Eau Claire (WQOW) – On Tuesday, a state-wide task force, formed to combat the student “achievement gap” held a public hearing at Memorial High School.
Thirteen law makers are a part of what's called the “Task Force on Urban Education”. They've been traveling from district to district, trying to address issues related to teacher recruitment and retention, ways to address problems like truancy, below average academic performance, and low graduation rates. On Tuesday, the were especially focused on what's called the “achievement gap”.
“The opportunity gap is referring to under-served students,” said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, Executive Director for Diversity and Inclusion at UW-Eau Claire, “So students who are of color, low income families or who are first generation so their parents don't have a college degree, have a gap in their access to opportunities.
Eau Claire is no exception to the achievement gap. Mary Ann Hardebeck, Superintendent of Schools for the Eau Claire Area School District said a lot of Eau Claire's "gap" issues are related to poverty.
“Ten years ago our free and reduced lunch rate was around 20% now it's around 40%, we're just seeing more and more students come to us with more and more need,” said Hardebeck.
There are many solutions to be considered, including after school clubs, summer programs and one-on-one work tutoring or mentoring, but it all comes with a cost. One of the things Thesing-Ritter hoped to talk about was what they could do with more funding.
“In order to have high quality programs,” said Hardebeck, “We have to have high quality people and highly-qualified people to be able to work with our children.”
Thesing-Ritter said those at the public hearing weren't ready to directly specify the amount of funding that's needed; but rather, the means to get it, whether that be through private grants or public funding.
“My goal,” said Thesing-Ritter, “Is just for our legislators to hear that we have significant needs and the opportunity gap is real, and to close that gap we have to have collaborative efforts across the state and cutting our funding and cutting our opportunity to engage in public and private partnerships is not a good strategy.”
The task force heard testimony from many people Tuesday, including representatives from the Eau Claire Area School District, UW-Eau Claire, The Boys and Girls Club, and Mayo Clinic Health System.