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SPEECH: Wisconsin 2017 State Education Convention

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Tom McCarthy, DPI Communications Director, (608) 266-3559

WASB • WASDA • WASBO State Education
Convention Address

January 18, 2017 — Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee

By State Superintendent Tony Evers


Thank you Todd Gray, superintendent for the School District of Waukesha, for the introduction, and thank you John Ashley for your leadership as executive director of WASB.

I am proud of the strong and collaborative relationship the department has with WASB. Most importantly, thank you to all of our school board members, for serving your communities.

Since this is a joint convention, I also want to have a shout out for Jon Bales, WASDA, and Woody Wiedenhoeft, WASBO, for their leadership and also their organizations for standing up for kids.

Local school boards are part and parcel of our education landscape in Wisconsin – and that’s not an accident. Politics, whether it’s education politics or otherwise, is a local affair. We have long understood that in our state, and, as school board members, you serve a critical role in the education of Wisconsin’s students.

As state superintendent, I believe we “elected folks” also share a common challenge in our work. Our positions run the risk of feeling very far away from the kids that may have originally inspired us to seek our positions.

It can be challenging to sit through a board meeting – and trust me, I’ve sat through my share – or to sit in an office building in Madison, and FEEL the impact we have on the lives of kids. But the impact is there, and I work hard to stay grounded in that fact.

For me, I like to visit schools and districts as much as I can to get the scoop from kids – I’m sure many of you do as well. In my tenure, I’ve averaged about a visit a week to schools and districts, and I can tell you — across our great state, we have some absolutely amazing kids, and some powerful stories to tell.

When I’m in a district, I always ask school leaders, what can we do at the DPI to help you? While the reasons differ from district to district, all roads generally lead back to one place – funding. And that’s what I want to specifically address with you today: how we fund our schools.

Let me be frank — asking for more money is not an excuse, and we should not view it that way. It doesn’t shift our mission to ensure every student graduates college and career ready. But it absolutely plays a role in how we get there. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

Recently, the newly consolidated Herman-Neosho-Rubicon School District, or HoNoR schools as they refer to themselves, invited me to visit. Consolidation can be tricky – people don’t want to lose that connection to their board, or their sports team, or their neighborhood school. I get that.

But funding absolutely played a role in H-N-R making the tough decision to consolidate. And their board and leadership did everything in their power to maintain and improve the educational opportunity they provide for their kids

I was also recently invited to tour Hortonville’s schools to see the mental health supports they have designed. It’s a true public-community partnership focused on addressing how mental health affects student learning. I was blown away by their work.

This year, I crossed one more region off my list of places to visit in Wisconsin – the St. Croix Valley. There, I learned to use a potter’s wheel with students who I hope consider the education profession. Those were some good photos by the way…clay all over me. Again, I saw how community support has allowed them to pass referenda and build programs where students excelled. In each of these places, despite all the good happening, all of them mentioned to me that additional funding would unlock new opportunities for them.

I’m tired of hearing that.

Thankfully, others are coming around to the need to act on serious funding reform. Governor Walker, in his State of the State address, talked about the need for significant increase in school funding – including a per pupil revenue limit increase. Speaker Vos is working to convene a blue ribbon panel on the issue.

I applaud that commitment and look forward to working with the Legislature to making that a reality. But I also must be clear. This movement, from the governor and Legislature—it happened due to pressure from YOU – through continued successful referenda and discussion by boards and members.

It’s also due to your willingness to engage with community groups to advocate for improved funding. Groups such as Support Education River Falls, Green Bay Advocates for Public Education, Support our Schools – SW Wisconsin, SOS – Wauwatosa, and many more across our state.

But we have to push for more than a band aid approach while the public is behind us. And poll after poll has demonstrated to us that they are.

I have submitted a plan to the Legislature that many of you are aware of, called Fair Funding for Our Future. It is a ready-made blueprint for you to use in your discussions with your communities and legislators, and I know many of you already do. It’s based on the idea of transparency, fairness in distribution, and protecting all districts during the initial years from losing money due to the change.

  • For Captain Terry McCloskey from the Three Lakes, it’s an increase of $138,544 or 9.7%.
  • For Rosanne Hahn in Burlington, an increase of $2,271,767 or 11.6%.
  • For Andy Zellmer in the Montello School District, it means an increase of $652,635 or 23.5%.

We have to work together to make those figures a reality, and we cannot let funding be a Republican or a Democrat issue. Voters from across the political spectrum are passing referenda all across this state. At the local level, kids are simply more important than political labels.

So I want to leave you with a thought. In my time in education, I’ve seen more studies of the impact of funding than I can count. Some say funding is a driver of student outcomes, others say it plays no role at all. But think of this number the next time someone pushes you on the subject: $38,000.

That’s the average per pupil amount our recent presidents have spent on their own kids’ schools. We’re not asking for $38,000 a kid – we’re asking for a reasonable, sustained commitment from the state. A commitment that will help H-N-R with their new district, and Hortonville with their mental health work, and the St. Croix Valley schools I toured.

I’m asking for your help, again, in capturing the momentum that exists around funding reform.

I appreciate your time today, and thank you again for all the work you do on behalf of our kids.

Official Release