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Local superintendents share thoughts on state education incentive funding

By Carrie Vick, cvick@wkbt.com
Published On: Feb 21 2013 06:15:40 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 22 2013 05:52:55 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

Gov. Scott Walker outlined his budget proposal Wednesday night, including plans for education.

Among the topics included details on how much money will be put into a new incentive program for public K-12 schools.

The idea is to reward high-performing schools and provide grants for struggling schools.

The incentive program is based on school report card scores, a new system of grading schools performance released for the first time at the beginning of the school year.

Schools with high grades would split $24 million.

While local superintendents say extra money is always welcomed, it won't be enough to make up for the lack of state funding in the upcoming school year.

In Walker's budget proposal $64 million will be set aside for incentive funding for K-12 public schools.

"High-performing schools like these or schools that show dramatic improvement in their scores and in this budget, they'll get funding incentives," said Walker.

Twenty-four million dollars will be awarded to schools with grades on their report cards showing they exceed or significantly exceed expectations.

According to last year's report cards, more than 700 schools in the state fall into those categories, meaning each school would only see about $30,000 apiece.

"They can use the funds for things like rewarding exceptional teachers." said Walker.

It's a program local superintendents say could be helpful but worry because the report card system is so new.

"We all know it's very new. We've had one run of that report card. I do believe that it's too early to start putting in some of the high stake things based on the report card," said La Crosse School District Superintendent Randy Nelson.

With not much money budgeted for public schools in Walker's budget, West Salem Superintendent Troy Gunderson says an incentive program doesn't begin to tip the scales for schools that have already stripped down their budgets over the past few years.

"All the people who work for me and school districts all took dramatic pay cuts and benefit cuts to right the ship, and if you think continually doing that to employees is the secret to future success and dangling money in front of them and saying, 'You can buy a computer lab if your scores went up' quite frankly is insulting," said Gunderson.

Others worry about the philosophy behind using money as a way to improve our schools.

"I don't know if there's ever enough money to use as incentive for people. I think people are intrinsically rewarded. They like people to say, 'Thank you' but they don't like people to say, 'I'll give you $50 if you become a better teacher,'" said Onalaska school district superintendent Fran Finco.

But even with these concerns, school districts are happy there is some focus on rewarding teachers and improving schools.

Based on last year's report card La Crosse, West Salem, Onalaska, and Holmen all have at least one school that would qualify for the incentive funding.

The incentive program also sets aside money for schools that show at least a three-point improvement on their report cards.

There is also $10 million in grant money under-performing schools can apply for.

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