In 1993, Wisconsin lawmakers passed Wisconsin Act 16, which changed how Wisconsin’s public schools were funded. Act 16 was enacted into law under the auspices of providing property tax relief and controlling school costs, and while it has succeeded in accomplishing those goals, that success has come at a heavy price. There’s no denying our current public education funding formula has brought property tax relief while controlling school spending; however school districts across the state – and the children they are tasked with educating – have suffered as school districts have struggled to find ways to balance their budgets. Too often first choice for balancing budget deficits within school districts involves making painful cuts, and it’s time to end those cuts and get serious about investing in our schools.
Residents of South Milwaukee know all too well how painful the cuts that result from budget deficits can be. Year after year, our school board is faced with difficult decisions on how to make cuts and not adversely impact the kind of education our children receive, and this year is no different. Among the proposed cuts to South Milwaukee’s school district budget are an at-risk teaching position, a guidance counselor position, a school librarian position, and the debate and forensics programs. All of these cuts would come at the expense of South Milwaukee High School students, and in the case of the at-risk teaching position, the cuts would have a dramatic and negative impact on students. At the most recent South Milwaukee school board meeting, students whose lives have been positively impacted by the at-risk programs offered at South Milwaukee High School spoke passionately about how those programs and their teachers have made a positive impact in their lives. Without fail, those students were unequivocal in saying they would not be students if not for the at-risk programs, and that’s why any proposed cuts to those programs are so troublesome.
It’s become plainly obvious that now is the time to reform how Wisconsin’s public schools are funded. Not only does the per-pupil revenue cap for school districts need to be raised, but in the future that cap should be tied to the rate of inflation, to prevent lawmakers from cutting school funding arbitrarily. It’s time for our elected lawmakers to act, and to act decisively, lest our schools be forced to continue making harmful cuts. The first course of action lawmakers should take is the passage of education funding reform legislation that fully funds school districts, while also tying future funding increases to the state’s economic growth, in the manner suggested by the School Finance Network.
Now’s definitely not the time for inaction; it’s the time for decisive leadership to correct the flaw in the current school funding system that has led to painful and harmful cuts for so many school districts across Wisconsin.