinci School and West High School.
After the tours the legislators enjoyed lunch at Preble’s Beestro, before convening the hearing in the Library Media Center.
In June of 2016, Speaker Vos released a final report regarding the Urban Education Task Force. The report provides recommendations regarding improving student outcomes, teacher recruitment and retention and ways to address truancy, below-average academic performance, and low graduation rates. The recommendations included reevaluating the peer mentor grant program, streamlining the license renewal process for mentor teachers, teacher prep in teaching in urban settings and how to teach reading, clarify definition of truancy, explore creating a medicaid billing code for mental health services and improve communication between mental health providers and physicians, review transfer program between technical colleges and the UW system, review state funding for summer school, review state requirement that school districts report pupil nondiscrimination data, consider funding interim assessments and academic interventions, evaluate potential for school districts to accept 11th grade ACT scores taken anytime during their junior year for purposes of school accountability, and review state funding for 4-year-old kindergarten and early childhood education.
In August, another report was released from the Vice Chair of the Task Force and its minority members. The report provides recommendations regarding addressing poverty; teacher recruitment and retention; mental health, behavior and truancy; education alternatives; achievement gap; and early childhood development and alternative schools. The recommendations in this report included: increasing the statewide minimum wage, restoring cut to earned income tax credits and provide resources for expansion of transitional jobs program, provide resources for Transform Milwaukee Jobs and Transitional Jobs Programs, reduce burden of child-care costs for low-income families, pass and implement the fair funding model, reinstate Chapter 220, create grants for incentive pay for teachers in high needs schools, expand grant loan forgiveness, reinstate fully funding Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program, develop programs to recruit more teachers of color, create initiatives for trauma-informed care and child interactive therapy program grants, provide aid for districts with a high percentage of mobile and transient students, increase state reimbursement of special education to 33%, devise alternatives to suspension and expulsion, create outreach teams in high-truancy schools, apply targeted community-schools model services, pass legislation regarding educational neglect, increase resources and incentives for ESL/ELL training both for incoming and existing teachers, invest in Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate grants, allow for the creation of flexible school districts of innovation, develop state-level programs to assist districts in implementing achievement gap intervention responses, provide grants for expanding AVID/TOPS pilot program in urban areas, provide full state funding for 4K and partial funding for 3K instruction, increase funding and resources for summer reading programs, with an emphasis on 4K through 3rd grade, and create grants for community schools.
Board of Education Legislative Liaison Michael Blecha responded to the Task Force reports stating, “I want to thank all the legislators who served on the Urban Education Task Force. Both reports seek to provide solutions to the concerns raised by urban school districts. It is my hope that the Legislature is able to work in a bipartisan way to adopt many of the recommendations to ensure success for ALL students. We look forward to continuing this important conversation.”