State of Education Address 2019

Thank you, Anna, for that introduction.
And congratulations to you and Flynn, the 2019 Girls and Boys
Badger State Superintendents. And thank you for
your participation today. Thank you to
our wonderful emcee, the incredible student performers,
and the Wisconsin National Guard. Please join me in
thanking all of them for making today
such a remarkable event. [Applause] In addition to our performers,
I’d like to recognize some of our honored guests
who are here today. Governor Tony Evers
and Mrs. Evers. [Applause] Lieutenant Governor
Mandela Barnes. [Applause] Supreme Court Justice
Rebecca Bradley. [Applause] Supreme Court Justice
Rebecca Dallet. [Applause] Supreme Court Justice
Annette Ziegler. [Applause] Attorney General
Josh Kaul. [Applause] President Marlon WhiteEagle
from the Ho-Chunk nation. [Applause] And all of our state legislators,
school board members, and other elected officials, and cabinet secretaries,
I thank you for joining me today and for your support for Wisconsin’s
public schools and students. Please join me in showing our
appreciation for their service. [Applause] I’d also like to recognize the important
work of Wisconsin’s education organizations who partner with the
Department – John Ashley, WASB; Mike Barry, WASBO; Gary Myrah,
WCASS; Jim Lynch, AWSA; as well as Jon Bales of WASDA,
and all the members of our school district administrators’
association who are here today. Thank you to the leaders of
our colleges and universities, Wisconsin’s public libraries,
the Cooperative Education Service Agencies, and my colleagues
at the Department of Public Instruction, whose efforts strengthen
public education in Wisconsin. A special thank you to my husband
Larry and daughter Carlettra. [Applause] And family members present today.
Thank you for your support and love. It is indeed an honor to
address you today as your state superintendent
of public instruction. I am grateful to Governor Tony Evers,
our previous state superintendent, a lifelong educator, a tireless
advocate for Wisconsin’s children, and friend for entrusting me with
this opportunity to serve our students, schools, library, and state.
Thank you. [Applause] I have spent nearly 40 years in
education as a teacher, a principal, all in the Madison school district,
and assistant state superintendent, and I feel more energized
than ever to make a difference in the lives of all
of our children. One of the best parts of this job
is traveling across the state and witnessing the innovation
and collaboration happening in our schools
and communities. Wisconsin has excellent schools,
amazing educators and staff, and bright, thoughtful students filled
with curiosity, wonder, and possibility. I am so blessed to be
an ambassador and advocate on behalf of our
students and families. In May, I had the pleasure
of visiting one of the state’s smallest school districts,
Washington Island. I spent the day talking with students,
staff, and community members. The visit re-affirmed my belief
that Wisconsin schools are truly the heart of the local community.
Also in May, I presented the 2020 Teacher of the Year awards
to exceptional educators in Ashland, Greendale,
Jefferson, and Milwaukee. The energy from the students,
teachers, and staff during that all-school celebration was
infectious and heartwarming. Wisconsin’s educators are second
to none, and I was honored to be a part of celebrating the
achievements of four of our best, each of whom we will
recognize later in our program. This is why, at a time when far
too many teachers are leaving the profession and too many students
aren’t aspiring to become teachers, it is so important that we commit
to doing all we can to recruit the next generation of educators and
to embrace the ones that we have. [Applause] At the end of the day, teachers are
critical to the success of our students, and supporting them is one of the most
important investments we can make. I’d like to take a moment to recognize
another exceptional educator in the audience today – someone
near and dear to my heart. Ms. Geraldine Bernard was
one of the first African-American educators to be hired in the
Madison school district – a trailblazer in this
community and our state. Gerry was my supervising
teacher during my senior year and became a mentor
and role model. She helped to form my personal
foundation as an educator, a leader, and an active citizen.
She embodies the very best of us. Educators like Gerry are everyday
heroes and sheroes, playing crucial roles in our students’ lives.
Thank you, Gerry, for all you’ve done … [Applause] [Applause and cheering] [Applause] Thank you, Gerry, for all
you’ve done for children, families, our community,
our state, and me. While I could celebrate our
dedicated educators for hours, it is my visits with our students that
truly energize and nourish my soul. From visiting classrooms around the
state, to meeting students from military families, from SkillsUSA and FFA,
students across our state are stepping up and leading in visionary ways exhibiting
skills we want all students to possess. I had the chance to participate
in the Badger State Girls government and
leadership conference. I met bright young women with
incredible strength and optimism, which gives me hope for Wisconsin’s
future. With young people like these, Wisconsin’s future burns bright. We have so much to be proud of,
yet so much more work to do. While we have some of the highest
graduation rates, ACT scores, and Advanced Placement
participation in the country, we have yet to fully reconcile
that success with the deep, persistent gaps in achievement, access,
and opportunity that exist for far too many of
Wisconsin’s children. Like many of you, the power
and promise of education – particularly for our most underserved
students – is central to who I am. You see, I came from
humble beginnings. The ninth of 14 children,
born in the segregated South to hard-working parents,
Leroy and Lena Stanford. [Applause] I grew up in Marks, Mississippi,
one of the poorest communities in the country at the time, and the
birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People Campaign
for economic justice and equality. My parents had limited formal
education, but despite the enormity of their challenges, they knew
education was the key to a better life. They instilled those values
in my siblings and me, and, as our unrelenting advocates,
fought for us to be among the first children to integrate our
all-white school in our town. Of course, as a young child,
I didn’t fully realize how pivotal school integration would be on
our nation’s arc towards justice. What I saw was the opportunity to
access things that I did not have, like new books, better facilities,
and even a swimming pool. But I quickly learned an
equal right to attend that school did not mean I would
have equal opportunities. That message was driven home
to me when the adults filled that swimming pool with cement to
prevent the black children from using it, instead of allowing
all of us to swim together. We’ve come a long way since then,
but so many challenges remain. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act,
we are still fighting for equitable educational opportunities
for all of our children, no matter their
race or background. But I believe, by joining hands
together with common purpose and common cause, we can
deliver a public education that meets the academic, social,
and emotional needs of all students and prepares them for
success wherever life takes them. [Applause] Thank you. [Applause] Thank you. [Applause] Together, we can have the difficult
conversations about race and equity in our schools and our communities
and tackle our achievement, access, and opportunity gap
as the crisis it is. Too many of our students of color,
students with disabilities, English learners, and students
from low-income families struggle to achieve their dreams
and reach their full potential. We have to get learning right
on the front end, or Wisconsin, as a state, will never
achieve true success. So, while we celebrate and work
together to build on Wisconsin’s successes, we must also rise
together to meet our challenges. As state superintendent, the core
of my agenda is to build on the vision of every child a graduate,
college and career ready, while advancing educational
equity for every child. Along with my talented and
dedicated colleagues at the Department of Public Instruction,
we are committed to collaborating with schools and districts
to advance this vision. Whether it’s the work of the
Equity Council around social and emotional learning,
or our efforts to empower local solutions to closing gaps, preparing
each and every Wisconsin child for future success is the
cornerstone of everything we do. This summer, I spoke to the
Wisconsin Urban Leadership Institute, a first-of-its-kind effort to convene
participants from Wisconsin’s five largest urban districts to examine
their work through an equity lens. These five districts – Green Bay,
Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine – educate nearly 20% of
all Wisconsin students and represent disproportionate shares of student
groups experiencing our largest gaps. Their work is important to moving
the needle on equity in our state, and I look forward to the outcomes
of this groundbreaking partnership. Now, I know our rural schools, as well,
face unique challenges like high poverty rates,
declining enrollment, and often higher-than-average
special education costs, affecting a school’s ability to offer equitable
opportunities for all learners. Investing in our
rural schools is a critical component of our
statewide equity strategy. Every school in our state has
a responsibility to ensure all students have access to the
resources and educational rigor they need at the right
moment in their education. To that end, we crafted
an equity budget aimed at investing in students
all across our state. Many parents, teachers,
school administrators, and school board members continue
to articulate what they believe is needed to improve outcomes for
all children – ideas like increases in special education funding,
more mental health services, more support for English learners,
and investments in early childhood, after-school programming,
and school nutrition. [Applause] The budget Governor Evers
signed into law this summer is a down payment on
that commitment to equity. While it is not everything that we
asked for, this budget makes an investment in all of
Wisconsin’s children and begins to provide additional support to
some of our most underserved. As you know, student mental health
is a challenge schools must address given the statistics of
one in five students nationally experiencing a
mental health issue. This budget doubles the funding for our
mental health grants. We anticipate … [Applause] We anticipate 120,000 students
will be impacted. I thank the governor and the legislature
for their efforts and applaud their bipartisan commitment to
mental health supports for students. There are other
bright spots in the budget. [Applause] Thank you. [Applause] School districts have the first
revenue limit increase in five years, and new increases
in per-pupil funding. There is more investment in rural
schools through the full funding of sparsity aid, increases in
high-cost transportation aid, and the Rural Teacher
Talent Program. Families will have more access
to information, resources, and services through new
funding for our public libraries. Last, but not least, the budget
finally shattered the decade-long freeze on special
education funding. [Applause] We received an additional
$96 million as an investment. While I am grateful special education
funding finally got a long-overdue increase, the reality is the state
will still reimburse only a fraction of what districts are required
to spend under the law. Districts’ unfunded special education
costs will still exceed $1 billion, and school districts around the state will still
have to find ways to make up that gap. That funding gap affects all students.
Although we didn’t get everything we asked for, there is positive
forward momentum on issues we care about,
and that’s a good thing. Thank you to those who
devoted countless hours in support of the budget request.
This is evidence of the difference we can make when we work
together focused on the right goal – improving the education
of all students. I am committed to continue
working with the legislature and the governor on
achieving this goal. While we know that state
policy can’t do everything … [Applause] While we know that state policy
can’t do everything needed to level the playing field for our children,
we can work to ensure our system of school finance does as much as
possible to give our students – all of our students –
what they need to be successful. The power and promise of public
education has long been a beacon – the great equalizing force in
our society and our democracy. It is the driving force behind
so many of us who have dedicated our lives to this vocation,
and what continues to fuel our fight for educational equity
for all of our learners. Today, the unity we find in
working together, hand in hand, on behalf of every Wisconsin
child could not be more important. Together, we have an unprecedented
opportunity to make progress. To remove and reduce
barriers to student success. Together, with our legislature
and our governor, we can continue to make the progress on a system
of school funding that is responsive to the needs
of every child. [Applause] Together, with our business partners,
we can help prepare our students today to be successful when
they create the jobs of tomorrow. Together, we can deliver on
the power and the promise of a quality Wisconsin
education for every child. And together, as the beneficiaries
of the strong public school, colleges, and universities built and
sustained by the generations that came before us,
we can pay it forward. The torch has been passed to us
to build on our successes while confronting our deep-rooted challenges
to make the choices today that will leave things better for
all of our children tomorrow. Thank you for your leadership,
your advocacy, and your dedication to our children, our schools,
and our state. I look forward to working with
each of you on this journey. God bless you. [Applause] [Silence]

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