As many schools throughout Wisconsin get ready to take their winter breaks, the Public Policy Forum releases its 32nd annual public education report: Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin: 2017. In this year’s analysis, we find reason for cautious optimism regarding some measures of academic achievement, while other longstanding challenges endure. Measures of college readiness and district report cards point to some progress for the region, while math and reading proficiency levels and academic achievement gaps remain as wide as ever.
The 2016-17 school year was one of relative stability with regard to accountability and assessment, however. School and district report cards are structured much as they were the previous year. We found the same number of districts (68) were rated as exceeding or significantly exceeding expectations as was the case in 2015-16, and none failed to meet expectations in 2016-17. Moreover, 2016-17 marked the second consecutive administration of the Forward Exam, making year-over-year comparisons of math and reading achievement possible for the first time since 2014-15.
At the same time, the “the public schooling” landscape in Wisconsin continues to expand with the help of recent provisions in the 2017-2019 state budget. Total state funding in this biennium across all three sectors — traditional public, charter, and choice — has reached historical highs. In addition, enrollments in both charter and choice schools stand to accelerate in future years.
Meanwhile, enrollment in public school districts is still falling, although at a slower pace than in previous years. The budget contained a number of other provisions affecting public education in Wisconsin such as special education vouchers, changes to teacher licensure rules, and funding for school-related mental health services, which we briefly describe in the report.
Other key findings in the Forum’s 2016-17 public schooling report include:
We hope our findings, considered both for individual districts and collectively, will help school, district, and policy leaders define priorities and appropriately focus resources as they seek to enhance achievement for K-12 students throughout Wisconsin’s public education system.