October 25, 2012
End the Nightmare Now
It’s a scary time of year, isn’t it? I don’t just mean the ghouls and goblins of Halloween. The dire state of public education in Wisconsin is more frightening than any costume you’ll see this weekend.
Last week, the Department of Public Instruction released numbers showing that almost two-thirds of the state’s public school districts will receive less state aid in 2012-2013 than they did the previous year. The false claims that savings from Act 10 covered all cuts and put our neighborhood schools in a better position are butting heads with the daily reality. School districts have been forced to eliminate some of our most valuable educational tools. School libraries, special education and reading specialists were hit especially hard. Funding for career and technical education classes were also cut, despite Wisconsin’s employers struggling to find skilled workers. Additionally, school districts let go of nearly 2,400 staff last year, and nearly 75 percent of school districts cut quality teachers. These numbers should both frighten and motivate parents, teachers and district administrators. They highlight the need for reinvestment and serious commitment to public education.
Last week, an opportunity to make that re-commitment presented itself. We were told that the state government has a budget surplus of more than $340 million. I have heard from many people around Wisconsin that we should use that money to invest in public education. Unfortunately, the governor has unilaterally chosen to deposit more than $105 million into the state’s rainy day fund at a time when class sizes are ballooning and students are already paying the price for the largest budget cuts in state history.
Recently, State Superintendent Tony Evers provided a realistic strategy for moving public education forward again. It starts with implementing his “Agenda 2017” plan. This comprehensive agenda sets aggressive and achievable goals, and lays out a plan to meet them by the year 2017. Through improved standards and instruction, revamped assessments and data systems, increased school and educator accountability, and school finance reform, Agenda 2017 will raise graduation rates, close gaps, and increase career and college readiness.
Although the superintendent has worked with local school districts to implement a number of positive reforms in Agenda 2017, there are still others that need to be put into action or require legislative approval, including:
- Fully fund job readiness assessments for all juniors to reduce barriers to college and employment
- Increase accountability for all schools receiving tax dollars, including voucher schools, to ensure we are investing our public dollars wisely
- Commit to implementing the superintendent’s “Fair Funding for Our Future” plan to fix funding flaws in our broken system by increasing equity between low- and high-poverty areas
If Wisconsin is going to be a pro-business state, it must also be a pro-education state. Politicians must stop forcing schools to balance their budgets on the backs of students and working families. Instead of treating education as something expendable, we need to invest in remodeling our current education system. We cannot afford to keep following failed policies of the past when we have common sense solutions right in front of us.
This is why I am calling on the governor and the Legislature to join me in supporting Superintendent Evers’ Agenda 2017 and Fair Funding for Our Future plans once session resumes in January 2013. While the rainy day fund is important, I hope that the governor will listen the public, take a look outside, and realize that it’s already raining. I am optimistic that when session resumes, we can all work together to provide our children with a brighter future.
Respectfully Submitted By,
Senator Chris Larson
7th Senate District
3261 S. Herman Street
Milwaukee, WI 53207