What does data say about effects of Act 10?

by WisPolitics.com

Two new studies on Act 10 show two different views of the landmark education bill.

Capitol Democrats on Nov. 15 bashed Act 10 following the release of a new study showing teachers’ compensation is down while turnover rates are up in the years since the law’s passage.

The study, from the liberal Center for American Progress, analyzed data collected by the state Department of Public Instruction from the 2005-06 school year to 2015-16. It also found since Act 10’s passage in 2011, the percentage of teachers with fewer than five years of experience has increased.

On a media call sharing the study’s results, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the law has “demonized and devalued the teaching profession and driven away many good teachers” instead of “encouraging the best and brightest” to become educators.

The La Crosse Dem said those effects were being felt in classrooms, where “consistency and continuity” in education is “vital to the success of our students.”

But state GOP spokesman Alec Zimmerman said if Shilling and other “Madison liberals were serious about education, they’d have voted for Gov. Scott Walker’s record investment in our classrooms in the latest budget.”

Another study, done by the conservative Badger Institute (formerly the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute), found savings that could have been realized through Act 10 — sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single district — were lost because federal regulations penalize school districts that find ways to spend less money.

The 257 Wisconsin school districts that responded to a Badger Institute open records request this summer said they had spent more than $1.3 billion on “maintenance of effort” in 2015-16, an average of $2,559 per student. With 424 public school districts in the state, the total is likely hundreds of millions of dollars higher.

The federal requirement that schools continue to spend at least the same amount of local or state tax dollars year after year or face a loss of federal funding is known as “maintenance of effort,” or MOE.

MOE requirements are “seen at the federal level as a way to make sure that federal funds aren’t displacing state and local funds,” says John Debacher, director of library development for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Critics say, however, MOE rules force districts to continually spend large amounts of money.

The liberal group’s study specifically found the full-time annual salary for a typical Wisconsin teacher at any given year of experience fell by around $2,600 from the 2010-11 school year to 2015-16. It also found the average teacher’s overall years of teaching experience in Wisconsin and the years of teaching in a specific school district has fallen.

But it also showed the exit rate for teachers under 55 “did not spike directly after” Act 10’s passage, although the authors wrote it could be a “delayed result from Act 10.” After the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, 4.4 percent of teachers under 55 on average left their school in a given year. That rose to 6.7 percent after the 2013-14 school year and was at 6.6 percent after 2014-15.

Asked on the call why the study’s authors think there’s a relationship between Act 10 and the findings, co-author David Madland noted he doesn’t have “definitive proof” the law was the cause, but said his data shows “a before and after change right as Act 10 goes into effect.”

The conservative study quoted district officials in Sheboygan and Kenosha counties about the federal requirement they say undermines Act 10 savings.

The Oostburg School District in Sheboygan County, for example, experienced a “huge reduction in expenses for the special education fund” following the passage of Act 10, says Kristin DeBruine, the district’s business manager.

Special education programs, however, are funded with federal as well as local tax dollars — and full, ongoing federal funding continues only if local and state funding remains constant or increases from year to year.

In order to avoid a federal funding cut, the Oostburg district spent the Act 10 savings in other ways, including almost $60,000 to install an elevator in its middle school. At the time, and to this day, the school does not have any students who use wheelchairs. So, the elevator sits largely unused, DeBruine says.

While installing the elevator also helped the district meet federal disability compliance rules, “We would not have put it in without the required use of the money, as it is only used for after-school activities, and the cost would not have allowed us to do it otherwise,” DeBruine says. “That simply just doesn’t make sense at all.”

“We tend to budget money just to meet MOE rather than spending it in the most effective, efficient manner,” says Penny Boileau, administrator for the Brighton #1 School District in Kansasville in Kenosha County.

“We should be able to prove we are meeting the needs of our students by some other means rather than by comparing funding spent in one year compared to the next year.”

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