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McCallum Joins Burmaster in Calling for Full SAGE Funding

Governor Scott McCallum and State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster joined hands Friday (July 13, 2001) in calling for full funding of the SAGE class-size reduction program.

McCallum and Burmaster held a joint news conference to urge state budget negotiators to maintain full funding for the highly successful Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program.

"We've seen first-hand how much better students do in small classes," the governor said. "Children are the future of Wisconsin and we need to ensure that they get the best start in life they can."

The announcement is welcome relief to school districts that have postponed hiring staff due to the uncertainty of the SAGE program. With just a few weeks before the start of the new school year, many principles can fill the positions.

"We need to keep our commitment to smaller class sizes through the SAGE program, because we know it works," Burmaster said. "School districts need assurance that SAGE will be fully funded, so they can be ready to serve our children in the fall."

WEAC President Terry Craney applauded the announcement. "We certainly believe that the SAGE program gives you bang for your buck," he said. "It not only helps students in the lower classes, but all the way through their educational careers."

The objective of the SAGE program is to improve academic achievement, particularly for poor children. Schools sign five-year contracts with the state, receiving $2,000 per low-income child to reduce class sizes to 15 in kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

In 1996-97 a total of 3,267 children were served in 30 SAGE schools. Last year, the program was expanded to serve 61,400 children in 566 schools. This expansion was the result of bipartisan support for the program in the 1999-2001 state budget.

Friday's announcement was a change in position for the governor, whose original budget proposal would have cut SAGE by about $37 million and only allowed schools with poverty rates above 50% to expand SAGE to 2nd and 3rd grades. Aid to 370 schools with poverty rates below 50% would have been capped so that SAGE would only reach children in kindergarten and the 1st grade

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee restored full SAGE funding. The Senate and Assembly both supported the Joint Finance position.

Negotiators from the Senate and Assembly are now working out details of a final budget package.

Background on SAGE

Based on recommendations from the State Superintendent's urban initiative task force, the SAGE program was enacted in 1995. The program provides participating schools with up to $2,000 in aid for each low-income pupil to implement SAGE strategies.

Implemented at the start of the 1996-97 school year, the original program included 30 schools in 21 school districts. In addition to reducing the student-teacher ratio to 15:1 for kindergarten and first grade students, participating schools worked to provide a rigorous curriculum, before- and after-school activities for pupils and community members and professional development and accountability plans.

The program expanded to second grade in the 1997-98 school year and to third grade in the 1998-99 school year. In addition, 78 schools joined the program in 1998-99 and approximately 500 more schools joined the program in 2000-01.

The SAGE program provides five-year contracts to participating schools. The contracts for the 30 schools that started the program in 1996-97 expire at the end of 2000-01. These 30 schools, all but two of which have poverty rates over 50 percent, want to continue the program.

Resource page on SAGE and class size reduction
Resource page on the 2001-2003 state budget

Posted July 13, 2001; Updated July 16, 2001

At the Capitol News Archives