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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
In December 2017, Wisconsin Senator Alberta Darling announced proposed legislation that would establish “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) for low-income gifted children. Sen. Darling (R-River Hills) was joined by co-sponsors Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee. The proposed bill would establish a fund of $1000 for up to 2000 families who have a student who is already eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches (household annual income at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four). Eligibility is limited to students who score in the top 5% on standardized tests OR are otherwise identified as gifted and talented “by an education official.” The funds would be administered by DPI, and parents could use the money for public or private education expenses authorized by DPI.
For two contrasting views on this potential legislation, see the links below. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is in favor; the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) is opposed. The PRO arguments tend to focus on how the funding could help low-income gifted students find more challenging opportunities; the CON arguments tend to focus on how this is a new attempt to spread the use of public funds for private education.
While WATG is a private non-profit and supports parents' rights to find the best education for their children, most members are public school employees and are deeply supportive of public schools' efforts to provide appropriate levels of challenge to all students with gifts and talents, including efforts to eliminate excellence gaps for low-income students. WATG is glad to see a call for greater state attention to students with gifts and talents, and works in every budget cycle to increase the amount of state funding for these students so that their potential for themselves and for society is not lost.
This proposed legislation has not yet been officially submitted to the legislature or any education committee; Sen. Darling is in the process of seeking more co-sponsors. Stay tuned!
School districts are now eligible for DPI gifted education grants!For more than a decade, Wisconsin has made a (small) pot of money available for gifted education. In the last several years, this pot has included $237,200 and was available in the form of grants of $30,000 or less. The problem was that the grants had to be used for direct student services, but only CESAs, non-profit groups, UW-System campuses, and Milwaukee Public Schools were eligible to even apply. That all changed in the 2017 – 2019 budget! WATG board members worked with DPI to include additional funds for the grants as well as the eligibility change in their budget request. The DPI agreed to include both, but only the eligibility change was included by the Governor in his Executive budget. This change made it through the process and was included in the budget that was signed into law a few weeks ago.
This means that your school could get one of next year’s grants (due around May)! The DPI website still has this past year’s grant application posted (here) if you want to get an idea of what is required. We want to see more of this money go to supporting gifted education in school districts. If you’re interested in seeing some past funded applications, email Scott Peters at email@example.com
Click here to see the full 2017-2019 state budget, which includes the changed eligibility language.
Welcome Back and Upcoming Events - Pam Clinkenbeard, Professor of Educational Foundations, UW-Whitewater and WATG Advocacy ChairRead Now
Here are a few back-to-school announcements, reminders, and “to-do” ideas related to gifted and talented education in Wisconsin. Please send this article to anyone who might be interested, including (in particular) anyone your school district might have named as new GT or Advanced Learner Coordinator! Note the two mid-September deadlines for discounted conference registrations.
UPCOMING CONFERENCES, MEETINGS, AND PROGRAMS
NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children): The national gifted education conference will be held in Charlotte, NC, Nov. 9-12. The discounted registration deadline is Fri. Sep. 15. See https://www.eventscribe.com/2017/NAGC/ for more information on the conference.
WATG (Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted): The state gifted education conference will be held at The Wilderness in Wisconsin Dells Thurs. and Fri. 11/16 & 11/17. NOTE: discounted hotel rate and early bird conference rates expire Sun. Sep. 17. See http://www.watg.org/ for more info. You can see the full schedule at http://www.watg.org/conference-schedule.html, including targeted pre-conference sessions, Friday Parent Day, and the Teen Conference!
Ireland next summer, anyone? The European Council for High Ability (ECHA) biennial conference will be held August 8-11, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. The theme is “Working with Gifted Students in the 21st Century.” See http://echa2018.info/ - proposals for presentations are due Jan. 24, 2018.
WCATY (Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth) - programs for individual students and for educators and school districts: explore http://wcatyeop.wcatyweb.org/
WisFPS (Wisconsin Future Problem Solving) – workshops for educators to be held in Middleton, Oshkosh, and Wisconsin Rapids in September and October. For specific dates and more information, seehttps://www.wisfps.org/.
Your local or regional group: if you have a local GT parent group or a regional or CESA-based gifted educator group, be sure to find out the date of their first fall meeting! If you¹re not sure if there’s a group in your area, contact your local gifted coordinator (your district is required to have someone who at least holds that title) or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IDEAS FOR WHAT TO DO NEXT
State Budget. As you probably know, Wisconsin does not yet have a state budget for the 2017-19 biennium. At this writing (8/15/17) the state legislature is wrapped up in the Foxconn proposal. Please write your state Assembly representative and your state Senator asking them to support gifted education funding! You can find WATG’s request and a sample letter under our website’s Advocacy tab. If you’re not sure who your state legislators are, you can find out here: https://legis.wisconsin.gov/ - enter your HOME address or use the map!
ESSA. The WI Department of Public Instruction has revised their ESSA proposal (for the federal Department of Education) after holding hearings throughout the state this summer. We are pleased to report that they have increased the language related to gifted students and gifted education, reinforcing the provision that gifted programming is an essential part of RtI. You can see the current version of the plan here: https://dpi.wi.gov/esea/wisconsin-draft-consolidated-state-plan. This draft will go to the Senate and Assembly Education Committees and then a revision will go to the governor’s office. The final version should be submitted to Washington by Sep. 18.
Acceleration Policy. WATG is developing an initiative to collect district policies on student acceleration and to propose model acceleration policies. Stay tuned!
Thank you for advocating on behalf of gifted students and gifted education!
Important Chance to Help Frame Wisconsin Gifted Education Long-Term(Update on State Advocacy for Gifted Education, June 26, 2017), Pam Clinkenbeard, Advocacy ChairRead Now
The state's draft ESSA plan will be available for public comment through June 30 (and “public” means you!). ESSA stands for the Every Student Succeeds Act (it’s the “nickname” for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind). The final plan will be roughly as important as No Child Left Behind was in setting priorities and incentives for districts, so this is a major chance to speak up for gifted students.
The federal language of ESSA includes a few mentions of gifted students, but it will be up to the states to say how they will implement support for them in their federal ESSA plans. Wisconsin has drafted their plan with some mention of gifted education; please look over some of the information below and let WATG know if you see any implications, complications or barriers for gifted students in your school district.
The comment site will be open through June 30 and, if you are in the Madison area, there is one feedback session left (Tuesday June 27, 1-3pm, Lussier Community Education Center, 55 South Gammon Road, Community Room). Given news reports on the emphasis of the plan on reducing achievement gaps, "reducing excellence gaps" is one example of good language for you to use in comments. DPI will be submitting their final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in September.
(The state budget process is, of course, still highly important as a current advocacy item. Please see other advocacy articles on the WATG website for how to contact your state legislators and to see a model message to give them.)
Main site for draft plan - see pdfs of brief & full versions, template, etc.
Actual comment site
As you may have heard on the news, the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has not yet voted on the education portion of the proposed state budget for the next biennium (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2019). It is expected that this vote will happen very soon: perhaps even this week (June 26-30), but probably right after the July 4 holiday. This is your last chance to affect the education budget process for the next two years! Please write your state Assembly representative and state Senator; see a sample message below regarding state funding for gifted education.
It is particularly important for you to write if you live in the district of a member of the Joint Finance Committee (see that list at http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/committees/joint/1680). Not sure who your legislators are? Go to the WI state legislature website here http://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/ and enter your HOME address in the search box (not work address). You can see links to your state Assembly representative and your state Senator.
SAMPLE MESSAGE (feel free to adapt for your own use)
“Dear [Rep. or Sen. Name]:
I am writing to ask for your support for Wisconsin’s advanced learners K-12. Students with gifts and talents are found in every economic and cultural group, and Wisconsin provides minimal support for these students, especially in comparison with other states. Wisconsin’s funding of only $237,200 per year (for a small grant program) works out to $0.27 per K-12 student. Minnesota state funding (from a recent national survey) was $11,417,865 ($13.75 per student); Iowa, $35,057,950 ($74.77 per student); and Georgia, $367,057,950 ($227.67 per student).
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 in school funding formulas 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. The latest issue of Wisconsin School News documents issues related to the “excellence gap” (the disproportion in income levels of those scoring “advanced” on academic achievement).
DPI has requested an increase of $762,800 from the current $237,200 per year (to total $1,000,000 per year), but the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) and I ask that you support funding programs for these students at the level of $5,000,000 per year. The DPI request for a modest increase was removed in the governor’s budget and I ask not only that it be reinstated, but increased. The governor’s budget supports DPI’s request that school districts be allowed to apply directly for the grants, so a funding increase would allow many more students to be appropriately challenged.
[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]