MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers wants to bolster state funding for K-12 spending by north of $1.6 billion over the next two years. But the state’s largest public school system doesn’t even know where a good portion of its students are.
Milwaukee Public Schools recently rolled out its “Roadmap to Readiness” plan, as the district moves at a glacial pace to return students to the classroom. The lumbering decision comes more than a year after schools statewide shut down with the outbreak of COVID-19.
Sadly, recent data show more than 30 percent of MPS’ high school students failed classes last fall as the district stuck to its failed virtual learning model.
In too many cases, the district can’t seem to find its students.
At Bryant Elementary, for instance, administrators have lost contact with “approximately 25 percent” of the student body.
“Social workers have tried letters that are returned, phone calls/numbers don’t exist,” states an MPS memorandum, dated March 25. The memo includes school board questions about “readiness.”
The administration’s answer to the question, should students who can’t be found be considered ‘virtual’ by default, is yes.
“Any students who do not provide a selection choice or are new to the district will be placed in a virtual instructional platform,” the memo states.
A lost year of education with so many lost students is a sad reality. But who ultimately pays the bill?
“What are the parameters MPS is using as students enrolled and does DPI (the Department of Public Instruction) sign off on that?” said Jim Bender, government affairs consultant for School Choice Wisconsin. “I think that’s a question for DPI (on Tuesday) before the Joint Finance Committee.”
DPI educrats are scheduled to answer questions about Evers’ proposed education budget today at a JFC hearing.
If students the district can’t track down are still considered to be enrolled in the school system, state and local taxpayers are still on the hook for property tax and shared revenue costs.
Bender said it’s not just the students districts have completely lost touch with. What about the students who logged on once a semester? How about those who log on 10 times.
“These are critical questions for taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin. I think we’re going to be funding an awful lot of ghost kids,” he said.