Low-Income Students are on the Wrong Side of a Wide Opportunity Gap in Wisconsin Schools

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 2:30 PM by

For Wisconsin to take full advantage of opportunities for economic growth, we need to make sure that all our students attend thriving schools, regardless of their economic status. Yet Wisconsin students who come from families with low incomes are far more likely to attend failing schools than other students, according to new school performance information released by the Department of Public Instruction.

Statewide, 1 in 11 students from families with low incomes attend schools that fail to meet expectations set by the Department of Public Instruction. That’s compared to the 1 in 77 students who are not from low income families who attend failing schools. Put another way, low-income students are 7 times more like to attend a failing school than are other students.

Low-income students are also less likely to attend schools that receive the highest rating. Just 1 out of 41 students from low-income families attends a highest-rated school, compared to 1 out of 11 students from families who do not have low incomes.

School ratings are based on an index composed of several student performance and engagement indicators, including achievement, improvement in student achievement, the degree to which schools have closed achievement gaps among groups of students, absenteeism, and other measures of student success.

When talking about the wide opportunity gap facing Wisconsin students, we should keep in mind that Wisconsin has made deep cuts to state support for schools – some of the deepest in the country, in fact. In 2014, Wisconsin is spending 15% less per student than it did in 2008, and only six other states made deeper cuts to education when measured as a percent change. What’s particularly disturbing is that most of those cuts have come from equalization aid to schools, which equalizes the fiscal capacity of school districts. Cuts to equalization aid undermine Wisconsin’s commitment to establishing equality of opportunity for all students.

After the recession, when state tax revenues had recovered, lawmakers chose to give big tax cuts to the best off, instead of restoring funding for schools and using those resources to give every child the opportunity to succeed academically.

If we want to strengthen Wisconsin’s future economy, then we need to start by making sure that today’s children – tomorrow’s workers – have the opportunities they need to be productive and competitive. An important first step to making that happen is to make sure that all children have access to high-quality schools, regardless of how much money their parents earn.

Tamarine Cornelius

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