Well, that’s probably what Gov. Walker and his staff thought would happen. Instead, he stood in a room, closed to the public, of credentialed-media-only with the one superintendent he could round up. No matter how much lipstick he put on the pig, his education budget for the next two years didn’t line up with the story being told by the respected Department of Public Instruction or the Legislature’s own highly-trusted Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
ACLU Wisconsin said the Governor used “fantastic math” to weave his tale, while school head Tony Evers called the $1.7 billion in cuts “a crushing challenge” to children and communities.
Wisconsin’s School Administrators’ Alliance (SAA)─a coalition of superintendents, principals, business managers, and directors of special education─said the “cuts in the Governor’s proposed budget plan are of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression.”
Using “fantastic math,” Gov. Walker may have convinced some of his staff and a few others that his budget was all about children, but the SAA was quick to stand at the closed door and say they “are united in their opposition to Governor Walker’s agenda of privatizing public education.”
For over 15 years─and under both parties─State Government has paid a decreasing share of the cost of quality education. During that time, children have lost countless opportunities to learn and succeed, programs and services have been cut, class sizes have increased, and local property taxes have jumped.
Acting as if this sorry history never happened, Gov. Walker has now proposed to cut an additional $1.7 billion from public school revenue. Unbelievable. As a matter of fact, if he had only proposed a $1 cut in state aid, it would have been too much and the worst thing to do for kids, schools, and communities because it flies in the face of everything we know about education, economics, history, and morality.
When our public schools work, Wisconsin leads the nation and world. There is no doubt our public schools work when they are adequately funded and children receive opportunities to succeed in the form of quality early childhood education, highly effective teachers, college preparatory curriculum, and equitable instructional resources.
This is all about investing public resources where they most benefit the public, and that is in our schools. When we do that, our public schools work. They always have.
Look around you. My guess is that the vast majority of the people you see─the doctors and ministers, the cops and firefighters, the bankers and men and women in service, and your neighbors─are public school graduates. That’s a pretty good record of success.
Someone provided us Baby Boomers with quality education. Now it’s our turn to give the next generation the same quality educational prospects we had. Proposing a state budget that rips those opportunities out of the hands of coming generations is both unwise and immoral.
What Wisconsin really needs is a new school-funding system. It’s not about punishing unions or decreasing teacher compensation. It’s certainly not about Gov. Walker padding his conservative resume for the folks on K Street. What it’s about is changing the school- funding formula to align revenues with what we want children to know and be able to do, their needs, and the needs of their communities so that every child in the state has opportunities to learn.
That’s not what is happening in Wisconsin right now, and that is a shame.
Tom Beebe is the executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, a coalition of school districts, teachers unions, student and parent groups, other organizations, and individuals working for comprehensive school-funding reform.