An article in the Stevens Point Journal of November 1990 reported that registration for the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented (WCGT) Conference “was at 748 people, which included 90 children.” This was an astonishing number of registrants! However, keep in mind that 1990 was within two years of State Standard (t) having been added to the state statutes. Mr. Grover, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Wisconsin at the time, was advocating for greater implementation of programs for special education students, and especially for gifted and talented students. Initially, funding requests were stated as a percentage of state funds earmarked for special education under the category of gifted and talented. This would have ensured a constant, specific funding line for districts.
At the same time, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire pledged to assist in managing the 1991 WCGT Conference for a comprehensive fee of $7,500, which meant they would take over all logistics of the conference. This complicated fee structures but showed a remarkable level of support from the University System.
In either 1990 or 1991, Governor Tommy Thompson announced in his State of the State Address that he would recommend that the State waive these present (20) Standards if school districts had not yet managed to meet them. Through the early 1990s, the Department of Public Instruction sent teams out to districts in a Standards Review Process, which produced a compliance report. That report carried the threat of reduced state aid to districts not meeting the standards. Standard (t), mandating gifted and talented identification and programming, is the twentieth standard, and was barely three years old before this threat appeared. It remains a statute. However, I believe standards reviews have not occurred for many years.
The lessons learned from the state statute fight from fifteen years ago, with the continued pressure to maintain services, is one for practitioners at the district level to remember today. As much as possible, practices need to be specified within a school district’s Board of Education Policies. In that way, the practices, procedures and beliefs will be on record, no matter who is on the staff at any given time. Be sure to include policies on early entrance, grade advancement, grading, post-secondary credits, or any other options that may benefit gifted and talented children and youth.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) has a storehouse of sample policies in every category. If your district is a member of this association, it is possible to get copies of policies adopted by other Wisconsin districts so you do not have to start from scratch. It’s also possible to see policies in related areas that your district may not yet have in place.
This is perhaps the best lesson I ever learned as a coordinator -- make sure that policies about gifted education are in place, because we all know no one stays in a position indefinitely. The work and time invested will pay dividends well into the future. It is difficult for state legislatures to remove existing statutes, and it is equally difficult for Boards of Education to eliminate policies without feedback and repeated readings of the proposals. Planning now secures quality programming for gifted and talented students in the future.
Ruth Robinson, WATG President 2003-04