Bill steers $1.25 million to Marquette summer reading program

Dec 27, 2015 by

By Annysa Johnson –

A Marquette University summer reading program for children developed by former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and education reform advocate Howard Fuller would get a $1.25 million boost from the state under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The Assembly bill, proposed by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), would require the state Department of Public Instruction to award Marquette’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning, headed by Fuller, $375,000 next year and $750,000 in 2017. And that could increase in coming years, he said, if the program is as effective as Fuller and Marquette have claimed.

“We’re using this as a pilot program,” said Sanfelippo, who learned of the Marquette program when he sat down with Fuller to discuss education issues in 2014. “We would fund it for two years so we can take a good, hard look at the numbers. And if we continue to see the results Marquette is achieving, we would hope to expand it statewide for any district interested.”

Sanfelippo’s bill has won bipartisan support, passing the Assembly’s Education Committee on an 11-1 vote this fall.

But at least one lawmaker has raised concerns, saying it amounts to a $1 million no-bid contract for a program that has not been independently vetted.

“I don’t feel comfortable giving any program that kind of money under those circumstances,” said Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee), who cast the lone dissenting vote on the Education Committee. “I think we should see some level of competition through an RFP (request for proposals) process.”

The Summer Reading Project, developed by Fuller and the institute, grew out of a series of meetings among African-American and civic leaders following Wisconsin’s dismal showing in the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress report, commonly known as the nation’s report card.

The 2010 data found that Wisconsin African-American fourth-graders had the lowest reading scores in the country, and Milwaukee ranked second from the bottom among large urban districts, just above Detroit.

The resulting program, developed by a group of educators inside and outside of Marquette, incorporates phonics, phonemic awareness — the understanding of word structure and sounds in a language — spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The six-week program has served about 900 children in grades two through four since 2010, with about 700 taking part in pre- and post-program assessments.

Most students, ranging from 67% to 97%, have shown improvement in the various categories over the years, according to the annual reports posted on the institute’s website.

A key component, according to Fuller, is intensive training of the teachers around how to teach reading.

“There are veteran teachers who would tell you that, prior to going through our training, they didn’t have to tools they have now to teach reading,” Fuller said.

Last year, the program served students in five schools across Milwaukee’s academic landscape: one traditional MPS school, two charter schools and two private schools that accept students on vouchers through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

The program has historically been funded by grants from local foundations.

Fuller said the institute would continue to seek those contributions and that the state funding would allow the program to expand to more schools or better track students in existing schools during the following academic year.

The legislation initially required MPS to apply for the state funds on Marquette’s behalf. But that was omitted from the bill after Democratic lawmakers objected.

Sanfelippo rejected the characterization of the bill as a no-bid contract, saying the state regularly funds organizations without seeking bids from competitors. And he said the investment is warranted by state assessments showing only 37% of students in Wisconsin are proficient in reading.

“We’re not talking about buying toilet paper, where you go out for bid and everybody’s toilet paper is basically the same,” Sanfelippo said.

“We’re talking about teaching children,” he said. “When you look at our statistics over the last decade, we haven’t moved the needle at all. So, we have to look at other options to see what we are able to do.”

Source: Bill steers $1.25 million to Marquette summer reading program

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.