West Allis-West Milwaukee schools hope state takes its SAGE advice

Feb. 5, 2013

West Allis - The West Allis-West Milwaukee schools are leading the charge against what officials see as a state financial threat to all schools, but to West Allis in particular.

Local school officials are joining others around the state in supporting dramatic changes to the state school aid formula.

Most critical to West Allis-West Milwaukee is continuing funding for the SAGE program - short for Student Achievement Goal in Education - that helps build a solid learning foundation for kindergartners through third-graders.

Benefits of SAGE

Its main impact is in providing funding so that the schools can afford to have smaller classes in those early grades. And that effort is showing results, Superintendent Kurt Wachholz said.

There is significantly more progress made by SAGE students on standardized tests as opposed to nonSAGE students, he said. Economically disadvantaged students, for whom SAGE was developed, are better off with it, Wachholz said.

School Board member Pat Kerhin strongly supports SAGE, saying that the district recognizes that smaller classes are central to achievement.

Board President Sue Stalewski said SAGE seems to be a strong selling point for the district.

But that could end.

"Now there is a significant movement to take this program away at the state level," Wachholz said.

Responding to threat

Because losing SAGE funding would hit West Allis-West Milwaukee hard, it must lead the charge to save it, Wachholz said.

The School Board approved a resolution supporting SAGE, and Wachholz took it to Madison recently, stressing to legislators how important the program is.

School officials also shared its SAGE success data with school officials across the state at the recent Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention.

While keeping SAGE the same, local school officials and others want the state aid formula to change. The state uses the formula to parcel out state school aid.

The West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board unanimously supported the plan put forward by State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers. It would help reverse a trend in the West Allis-West Milwaukee schools in which it lost $12 million in state aid over the last two years, partly because of the current funding formula.

'Fair Funding' idea

One of the core elements of Evers' plan, called the Fair Funding Proposal, is that it lays a path back to the state providing two-thirds of school funding, a promise the state made years ago but never fulfilled for each individual school district.

Wachholz said the Evers plan holds the line on property taxes, but it would redirect the school levy tax credit to school boards rather than having it go directly to reduce school levies. For an average West Allis home assessed at $100,000, the credit reduced the school levy by $156, according to city treasurer's office.

The formula would incorporate a poverty factor accounting for families' ability to pay, not just their property value.

"That's a very important component for us," Wachholz said.

The proposal also would ensure the revenue limits grow by the current amount, which provides a modest annual increase in school spending affecting how much schools can tax.

Dramatically different in the Evers' plan would be a guaranteed $3,000 in state aid for every student, regardless of whether the student comes from a wealthy district. Finally, the plan would make changes that strengthen rural, declining enrollment and other districts that are losing aid.

The state has additional new money that could go to the schools, Wachholz said.

He said the Fair Funding Proposal has gone to Gov. Scott Walker for consideration for next state budget. Then the Joint Finance Committee would work on it.

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