State Rep. Tyler August says he believes Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed $1.4 billion hike in education funding is unrealistic and a “fake number.”
But after touring two Delavan-Darien School District schools Monday, August said he would be “shocked” if the Legislature didn’t approve an education spending increase of some kind.
“I think both houses are committed to doing some sort of an increase,” said August, a Republican from Lake Geneva. “What that number’s going to ultimately be, I don’t know.”
School district officials led August and state Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, on a tour of Delavan-Darien High School and Turtle Creek Elementary School on Monday afternoon.
The tour was timely because the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is amending Evers’ proposed 2019-21 budget. Both lawmakers agreed the governor’s education funding request is unrealistic.
“Tony Evers has thrown so much money into the budget that even Democrats realize it’s not going to happen,” Nass said. “He just put his wish list out there.”
August and Nass visited several classes during their two-hour visit, including adventure education, metals, elementary dual-language and a greenhouse.
Delavan-Darien officials told them the school district faces unique challenges. Fifty-three percent of its enrollment is Hispanic or Latino. About 70% qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, which is a sign of poverty. Eighteen percent of students need special-education services.
Superintendent Jill Sorbie said additional funding and grants are “essential” for the district to provide programming.
The first-grade dual-language classrooms were at Turtle Creek. In one room, a teacher asked students in Spanish if the shapes on the board were rectangles or squares. In an adjacent room, students took a language exam in English.
Turtle Creek Principal Chris Fountain said 70% of the district’s first-grade dual-language instruction is in Spanish, and 30% is in English.
Honor choirs at Turtle Creek sang show tunes from Broadway musicals for the legislators in the gymnasium. Students sang one song in both English and Spanish.
At Delavan-Darien High School, Ben Herland, a physical education teacher, showed them a 35-foot outdoor rock-climbing structure used for adventure education.
Other adventure education activities offered at the high school include kayaking, canoeing and mountain biking.
“To you and I, you’ve probably been on a kayak or a canoe. To them? Maybe four out of 20 is normal,” Herland said.
Sorbie praised the adventure education program, saying a $1.2 million grant awarded to the district nine years ago allowed it to blossom.
“None of the kids have really ever experienced this,” Sorbie said. “... It’s those funding pieces.”
After the tour, August agreed the district has challenges and said it is “doing quite a bit here with the resources they have.”
He said the state administers categorical aid to students whose second language is English, and Delavan-Darien receives some of that. He said lawmakers have started looking at ways to supplement programs through categorical aid.
“Trying to make sure as we move through the (budget) process that we don’t take any steps backwards, I think, is an important part of what we’re going to continue to do over the next month and a half,” August said.
To help districts such as Delavan-Darien, Nass said the state and federal government could consider providing a pathway for Spanish-speakers from Central America to legally immigrate to Wisconsin to teach.
“Getting those here legally so they can assist in the classroom ... I think that’s something that we certainly can put on the radar,” Nass said.