Guest Column from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke – May 20, 2016

Keeping WI’s Education System Strong Remains Top Priority Next Session 

Teachers deserve our appreciation and support throughout the entire year, and as the school year comes to a close, they deserve added acknowledgement for their tireless efforts and dedication to our children. All of us are indebted to the teachers who are giving our students the knowledge they need to succeed and achieve their dreams. We are so fortunate to have a strong educational system in place here in Wisconsin and so many incredible teachers who are committed to our students’ education. 

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of our teachers, Wisconsin consistently ranks among the top states in the nation for graduation rates, ACT scores and Advanced Placement participation. Our statewide graduation rate is the second highest in the nation at 88 percent, far above the federal average of 82 percent, and over thirty percent of last year’s public school graduates took Advanced Placement courses. These are statistics we can all be very proud of.

Over this past session, my legislative colleagues and I have worked hard to come alongside Wisconsin’s teachers and make sure that they have the resources and support necessary to give our students a quality education. That’s why we worked with our local school districts to amend Governor Walker’s state budget. We responded to the input of teachers and parents alike by adding an additional $200 million to fund our K-12 schools – that’s money above and beyond what was proposed by the Governor. Thanks to this additional investment, we restored funding of $150 per pupil in the first year of the biennium and increased funding by $100 per pupil in the second year. 

Since we all know that increased spending is not the only way to improve education, we also passed targeted education initiatives to address challenges in our urban and rural school districts. A new teacher loan program and a minority teacher loan program will help recruit quality teachers. Another new law allows rural school districts to share grades without consolidation.  We also made progress in implementing a state accountability system. Combined with extra funding, these reforms will keep Wisconsin’s strong education system. 

Investing in our education system is an issue that I care deeply about. As the husband of a public school teacher and the father of three children, I see the struggles that our teachers and students face each day, and I know that there are challenges that we still need to address. That’s one of the reasons that the Legislature created the Speaker’s Task Force on Urban Education. This bipartisan task force has spent the past year looking at ways to improve Wisconsin’s urban school districts, teacher recruitment and retention, and identify ways to reduce below-average academic performance and low graduation rates. There’s still significant progress to be made and we want to achieve real results.

 Education will remain a top priority in the next session. Assembly leaders have already indicated that K-12 education will be a focus for additional funding in the next state budget. Not only do our teachers deserve our appreciation, but they also need the resources necessary to equip our children with the knowledge to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive world.