I have worked in gifted education in Wisconsin for more than 20 years. In my opinion we have the best chance in a long time, right now, to bring about fundamental change in how the state serves its gifted students. But we will waste this opportunity if we don’t have many voices advocating for change.
Perhaps you’re thinking “Isn’t that why WATG has an advocacy committee?” Yes, to some extent. That committee, now known as the Government Action Committee (GAC), does do a tremendous amount of volunteer work tracking proposed legislation and the state budget, communicating with legislators, and meeting with other education groups around the state. However, LEGISLATORS LISTEN TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS. After all, that’s who elects them.
We have been told that just a few inquiries about an issue can feel like a landslide in a state legislator’s office. Many of them, even members of the Education committees, never hear about gifted children or gifted education. A single conversation or story can make a difference. We have found that most legislators are shocked to see how little Wisconsin spends on gifted education compared to neighboring states, and they often have no idea how many barriers can be put up when families are just trying to get curriculum and instruction that meets the needs of their children. Many of them believe most of the common myths about gifted children and programs (see http://nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students).
What happens next? The Joint Finance Committee has completed its hearings, and we are collecting examples of the written and video testimony submitted to JFC by gifted education advocates (see President Cathy Schmit’s column for more on this!). These examples will be available for you to refer to on the WATG website under the Advocacy link (look under Menu and then Get Involved, or go directly to http://www.watg.org/advocacy). What we need now is for YOU to contact YOUR* state senator and your state Assembly representative to let them know that you support WATG’s request for the current state budget ($2.5 million for the existing grant program, with part of that available to help fund a person at DPI to help process the additional grants), and to let them know why you care about appropriate challenge for gifted, talented, and advanced learners. (WATG is developing additional requests, but the current budget request is the most urgent.)
You can (and probably do) advocate with your own school district for better local services. The state level is where many policy decisions are made that affect your local schools. Please extend your advocacy to the state level by calling or emailing your* state legislators. Your Government Action Committee is more than ready to help you with your message! Send questions/requests to Advocacy@watg.org, and please let us know about your calls or emails so that we can keep track of which legislators have been contacted.
Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of Wisconsin’s gifted students!
Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, Ph.D.
Former president, WATG
Member, Government Action Committee
* Go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and on the right side of the page, you'll see the words, “Who Are My Legislators?” Underneath, there is a space to enter your address. Type in your complete HOME address and click "Find Your Legislators." Their contact information will pop up.
UPDATE: The Joint Finance Committee, which writes the proposed state budget (including $$ for gifted education), has EXTENDED its DEADLINE for submitting written testimony to MONDAY (April 29) 4pm. (You could also submit a short video if you prefer.) Here are two examples : a short and powerful video from WATG advocacy co-chair Hillarie Roth, who testified in person, and a longer written information piece from advocacy committee member Pam Clinkenbeard.
The Wisconsin legislature Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has been holding regional public hearings on the proposed state budget for the next biennium (July 1, 2019 - June 30, 2021). The final hearing is TOMORROW 4/24 in Green Bay, but if you cannot appear in person you can submit written comments. Much of the testimony already given at these hearings has addressed the public education budget. The time is NOW to submit your comments on behalf of gifted education funding to the Joint Finance Committee! We are providing you with a sample (see below) that you can use as is or modify as you would like.
All written testimony must be submitted to JFC by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, April 24th by emailing BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov. Be sure to use subject line: Testimony on 2019-2021 Budget for Public Record and include your full home mailing address. If you are a public employee, please use a personal email account, not a work related account. All written testimony will be entered into the public record as official testimony. Be sure to "cc" your own legislators as well as they will be voting on the budget that the JFC proposes within the near future! Not sure who your legislators are? Go to the WI state legislature website here http://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/ and enter your HOME address (not work). You can see links to your state Assembly representative and your state Senator.
If you do send written testimony, WATG's Government Action Committee would love to know! Having an idea of where gifted education supporters are in the state helps us in our advocacy work at the state and federal levels. You could send a copy of your testimony, or just a note saying simply 'I submitted testimony' firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAMPLE MESSAGE (feel free to adapt for your own use)
"To the members of the Joint Finance Committee:
I am writing to ask for your support for Wisconsin's advanced (gifted) learners K-12. To give a bit of comparative information, gifted education is funded in Iowa at $37.6 million dollars, in Minnesota funding is at $12.2 million dollars, and Ohio funds gifted education at $73.5 million dollars. Currently Wisconsin funds gifted education at level of $237 thousand dollars in the form of competitive grants.
Advanced learning is found in students from all socioeconomic and racial groups, and without proper identification and appropriate programming gifted children are at a great risk for underachievement and dropping out of school.
Wisconsin statute (s.118.35) requires school districts to identify advanced learners ("gifted and talented") and provide them with appropriate services. No funding is provided by the state to facilitate this mandate. Advanced learners require instruction and services beyond what is typically provided at grade level, just as students with other special needs require targeted instruction and services. Developing the talents of ALL of our students, including Wisconsin's estimated 105,000 advanced learners, is an economic issue as well as an educational one.
We request that you support the Blue Ribbon Commission's 2.5 million dollar funding option for gifted education which will be used to increase funding for competitive grants. We would also ask that DPI be given the authority to use a portion of that 2.5 million dollars to designate personnel to process those grants.
[Add in any personal story about your child or your students that you wish]
Thank you for your time; I appreciate your consideration of this request.
[name, HOME street address, personal (home) e-mail address optional, phone optional]
As you probably know, the governor just announced his state budget proposal on February 28. The link to the full 592-page governor's budget (and summary documents) is https://doa.wi.gov/Pages/StateFinances/2019-21-Executive-Budget.aspx.
The request for gifted funding (item 18 on page 419) seems to have been kept at $1 million per year for the competitive grants program, which is what DPI requested last fall. (The actual amount shown on the budget document is $762,800 for each year, FY20 and FY21, but we take that to be the amount of increase: added to the current $237,200/year it adds up to $1M.). Here is the link to the original DPI request https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/policy-budget/pdf/2019-21_Biennial_Budget_Request_Sept_17_2018_FINAL_tech_corrections.pdf - the four pages on gifted education are at document pages 121-124.
Here is the paragraph that accompanies the governor’s request; it simply summarizes the longer DPI budget request language: "Governor recommends providing funding to increase gifted and talented programming capacity in school districts. The Governor also recommends providing districts the flexibility to use grant funds for professional development and modifying the goal of the program to focus on serving historically underrepresented students including economically disadvantaged students, students of color, English Learners and students with disabilities."
While a number of Republican majority state legislators have objected to the governor’s budget, there does seem to be agreement that K-12 education funding will increase, and the Republican-led Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding report in January recommended increasing funding for gifted education (they suggest $2.5 million per year as one option – see item #22). https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lfb/misc/206_recommendations_of_the_blue_ribbon_commission_on_school_funding_1_4_19.pdf The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) also recently recommended increased funding for gifted education: https://wasb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Report-to-the-Membership-on-Resolutions-Adopted-by-the-2019-Delegate-Assembly-FINAL.pdf - see Resolution 19-05.
What next? Here is a link to an overview by WASB of how the budget process works. https://wasblegupdate.wasb.org/2019/02/27/the-governors-budget-address-and-what-happens-next/. WATG’s Government Action Committee is currently developing its advocacy strategic plan; it will probably include support for $2.5 million for the current DPI grants program, promotion of WATG’s “Acceleration Project” (submit your acceleration stories!), and a longer-term emphasis on policy and funding changes that will remove barriers and improve action on behalf of students with gifts and talents.
WE NEED YOUR IDEAS! What would you like to see in Wisconsin? If you are a parent, what policies would help your children thrive in school? If you are an educator, what would make your job easier as you provide appropriate advanced instructional opportunities? If you have experience in another state, what was available there that you wish was available in Wisconsin? Please send your ideas for what you would like to see in gifted education in Wisconsin! Email Advocacy@watg.org.
Besides being a birthday month for dear people in my life, February brings Valentine’s Day, another highlight in the month! I decided to capitalize on the theme and take it to a place that perhaps few of us dare to go! I’m going to declare it “Love a Legislator Month”!
Maybe you are wondering why I might say this? Of course I’ll tell you! Right now is a time that our voices might make a difference for our gifted children. When Governor Evers was the State Superintendent of Schools, his proposed education budget for 2019-2020 was $1 million for gifted education. That is a four-fold increase over our current budget. This budget, of course, has to be approved in the legislature. In addition, the Wisconsin Blue Ribbon Commission that is looking at school funding issues has a newly released document that includes supporting gifted education. The levels are $.5 million, $1 million and $2.5 million, depending on state resources. This document will go to the legislature for discussion and decision making with the proposed education budget. It is time to contact your representatives and let them know you want them to support gifted funding at a higher level than the currently funded quarter million in competitive grants.
How do you do this? I’ll start with suggesting that you find out who your representatives are if you don’t know already. Go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ Toward the right-hand side of the page, you'll see the words, "Find my Legislators." Underneath, there is a space to enter your address. Type in your complete home address and click "Find." You will see a map of your legislative district and photos of your representative and senator in the Wisconsin State Legislature. The Assembly information is right below that.
By clicking on your representative’s name, you can contact him or her directly through that site. Take some time to send a “Valentine” to let them know how important the additional funding is for gifted education in Wisconsin. You could also choose to call their hotline. Every new contact will be counted! Please be part of the count!
Let’s let our representatives know that we care about our gifted kids! If you contact them and want to share your story, please feel free to let us know! We’d love to hear from you!
[Send advocacy ideas to: email@example.com]
As the new state administration and legislature settle in, a lot has already happened that will have an impact on gifted education for at least the next two years and probably beyond. Below is a quick roundup of recent news related to advocacy and funding for gifted and talented students and programs for advanced learners. STAY TUNED for specific action requests from WATG! These requests will mostly take the form of asking you to email your own state Senators and Assembly Representatives to request that they support related bills and actions. If you’re not sure who your state legislators are, just enter your HOME address at this website under “Who Are My Legislators?” http://legis.wisconsin.gov/
WATG’s Government Action Committee is currently developing its advocacy strategic plan for “budget season” (the state’s next biennial budget period begins July 1, 2019 and the budget will be finalized, ideally, before that date). WATG’s plan will probably include support for the requests for additional funding noted below, promotion of WATG’s “Acceleration Project” (see article elsewhere in this newsletter), and a longer-term emphasis on policy changes that will remove barriers and improve action on behalf of students with gifts and talents. The plan will go to the WATG board for approval this spring.
THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO PROVIDE INPUT. What would you like to see in Wisconsin? If you are a parent, what policies would help your children thrive in school? If you are an educator, what would make your job easier as you provide appropriate advanced instructional opportunities? If you have experience in another state, what was available there that you wish was available in Wisconsin? We have UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES this biennium, not least because Dr. Tony Evers is governor and there appears to be a state budget surplus. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas as we develop our strategy; it would help if your subject line said “Advocacy Idea.”
RECENT NEWS AND EVENTS
By Dr. Pam Clinkenbeard, UW-Whitewater and former WATG Board Member
Most of you who are interested in gifted education and advanced learning have benefited from the work of Donna Rae and Bob Clasen. They were pioneers in Wisconsin: Bob at UW-Madison and Donna Rae at UW-Whitewater. They worked individually and collaboratively for decades on programs for gifted children, professional development for teachers, and research on gifted education. Bob passed away this past March; Donna Rae attended the WATG 2018 conference, and it is my privilege to say a few words of tribute regarding their contributions to Wisconsin’s gifted children, their parents, and their teachers.
Robert Earl Clasen (known by all as Bob) was born in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and started his career teaching in the Milwaukee schools. He received his Ph.D. from UW-Madison and worked for the Ford Foundation for several years, including curriculum development work in Spain and Venezuela. Back in Wisconsin, he joined the faculty of his alma mater and introduced the Head Start program to Madison. With respect to gifted education, he developed several programs for children, including Lego Logo, the Badger Brain Games, the Haiku Project, and College for Kids. Most of these programs also had a strong component of teacher professional development. Bob developed a master’s program with an emphasis in gifted education at UW-Madison, and he also organized a group of gifted coordinators under the umbrella of the university. That group, called the Dane County UTAG, grew and flourished and later struck out on its own as a non-profit, now known as the Greater Dane County Advanced Learner Network. He and Donna Rae also developed a number of distance learning opportunities for teachers, including radio, television, and video instruction on gifted education, thinking skills, and teaching for creativity.
Bob and Donna Rae laid the groundwork for Wisconsin’s licensure programs many years ago, as they went around the state collecting information and grassroots support for the need to challenge kids appropriately. They spearheaded the efforts that resulted in Wisconsin Statute 118.35, Programs for Gifted and Talented Pupils, and the administrative rule known as “Standard t,” as well as some behind-the-scenes work that allowed us later to develop the current gifted teacher and gifted coordinator licensure programs.
Donna Rae James Clasen was born in Platteville and raised on a farm near Rewey; she began her teaching career in South Milwaukee. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at UW-Madison, and was asked to join the faculty at UW-Whitewater. In addition to her collaborations with Bob, she also started a master’s program with an emphasis in gifted education (at UW-Whitewater), and she organized the Whitewater TAG Network of gifted coordinators from the southeast part of Wisconsin, now known as the Southern Lakes Advanced Learner Network. Donna Rae also helped guide the development of EAGLE school in Fitchburg and served on its board for many years. She was also the president of WAEGT, a precursor to WATG, and like Bob, she presented scholarly papers at state, national, and international conferences.
Donna Rae received Wisconsin’s first Javits grant in 1992 (and we think its only Javits grant until recently) to develop and run the STREAM program, a well-researched program for urban secondary school students. After the federal grant funding ended, she kept the program going for another decade through sheer determination and with state and local school district funding, and those students benefited tremendously from challenging classes, time spent on a college campus, and the belief that they were in fact “college material.”
Bob and Donna Rae also did a large amount of pro bono consulting for school districts on how to identify, nurture, and program for students from all walks of life who had gifts and talents. Donna Rae and, in memoriam, Bob received a standing ovation at the WATG conference for all they have done for gifted education in Wisconsin and beyond.
Dr. Pam Clinkenbeard, WATG Advocacy Committee
As you have probably noticed from the incessant television campaign ads, it’s election season again! The primaries for state and national elections were held on August 14 and the general election is Tuesday Nov. 6. The races that have the most impact on Wisconsin schools are governor, state Senate, and state Assembly. (School board elections are of course very important and have the most direct impact in individual districts, but those elections are typically the first Tuesday in April. While we’re on the subject, make a note to invite one or more school board members to an advanced learner event this fall, or share with them some examples of advanced work that your children or students have created!)
Of course the big governor’s race that is garnering national attention is between incumbent Governor Scott Walker and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. You can see their stated positions on education at their campaign websites, https://www.tonyevers.com/ and https://www.scottwalker.com/. For more objective coverage, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin will provide candidate profiles: https://my.lwv.org/wisconsin.
Not sure who represents you in the state Senate and Assembly, or who’s running in your district? You’re not alone! Simply go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and enter your HOME address under “Who Are My Legislators?” to see who currently represents you, then do a search of their names to see if they are in a race for the Nov. 6 election. (ALL 99 Assembly representatives are up for election unless they are retiring or are running unopposed. State Senators are elected for four-year terms, so about half of the 33 will be running this fall.) Make the time to attend a town hall meeting or debate, or call or email the candidate’s campaign office (or their state office, if an incumbent) to ask about their support for education funding in general and gifted education, talent development, or advanced programming in particular. (Use whichever term is most common in your district.)
To see who is currently on the state Senate Education Committee, Assembly Education Committee, and Joint Finance Committee (all very important for education), go to the links below. Committee memberships will change in January 2019 for the new two-year legislative session, but in many cases state legislators stay with the same committees for more than one term. If you live in the district of a member of one of these committees, it is particularly important that you make your views on gifted education known to them. If you would like to learn more or to help WATG’s advocacy efforts on behalf of gifted students and gifted education, please contact WATG advocacy co-chairs Deb Kucek or Pam Clinkenbeard through email@example.com and/or attend the parent-focused advocacy sessions at the fall WATG conference Nov. 1-2 at the Wilderness in Wisconsin Dells (http://www.watg.org/).
Dr. Pamela Clinkenbeard, Professor of Educational Foundations, UW-Whitewater and WATG Board Member
Following are updates, announcements, and information items about gifted education and advanced learners in Wisconsin. Please contact Pam Clinkenbeard if you have questions or see any errors in the information.
DPI (see https://dpi.wi.gov/gifted)
OTHER (upcoming events)
Now that the state legislature has nearly wrapped up its session for the term, it might be a good time to turn our focus to local advocacy. Several years ago at a well-attended WATG conference session, five “gifted-friendly” school board members from around the state answered questions and gave advice to parents and educators on how to work with their own local school boards. Panel moderator Pam Clinkenbeard asked prepared questions and audience members also questioned the panel. Following is a summary of the main questions and the answers provided by the panelists with some updates for 2018.
Q: What decisions do school boards make that might affect gifted programs/services?
A: School boards handle the “what” while administrators handle the “how” of local education. Boards approve budgets, hire administrators, and write district policies. Boards do not micro-manage specific programs or curricula. Board presidents set the agendas for board meetings.
Q: What are some general strategies that parents and educators can employ in order to advocate with school boards on behalf of gifted children and services?
A: Get to know how the board works, understand its committee structure, and don’t wait until budget decision time to educate board members about gifted education. Attend budget hearings and other board meetings; in some districts almost no one attends. Don’t assume that the board knows in detail about your program; keep them informed year-round about what’s happening.
Find the written board policies that affect gifted students (including AP, Course Options, acceleration, early entry to Kindergarten, etc.) and see if they need revision.
Q: Are there some specific strategies for working with school boards that seem obvious to you but that parents or educators seem to overlook?
A1. Invite board members to gifted/talented events and classes; heighten their awareness through direct experience of the students and their abilities/needs.
A2. Try to find at least one gifted-friendly sponsor on the board; educate them, and then let them work on your behalf through the board’s system and procedures.
A3. Try to get “gifted” or “advanced learner” on the agenda at board meetings, in order to raise awareness and understanding. Offer to report on WATG, on student activities and awards, etc.
Q: Other insights or suggestions?
A: Understand that the impact of federal and state requirements on school funding is huge, and that many costs are fixed (e.g. utilities); learn how much of your district’s budget is actually discretionary or flexible. Districts with increasing enrollments are more likely to have flexibility.
At budget time, educate board members about specific effects of prospective cuts. What’s working in your programming for gifted and talented learners, and if it receives a cut in funding, what might happen? If cuts are necessary, are cuts to advanced and challenging programs disproportionately larger than cuts to other areas or are programs being scaled back equitably across the board?
Finally, find out about school board members’ other interests; what’s important to them and how might your interests overlap? For example, board members concerned about the local economy might not have considered that gifted programs can attract employers to a district.
Last month, we reported on proposed legislation that would establish “education savings accounts” for low-income gifted children. Two bills to establish these accounts have now been created (Assembly Bill 830 and Senate Bill 725) and have been referred to their respective bodies’ Education Committees. You can see the full text of these at the links below, as well as the Legislative Reference Bureau summary (i.e., the plain English version). The funds (2000 scholarships of $1000 each) would be administered by DPI, and parents could use the money for public or private education expenses authorized by DPI.
More detail on the bills and a recent hearing on AB 830 are below. You can reference last month’s article on Education Savings Accounts for Gifted students to see some of the pro and con arguments about education savings accounts. WATG views these bills as an opening for broader conversations about the need for improved attention and funding for gifted and talented education in Wisconsin. We will be watching for a Senate Education Committee hearing on SB 725, which as of this writing has not yet been scheduled.
AB 830: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/proposals/reg/asm/bill/ab830
SB 725: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/proposals/sb725
The Assembly Education Committee held a hearing on AB 830 on Jan. 25. Written and oral testimony was taken, and video of the hearing is available on Wisconsin Eye at http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/12148. Three bills were considered at this day-long committee hearing, and the video coverage of AB 830 begins at approximately 3:37 (three hours and 37 minutes into the video). The bill was introduced by Rep. Mary Felzkowski from Irma. The questions from the committee and the oral testimony were largely positive. On Jan. 30, Rep. Pope (a member of the Assembly Education Committee) proposed the appropriation of $2,000,000 to go to DPI for this program.
The first part of the Legislative Reference Bureau summary (i.e. the plain English overview) follows.
“This bill creates an educational savings account program for gifted and talented pupils. Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, the bill requires the Department of Public Instruction to award $1,000 scholarships to certain gifted and talented pupils and to credit the scholarships to individual accounts established and maintained by DPI. Under the bill, DPI may award no more than 2,000 scholarships in any school year. Under the bill, a pupil is eligible for a gifted and talented scholarship if the pupil satisfies the following criteria:
1. The pupil is enrolled in a public school, including an independent charter
school, or a private school participating in a parental choice program or the Special
Needs Scholarship Program.
2. The pupil is identified as a gifted and talented pupil because the pupil
demonstrates evidence of high performance capability in an intellectual, creative,
artistic, leadership, or other specific academic area or because the pupil scored in the
top 5 percent on a pupil assessment required to be administered under state law.
3. The pupil satisfies the income eligibility criteria under federal law for a free
or reduced-price lunch.”