The following is an op-ed from Wauwatosa Support Our Schools (SOS) president Mary Young and Women Committed to an Informed Community co-chairs Marva Herndon and Gail Hicks.
As public school parents, it’s tough to believe in our leaders in Madison. Many say that they support our kids’ schools, but in vote after vote, they are not on our side. Too many in Madison don’t believe that our kids’ public schools are the heart of our communities. They don’t stand up for our kids.
The cuts to our kids’ schools are hard to stomach. A majority of our state’s politicians have slashed more than $1 billion from our kids since 2008.
These politicians cut more money from public schools than any Midwestern state since 2008. Only Oklahoma, Alabama and Arizona have cut schools more than Wisconsin has, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
For the first time in state history, Wisconsin’s investment in our kids’ public education is below the national average.
But on Jan. 29, 2016, it felt like something had changed. In his 2016 State of the State address, Gov. Scott Walker committed to "invest every penny of savings into public education." He said words we’ve been longing to hear, saying, "Even before the next budget, we want to put more resources into public education."
Our skeptical hearts lifted.
After months of parent advocacy through postcards, emails, phone calls, office visits and more, it felt like someone was listening to our parent pleas for help. Maybe Madison was ready to support our kids’ public schools again. After all, the people of Wisconsin were calling for action. The day before Gov. Walker’s speech, a Marquette University Law Poll revealed that 57 percent of Wisconsinites said our kids’ public schools receive too little in funding. Only seven percent said our neighborhood schools are funded too much. Back from the presidential campaign trail, maybe Gov. Walker would seek to simultaneously strengthen our kids’ schools and his approval rating.
Unfortunately, a majority of our politicians are who we thought they were. They don’t support our kids’ schools.
This winter, state legislators like Representatives Robin Vos of Burlington, Dale Kooyenga and Rob Hutton and Senator Leah Vukmir of Brookfield voted to funnel millions more in funding away from our kids. On March 30, 2016, two months after the State of the State speech, Gov. Walker signed a bill which cut $5 million more from our kids’ schools.
Soon after, on April 5, 2016, an historic number of referenda were put in ballots across the state. More than 70 referendums asked voters to increase property taxes to prevent cuts and school closings. Local taxpayers were asked to carry the extra burden, because a majority of our state’s leaders had failed to plan and failed to fund our kids’ schools adequately and appropriately.
What a stunning failure to support our kids.
This funding failure has held our kids’ schools back. Instead of making investments to improve public education – data-driven solutions like early childhood development, educator preparation and innovation – our districts and our school families had to spend time rallying support for referenda.
Despite many of today’s politicians, our kids and our kids’ public schools continue to persevere. Wisconsin ranks second in America in ACT scores. Graduation rates are among the best in the nation. How can our kids and schools defy the odds? Anyone with sense knows that these accolades weren’t earned today. They were earned more than a decade ago through wise investments in young kids. Strong math and reading skills in elementary schools are some of the strongest predictors for secondary school success.
We need state leaders who will stop sending our schools backwards. Let’s move forward. Let’s raise the restrictive revenue cap and sufficiently increase state aid so local communities have the resources to innovate and strengthen our kids’ public schools. Let’s pause the statewide expansion of voucher schools until measures are in place that make them accountable to taxpayers. Let’s support the only school system that serves all and lifts all – public schools – before it’s too late.