State school superintendent urges for fully funded SAGE program

The Wisconsin state superintendent is asking the Wisconsin Legislature to put aside $11 million in the next budget to help keep classes sizes small.

It’s a part of the SAGE program or the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program.

Right now, 449 schools in Wisconsin, or roughly 36 percent of schools in the state, currently participate in SAGE, but does the money really help schools in our area succeed?

In the La Crosse school district, educators say small class sizes help lead to student success.

“Teachers get to know their kids more,” said associate superintendent Steve Salerno, associate superintendent for the La Crosse school district. “What are their abilities, what are their developmental needs, and then how do we help individual students at their individual readiness levels so that they can experience success in the classroom.”

This is the mentality for both the La Crosse and Onalaska school districts.

But for years the La Crosse school district has qualified to receive help from the SAGE program to help keep class sizes at an 18:1 student-teacher ratio for grades kindergarten through third grade.


The funding for schools is based on the number of low-income students in the district.

Salerno said so far the program has proven to be very beneficial.

“From where they’re starting to where they’re finishing in the beginning of the year, there’s tremendous gains being made in those performances and that’s because, in part, of those lower class sizes,” said Salerno.

But Salerno said these results aren’t well represented in the state’s new school report cards because they don’t take into account the students’ background including socioeconomic status and race among, other things.

The school report cards show elementary schools in La Crosse averaged about 69.3 for overall accountability score.

The Onalaska School District doesn’t have the SAGE program, but its elementary schools averaged 77.8.

“The fact that we don’t have it doesn’t mean that we don’t love our kids as much or that we don’t value it as much,” said Fran Finco, superintendent of the Onalaska School District. “We’ve made it work. We have good people in our schools just like the rest of the districts around us, and we have a very supportive community.”

The Onalaska School District didn’t initially qualify for the funds when the program started.

It does now, after an increase in recent years of students considered low-income, but even so, Finco said the program may not help the district very much.

“The higher ratio of free and reduced students in the classroom the better, but it still costs money every time you add another classroom; it’s going to cost the district money” said Finco. “Then you have to look at if you have the number of rooms.”

Finco said even though the district doesn’t have the SAGE program, having small class sizes is still a high priority.