Gov. Tony Evers Wants More Money for K-12 Education
Research Backs Many of His Ideas
February 1, 2019 | By Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten
From Appleton Post Crescent:
During his first State of the State speech last week, Gov. Tony Evers announced several education priorities he'd like to address in the next state budget.
They include $600 million more for special education, restoring two-thirds funding to Wisconsin's K-12 schools, closing the achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, expanding early childhood and summer school grant programs and increasing mental health funding.
To make any of these priorities a reality, Evers and his fellow Democrats will need to work with Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature.
With opinionated leaders on all sides of a divided government, fireworks are likely.
But The Ideas Lab found that research supports many of the initiatives Evers hopes to pursue.
Here's a breakdown:
Increased funding for schools
Low-income school districts that got more money after school funding reforms were enacted saw significant, sustained increases in student achievement, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study examined National Assessment of Education Progress scores in states that implemented school funding reforms in the 1990s. Specifically, researchers analyzed NAEP scores for low-income and high-income school districts before and after the funding reforms took effect.
One big drawback: Researchers did not investigate how school districts allocated their resources.
Early childhood programs
A meta-analysis by the Rand Corporation found that investing in quality early childhood programs help children enter kindergarten more prepared than they would have been otherwise.
This is where the conversation about the achievement gap often starts — children who enter kindergarten behind have a harder time catching up.
But experts say early childhood programming alone is not enough.
Wisconsin has some of the largest black-white achievement gaps in the nation, and it's a problem officials and the public have known about for years.
To make an impact, state and school district officials need to approach achievement gaps from multiple directions, said Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network and an associate scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Minority Student Achievement Network works with 27 school districts around the nation, including four in Wisconsin. MSAN helps school officials evaluate and implement programs aimed at reducing achievement gaps.
Research has shown that student-teacher relationships are particularly important to students' academic success. Schools should prioritize training educators in culturally responsive practices so they can engage their students and challenge them, Hafner said.
Having a diverse teaching staff has also been shown to affect achievement.
Schools can improve referrals in Advanced Placement and honors courses, and on the flip side, scrutinize special education referrals. Research has found that students of color are underrepresented in honors classes and over-represented in special education programs.
Discipline practices should be evaluated. Research shows that students of color are more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions or expulsions compared with their white peers.
Putting these efforts aside, Hafner said the conversation about achievement gaps for students of color must include the public. Communities need to support students of color "from cradle to career," she said.
Initiatives to lower the mortality rate among women of color and to ensure low-income women have access to quality prenatal care, as well as ensuring impoverished children have access to health care, quality education and nutritious food are all ways to help.
And she added:
"I think any commentary or discussion of any of this has to include those external influences, like racism."
Mental health funding
When it comes to school-based mental health, research is scarce on the impact of funding increases.
But Wisconsin has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the nation, a problem USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin has investigated during its three-year Kids in Crisis series.
Our reporting found that many Wisconsin schools have far fewer social workers, nurses, counselors and psychologists than recommended.
Lawmakers have increased funding for school-based mental health resources in recent years. In 2017, then-Gov. Scott Walker proposed an additional $7 million for the effort at the request of Evers, then the state superintendent. The proposal became law.
Special education funding
Numerous studies have been conducted on the over-representation of students of color in special education, the impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and on specific help for students with special needs. However, we couldn't find research on how funding increases for special education affect student outcomes. If you know of a study we missed, I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.