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March 4, 2010


Wisconsin Denied Race To The Top Funds


In his efforts to improve schools, President Obama has initiated incentives for states to reform education as part of his “Race To The Top” agenda.  Broadly speaking, the federal government is offering $4 billion in K-12 education funds to states that tie student achievement to teacher performance, put forward plans to close achievement gaps, adopt academic standards, and succeed in advancing the role of charter schools.  These initiatives have been met with trepidation by the education establishment as well as conservatives fearful of continued federal encroachment in state education.


To better position itself for these federal funds, Governor Doyle and the Wisconsin Legislature enacted a series of changes in state law last November.  These included a collaborative system to track student achievement data from preschool programs through postsecondary education (Senate Bill 371), developing evaluation plans for teacher performance and student achievement (Senate Bill 372), and adopting new standards for charter school creation (Senate Bill 373).  Additionally, the Governor advocated for an overhaul of the structure of the Milwaukee School District by empowering the city’s mayor to run the school district, as opposed to the school board.  While this has not been taken up by the Legislature, it was initiated as a reform to close the achievement gap between Milwaukee and other state schools.  The Milwaukee school district graduates around less than one-half of its students, creating a recipe for failure for both the students and our state’s economic well-being.


Forty states, including Wisconsin, applied for these federal funds in January 2009.  It was just announced on March 4th that Wisconsin was not approved in the first round of appropriations. It appears the lack of a merit pay system, a weak connection between student achievement and teacher evaluation, and a lack of reform to the structure of the Milwaukee public schools may have resulted in our denial


Ideas to reform education in Wisconsin are welcomed and especially critical for failing districts like Milwaukee.  I support initiatives to strengthen charter schools and have long supported the school choice program in Milwaukee.  I am open to other reforms that will ensure accountability and improve student outcomes.


Let me know your thoughts and comments on state and federal education reform proposals.  You can visit my website at to send me an email, take online surveys, or view more about bills in the Wisconsin Legislature.