Wisconsin Budget

GOP Plan Divides Racine Schools by Race

Wealthier, whiter areas of Racine could create separate school districts.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - Oct 6th, 2017 12:06 pm
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School Buses.

School Buses.

A provision that Wisconsin lawmakers included in the state budget would stratify students in the Racine area by income and race and make it more difficult for the Racine school district to improve academic opportunities for students. The budget encourages  wealthier, less racially diverse areas of the Racine school district to break off and form their own separate districts, concentrating poorer students in the remaining portion of the district.

Racine Unified School District is the fifth-largest district in the state, with about 19,000 students spread out over 31 schools. The school district includes the City of Racine as well as several other municipalities including the villages of Caledonia (about 25,000 residents), Mount Pleasant (26,000 residents), and Sturtevant (5,000 residents).

Students in the Racine school district already face obstacles to academic success. Racine has a higher proportion of students from low-income families than other similarly-situated school districts in Wisconsin and the lowest share of adults with a college degree, according to a study from the Public Policy Forum. The Racine school district itself also faces challenges, including a financial hardship created by lawmakers: The state docks the district about $9 million a year to offset the cost of providing private schools in the area with public money for tuition vouchers.

Instead of providing resources or methods for the Racine school district to address these challenges, lawmakers included a measure in the budget that would divide the current district into separate wealthier and poorer areas. If the Racine district receives a score this year (as it did in 2015-16) that puts it in the lowest of five performance categories on the state’s school district report cards, villages in the Racine school district would be allowed to hold a referendum on creating a separate school district. If the Racine school district scores in the lowest performance category for three years in a row, then the new measure requires municipalities to hold a referendum on forming a separate school district. (The Racine school district could slow this process by a year by limiting opportunities for staff to weigh in on the contents of the employee handbook. )

In contrast to the normal process for creating a new school district, voters in the remaining portion of the Racine school district would not have an opportunity to weigh in on the split via referendum. By including this provision in the budget, lawmakers are disenfranchising voters who live in the remaining portion of the school district.

A great deal hangs on the score that the Racine school district receives on the school report cards. The report cards are based on a series of complex formulas aimed at measuring school performance and accountability, only some of which incorporate differences in student demographics between districts. The complexity of the assessment method and the resulting difficulty in identifying how different inputs would affect the district’s grade, make it a flawed tool for determining whether parts of the district should be spun off into separate districts. An example of how complicated the formula is: the technical guide to the state’s report card system runs a whopping 69 pages and includes calculations like those shown below.

Calculate Annual Weights

Calculate Annual Weights

If one or more villages split off, the resulting school district will look very different from the current Racine district. The villages of Calendonia, Mount Pleasant, and Sturtevant all have child poverty rates that are less than a third of the rate in the City of Racine. The typical household income for families in those villages is about half again as much as for families in the City of Racine. And in all three of those villages, less than a third of the school-age children are of color, compared to 65% in the City of Racine.

Lawmakers' Push to Break Off Wealthier Areas from Racine School District Would Segregate Districts by Income and Race

Lawmakers’ Push to Break Off Wealthier Areas from Racine School District Would Segregate Districts by Income and Race

If wealthier areas did split off from the Racine school district, they might be able to take a large share of the school district’s assets with them. That’s because state law specifies that assets in the new districts should be allocated based on the ratio of the value of taxable property. The City of Racine includes 61% of the school-age children living in the school district, but only 37% of the property value of the district. If the property-rich villages secede and form their own district or districts, it sets up a scenario in which the new, poorer Racine school district could potentially be forced to pay cash to the new districts in order to meet legal requirements for allocating district assets.

If Racine School District Splits, Lion's Share of District's Assets Could Go to Wealthier Areas

If Racine School District Splits, Lion’s Share of District’s Assets Could Go to Wealthier Areas

Residents of the villages appear to have mixed opinions about whether to secede from the Racine school district. In 2015, residents of both Caledonia and Sturtevant approved non-binding referendums that called for separating from Racine and setting up their own districts, but the margins were narrow. In fact, Sturtevant’s referendum passed by just six votes.

Leaving the Racine school district could result in a property tax hike for residents of the new school district. A split off, should it occur, would likely result in creating a new district or districts that would qualify for little or no state general aid, meaning the new district would be almost entirely dependent upon property taxes—which could result in higher property taxes for residents of the new district.

All children in Racine deserve  an excellent public school education, regardless of whether they live in one of the better-off villages or the City of Racine. Splitting off the wealthier, less racially diverse areas from the rest of the Racine district will make it harder for the students who are left behind to achieve their full academic opportunity. Lawmakers should focus on making sure that the current school district has the resources and assistance from the state that it needs to make sure every child succeeds, regardless of zip code.

7 thoughts on “Wisconsin Budget: GOP Plan Divides Racine Schools by Race”

  1. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Segregation. Republicans are racists of the Jim crow variety.

  2. Jenney says:

    Good article. Thank for sharing some of the nitty gritty details to shed light on this issue.

  3. The Left has proved it cannot educate our kids. Parents should be able to get away from them.
    Despite the fact that spending has gone up, tenfold since 1970, for far fewer kids scores have gone down.
    In Racine and MPS and many other districts are “national disgrace'”, they should be broken up.

    Arne Duncan came in and declared MPS and other schools “National Disgrace” and the Left has no plans to help the kids. All they care about is money and bennies, the “hell with the kids”. This story highlights that fact.
    Just another pile of crap defending status quo. We will lose hundreds of thousands of his as the Left has done for last 40 years.

  4. Welcome to Wississippi, y’all.

  5. Barbara Richards says:

    The Wrong “Right” has proved it doesn’t want to educate the poor of any race, but if you happen to be a person of color the odds are the Right is out to wrong you!!! Do we loose money in education? Maybe on the author’s education? That seems to have been a great loss. Poverty is the issue underlying all of this. That is where we can make a difference. When a person has a wage that is family supporting whatever their race happens to be, that family is stabilized. Their children can attend the same school all year, year after year without having to stay ahead of the next eviction because food is a higher priority than housing.

  6. Attention El Stupido; Babara! It was the Conservatives that fashioned 220: Sensenbrenner. It was the Conservatives that did CHOICE: Tommy.
    It is the Left that has run MPS, Racine, Green Bay fro 50 years that has destroyed hundreds of thousands, of kids.. Arne Duncan said soi: “National Disgrace.

    The left will never let the Inner city out of the slave quarters as long as they vote Barrett and company back in. National Disgrace and only Walker has been trying to get the kids out of bondage.

  7. CD says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the WI conservative Digest is really a Russian troll who doesn’t quite get the nuances of the english language.

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