These weekly updates are to inform those interested in public education in Mineral Point what is happening that may impact school stakeholders. These updates are designed to be informative, factual, and non-partisan.

Additional information can be found from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards at:

Legislative Update 1/29/16

1/29: Legislation to revamp the state’s Academic Excellence Scholarship program appears to be gaining ground in the state Legislature.

Under current law, Academic Excellence Scholarships (AES) are awarded to Wisconsin high school seniors who have the highest grade point average in each public and private high school throughout the State of Wisconsin.

Currently, each high school in the state is eligible to have a scholarship recipient, regardless of its enrollment, although the number of scholarships each high school is eligible for is based on total student enrollment. Schools are organized into six categories based on their enrollment size. The value of the scholarship is currently $2,250 per year, to be applied towards tuition. Half of the scholarship is funded by the state, while the other half is matched by the institution. The scholarships are administered through a state agency, called the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB).

The proposal moving through the Legislature would increase the scholarship amount to cover 50 percent of resident student tuition if the student attends a UW System school or a state technical college or 50 percent of UW Madison’s resident tuition if the student attends a private college or university. This would roughly double the value of these scholarships.

The WASB agrees that the scholarship amount has failed to keep pace with tuition increases that have occurred over the years and welcomes this increase.

However, the WASB opposes two controversial changes under the proposal that would: 1) add a requirement that students receive both a minimum composite score of 28 on the ACT college entrance exam and a 3.5 grade point average (GPA); and 2) provide that if a high school has not students who meet these new qualifications, HEAB must reallocate the scholarship to a student from another high school in the same enrollment size category.

The WASB has opposed these changes (see WASB Testimony on AB 314) arguing that there is merit in guaranteeing that a top ranking student in each high school in the state, no matter its enrollment, will receive such a scholarship.

Figures from each of the past two years (2013-14 and 2014-15) indicate that in 30 high schools the highest performing student who took the ACT test received less than a 28 composite score. In roughly two-thirds of these cases (18 of 30 and 20 of 30, respectively), those schools had enrollments of fewer than 500 students. Chances are good that these 18 or 20 schools would have been unrepresented among scholarship recipients, if the amended version of this bill had been in place.

The WASB (as well as the School Administrators Alliance and the Wisconsin Rural Schools Association) argue that in many cases these scholarships provide the encouragement and wherewithal for students in many of our smallest and most rural high schools to successfully continue their education beyond high school and provide an incentive for students in all districts to continue to strive and to aspire to a college education.

Further, the recipients of these scholarships serve as role models for the students who follow them and thus provide a highly visible example to other students in those small districts that it is possible to achieve the goal of a college education by applying oneself no matter what high school you attend or what zip code you reside in.

Proponents of change argue that the current scholarships are not persuading Wisconsin’s highest performing graduates to remain in the state and that more rigor is needed in awarding the scholarship to ensure that they reward excellence, particularly when the top candidates in a school decline the scholarship and it goes to an alternate with lesser academic credentials.

1/28: There were several K-12 education questions asked in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll released Jan. 28.  From the @MULawPoll twitter feed:

Education funding: 57% say local schools are receiving too little funding from state. #mulawpoll

How would you react if your school bd held referendum to increase spending? 55% inclined to vote yes, 35% inclined to vote no. #mulawpoll

Do you favor allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on school grounds? 31% favor, 65% oppose. #mulawpoll

1/25: Saying a four-year college degree isn’t the only path to success, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called on hundreds of school board members, administrators and other public school officials attending the State Education Convention to help change the mindset that values four-year university degrees over technical training.

Addressing the final session of the three-day Convention on Friday, Gov. Walker told attendees that as he travels around the state, he hears from local businesses about their need for skilled workers. And he noted that “so many of our good-paying careers we hear about require two-year technical degrees.”  He later added, “We’ve got to lift up and recognize those career paths that require and apprenticeship or associate degree.”

The governor also repeated his pledge, first announced during his State of the State address earlier last week, to invest an unspecified amount of savings created by a proposed restructuring of state employee health care coverage into public education.

“I’m committed to spending every penny of (savings from) those reforms to additional funding for education, said the governor, drawing applause.