As Scott Walker tours the country on his campaign for the presidency, he has not forsaken his state, turning in a budget that would make important reforms in education policy. It’s beyond the scope of this piece to analyze the budget in full – it contains rather more spending and borrowing than most conservatives would like – but in the area of education reform it takes some pretty important steps forward.
Most importantly, the budget would prohibit the State Superintendent, a vocal proponent of Common Core, from advertising or promoting the standards to local school districts. This is important because, while school districts in Wisconsin are permitted to opt out of the standards, few have done so as a result from pressure from the Department of Public Instruction. Walker’s budget would relieve that pressure, and allow schools to determine their own destiny. Last July, Walker came out strong against the standards, saying “Today, I call on the members of the state legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin.”
The reason most of the districts have adopted Common Core standards is because the statewide mandated tests are aligned with them. Walker’s budget calls for new tests, which would make it easier for schools to opt out without fearing failure on the tests.
In other parts of the budget, Republicans in the state legislature are taking education proposals farther than Walker originally intended. These include lifting caps on the number of school vouchers in the state and expanding the opportunity to open independent charter schools.
Not everything the legislature did was an improvement, though, with the rejection of some large spending cuts that would contribute towards balancing the state’s budget. After the amendment process is complete, the legislature will have to vote on the two-year budget and resubmit it to Gov. Walker for his signature.
These state-level reforms come just as the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The new bill, under the name The Every Child Achieves Act, would maintain federal testing mandates, but would also forbid the Department of Education from incentivizing or coercing states into adopting Common Core or similar standards. This would free up states like Wisconsin to ditch Common Core for good without having to worry about losing funding as a result. Until now, this has been the biggest hurdle for many states who would like to lose the standards, but feel unable to due to pressure from the federal government.