I can't honestly say I didn't see it coming.
In fact, when we learned at our school that MPS would trim funding for K3 by about a third for the upcoming year, some parents â€“ including me â€“ even discussed whether or not it was possible to ask families who could afford to pay for 3-year-old kindergarten to do so.
The state does not fund K3 education, meaning it is entirely board-funded in Milwaukee. However, the board now funds just under 75 percent and schools must make up the rest themselves.
This was in January, before the governor's budget proposal was announced. Among the changes made to the district budget after the grim news emerged from Madison was a proposed cut to busing for regular education K3 and K4 students.
That idea was met with resistance from families, teachers and board members. However, it is illegal for MPS to charge for transportation. So the idea of a fee for the bus, based on ability to pay, was quickly quashed.
During the discussion of these issues in May, the Board of School Directors Strategic Planning and Budget committee instead took a different approach and discussed the idea of a fee for K3 on a sliding scale, based on the ability to pay.
I shouldn't have been surprised, and yet I was.
Most board members and Superintendent Thornton have spoken on the record about their support for and the importance of early education. And anyone paying attention knew that Dr. Thornton was working behind the scenes to try and find ways to avoid even that initial 30 percent cut to K3 funding.
I should make it clear that the fee was not a done deal as it was worded in the amendment. That amendment stated that money for K3 and K4 transportation would be reinstated and that the superintendent would investigate a fee. But it sure sounded like the fee was coming and that it was only the amount that needed investigating.
I'll say here that I might be willing to pay a fee, which likely would be nothing like what I pay for day care and I know from experience that kids learn a lot in K3. It is definitely NOT day care. My child is reading and writing at a level at least a year, maybe two, ahead of where I was at the same age. And it is clearly due to the work he did in K3 and K4.
There are, however, two things that concern me.
First â€“ and Dr. Thornton and a number of board members made this point, too, at that committee meeting â€“ fees can be a slippery slope. You institute one fee and it becomes easier to justify a few more and on and on and on.
In a district in which 80 percent of kids are in poverty, this is untenable. Will poorer families be stressed about the fees and be scared away from early childhood education? Will families that can afford the fees get the sense they're subsidizing everyone else and leave the district?
Since K3 education is not universal in the district, I could understand the argument that the folks who use it should help fund it (beyond our funding of it already via our taxes).
By the same token, though, not everyone uses special education resources, attends a specialty school like a language immersion or gets an IB diploma, either. Should those families pay more? And so goes the slippery slope of fee-dom...
Second, I'm a little uneasy about the idea of imposing a fee on one thing to pay for something else. The discussion at that committee meeting was plain. We can't charge and say it's for transportation, but we can charge for K3 and not say that it's for transportation.
The morning after that meeting, I chatted with the school board's Meagan Holman, who assured me I had misunderstood â€“ though others, including an MPS administrator told me they'd heard exactly what I had. The main point, she assured me, was that transportation was back.
Of course, like her, I celebrate that fact. Because while I don't agree that driving kids around town is the best use of money or time, the K3 programs are often at specialty schools like the Montessoris or early education schools like 68th Street and Starms. Remove the transportation option and you deny those opportunities to kids who don't live nearby.
In a city like Milwaukee, to deny access to transportation is to support segregated schools.
When the budget passed on Tuesday night, the amendment passed, too, and K3 fees on a sliding scale became, if not a done deal, then at the very least, a distinct possibility.
I wasn't at the meeting, but someone who was there told me that Dr. Thornton said that if unexpected money should come from the state, it would go first to fund SAGE class size reduction efforts and then to eliminate K3 fees.
So, I went back to Holman and asked, in an email, what's up...
"When we passed that amendment, after lengthy debate, as a body we added that there be some funding source (for transportation), developed by the administration," Holman responded, talking about the earlier committee meeting.
"Since that time, we have learned from the budget staff that to even come close to bridging this gap, the families of just 250 K3 students, which is what remains of those not participating in FRPL (Free and Reduced Price Lunch) program, would be called upon to provide significant personal contributions far beyond what I believe any of us intended at the time of our deliberations."
Holman made a motion to change the wording of the amendment to read that the administration "may" impose a fee. She also said that the idea of a fee, at least for the moment, seems dead for a number of reasons.
"Taken with the fact that, to my knowledge, we don't have an opinion from the city attorney as to whether charging a fee would be legal, that K3 students who could not afford the fee would not be able to find alternate preschool seats at this point in the calendar year, and that no mechanism for collecting the fee or maintaining billing records without additional personnel or staff time has been developed, I hope that the administration will study this and come back to us with a plan."
From what I hear on Vliet Street, there is no desire to institute a fee for early education, and so, on the surface of it, at least, it looks as if Holman is right that the issue seems dead at the moment.
It's unfortunate that this discussion even has to take place and I credit the board and the administration for not taking the discussion lightly. I do, however, encourage them to continue to tread with caution into the treacherous mountain region of Fee-land.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published May 26, 2016
You've heard about the Fred Goll Mansion on Prospect Avenue in the news in recent months, but what of Henry G. Goll and his mansion on Kilbourn Avenue in Concordia? We went inside the house for a look at it and the story of its ill-fated namesake.
Published May 25, 2016
Today is National Wine Day - though I admit I celebrate this event considerably more than once a year - and it seems like the perfect time to share some of the wines I've been tasting lately.
Published May 24, 2016
Last year, we took you inside the Milwaukee Theater (formerly the Auditorium) and the Arena to get a look behind the scenes at these local landmarks. This time, we dig into the archives to find treasures from events held in those venues.
Published May 23, 2016
Pabst's return to the former brewery site - via a micro-brewery and tasting room in the former First German Methodist Church/Forst Keller restaurant - was projected to open by summer. But a fall 2016 opening is now more likely.
Published May 19, 2016
Nearby Chicago is the perfect place for a quick weekend getaway filled with, well, whatever you want, even if what you want is not a whole lot of planning, but just time to relax.
Published May 17, 2016
We got a peek inside the new Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, slated to open in the Third Ward this summer, including looks at the spaces that will host the Tre Rivali restaurant and the rooftop Outsider bar.
Published May 17, 2016
Typically, Milwaukee's oldest buildings reveal themselves readily. But sometimes, behind facades of glass and steel, you can find a portal into Brew City history. One such place is the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut St., a facility that glows like a new building.
Published May 16, 2016
To you, Julius La Rosa was the guy who was famously fired on the air by Arthur Godfrey. To me, he's that guy singing "Eh, Cumpari" and "Mama Rosa" on 45s I inherited from my grandmother. La Rosa died last week at age 86 ... in Crivitz.
Published May 12, 2016
While in the past, Milwaukee's Nineteen Thirteen drew on other talents, by the time it set out to record its new CD, Janet Schiff and Victor DeLorenzo were going it alone. "Music for Time Travel" is released Friday, May 13 at The Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.
Published May 12, 2016
A reddish brick building at the intersection of two alleys north of the Bradley Center has most recently been used as storage for the arena. Its days are numbered as it is slated to come down soon to make way for the new arena. So, of course, I went inside to learn more.