SAGE Study Committee Suggests Changes to Program

Last summer, I shared with you the work of the legislature’s Legislative Council Study Committees. These committees are organized by the Joint Legislative Council, a standing committee of the legislature which I co-chaired last session with Representative Joan Ballweg. The committees meet throughout the summer and fall and often recommend legislation to be considered during the next legislative session. These committees include state representatives, state senators, members of the public and agency officials who work together to tackle difficult and complex issues facing the state. 

This summer and fall, I co-chaired, along with Representative Mary Czaja, the Joint Legislative Council Study Committee on the SAGE Program. The committee was directed to study the SAGE program and to consider if there are other ways that schools could achieve the same goals as the SAGE program and if so, should the state provide grants and assistance for alternatives to class size reduction initiatives.

The SAGE program began in 1995 by awarding five-year grants to school districts that had at least one school with at least 50 percent low income students. Since then, the program has been changed in a few ways. Now, a school district’s student population must be at least 30 percent low income, the school must not be participating in another class size reduction program, and it must be new to the program when the legislature renews another round of SAGE contracts.

The study committee is recommending that the SAGE program be replaced with an Achievement Gap Reduction (AGR) program. This program incorporates some of the aspects of the SAGE program but also makes some important changes. Like SAGE, schools would enter into a five-year contract with DPI. To begin with, only schools that are currently participating in the SAGE program would be eligible for the AGR program. This allows time for the new program to be evaluated before possible expansion.

Schools that participate in the AGR program could use the money to reduce class size and provide professional development for teachers on small group instruction, as they can under the current SAGE program. The new AGR program is different from the existing SAGE program in that schools could use their funding in three different ways, or through a combination of three different strategies. As mentioned above, they could choose to reduce class size and provide professional development.  Alternatively, or in addition, they could provide one-on-one tutoring with a licensed teacher or they could provide instructional coaching for their teachers. Additionally, schools could participate in the program and reduce class sizes in some grades, but would not be required to reduce class size in each eligible grade.

Other key differences with the SAGE program have to do with accountability. The AGR program would require schools to set performance goals, including how they will reduce the achievement gap between low-income students and the statewide average.  Critically important, in my opinion, is that the AGR program requires local school boards to regularly review the progress being made at each of their schools participating in the AGR program. Rather than just reporting statistics to the Department of Public Instruction, this gives school boards the power and the responsibility to ensure that progress is being made.

The next step in the legislative process is for these bills to be introduced so they may receive public hearings and additional legislative consideration. 

If you have any questions about any of the information I have included or if you have suggestions on other topics or issues you would like learn more about, you may call my office toll-free at (800) 991-5541; write me at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI  53708; or e-mail me at: Sen.Olsen@legis.state.wi.us. You can also sign up for our newsletter at our website: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/sen14/news/index.htm.