Helping to get smaller class sizes

By Kelsie Hoitomt

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, State Superintendent Tony Evers is asking the Legislature to fully fund a state program that helps students succeed by reducing class sizes in early grades.

Evers’s proposed 2013-15 education budget includes $10.9 million for the second year of the biennium, to ensure the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program can provide participating school districts with the per-pupil payment set down in state law.

“Small class sizes give young children more time with their teachers and research has shown this can a powerful way to help them graduate on time and achieve more during their schooling. That’s why Wisconsin created the SAGE program 16 years ago, but we haven’t been able to provide districts with the full support intended by the law,” said Evers.

SAGE helps Wisconsin school districts pay the costs of smaller class sizes, especially for low-income children. Districts that sign a five-year SAGE contract must ensure student-to-teacher ratios of no more than 18:1 or 30:2 in SAGE classrooms at the kindergarten and first grade levels (and optionally in second and third grade SAGE classes).

These districts then receive a certain amount of annual funding for each low-income student in the SAGE classes. The per-pupil payment is stipulated in state statue as $2,250, but since the 2007-08 school year, funding has not kept up with increasing demand and the actual rate has been pro-rated to lower amounts. In 2012-13, actual per-pupil payments were $2,046 per student.

To participate in SAGE, districts must also increase collaboration between schools and communities, implement a rigorous curriculum and improve professional development and staff evaluation practices.

The number of low-income children in SAGE classrooms has increased five of the last six years. This growth has been fueled primarily by increasing poverty.

Approximately 449 schools or 36 percent of elementary schools in the state currently participate in SAGE, including Boyceville Community School District-Tiffany Creek Elementary.