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It’s no secret that school districts have saved a lot of money since our 2011 school reforms. Limits on collective bargaining, asking state employees to contribute toward their health insurance and pensions, and allowing school districts to choose their health insurer instead of being forced to buy health insurance from union-owned insurance companies have saved school districts more than $5.24 billion. What you may not know is that according to recent research, the benefits go well beyond school budgets and have actually improved student test scores.

Even though some people thought the 2011 collective bargaining reform would ruin public schools and send send student achievement plummeting, a study from Stanford University has found that Wisconsin schools who adopted the merit-based pay system enabled by Act 10 outpaced schools who didn’t by statistically significant margins. The study found that districts where teachers can negotiate their pay based on their effectiveness in the classroom rather than a one-size-fits all pay schedule had student test scores 3.9 points higher than other Wisconsin schools. While it’s no surprise that our reforms to cut waste, encourage innovation, and pay great teachers more would make our schools better, it’s nice to see the numbers that back it up.

Another study, conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, collected and analyzed data from 90 percent of Wisconsin’s 422 school districts to isolate the effect of Act 10 on test scores and graduation rates. The study found that as the reforms were implemented, student test scores rose. Proficiency rates in math increased an average of 2.1 percent after districts adopted the reforms, with the greatest improvement in rural and suburban school districts. Graduation rates, already some of the highest in the country, were not affected.

Higher student achievement and better schools haven’t come easy. It required bold reforms that empowered school districts to reduce the influence of outside special interests, pay the best teachers more, and make decisions that put students first. With these reforms, schools in Wisconsin have saved more than $5.24 billion — money that’s now back in the classroom where it’s having a direct impact on kids’ education. We are now building on these successes with record levels of K-12 school funding. Total state funding for K-12 education is now $12 billion, the highest level in state history, and we’re investing more money to grow student apprenticeships, fund mental health training programs in schools, and meet the unique challenges that our rural and low-population districts face.

Some people continue to call for a return to pre-reform ways of doing things. They want to take back the financial freedom and license to innovate we’ve given our schools in favor of union special interests. But the proof is in the numbers. Student achievement and test scores are rising, graduation rates are among the highest in the nation, and school funding has never been higher. Our bold reforms have pushed special interests out of our schools and put the focus back on our kids.

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Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, represents Wisconsin’s 23rd Senate District. He can be reached at 888-437-9436 or Sen.Moulton@legis.wisconsin.gov.

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