Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and State Senator Alberta Darling have both trumpeted that published data on local school districts showing decreases in tax levys are “good news for Wisconsin school kids.” That claim is absurd on its face.
What is happening is that school districts in response to the huge cuts in public education in Wisconsin totaling $1.6 billion dollars have responded by trimming their local tax rates. Walker and Darling also have asserted that it was good news for Wisconsin taxpayers. That much is true on its face. Taxypayers will be paying slightly less for educating Wisconsin children. For citizens wanting to lower what they have to pay and see the steady increases in tax rates suppressed that is indeed great news.
But for the kids it is not. In larger suburban districts for example, you’re looking at one, two or perhaps two-and-a-half million dollars in cuts in state aid to these districts. The sharp increases in what teachers pay for health and pension benefits does not begin to cover those shortfalls.
Districts will not be hiring as many teachers to replace retirees who left the profession in record numbers this past June. Class sizes will creep up. There is a plethora of solid research data showing that larger class size makes educating children more difficult. That is understandable. If you have to control 35 kids instead of 20 or 22, even excellent teachers will spend more time on managing the kids rather than educating them.
Programs to aid those children who struggle with reading or math and who have been lucky enough to have special ed resource programs, or one-on-one tutoring will see that cut in many places.
Art and music programs, those that still exist, will be cut further.
Probably not understood will be further cuts to library and information technology staff positions in many districts and the programs and services these skilled professionals provide to the kids and their teachers. Most schools in Wisconsin are seeing elementary school librarians completly disappearing, leaving the regular staff trying to do things they have not been trained to do. And they still have their regular duties to perform. In the twenty-first century instruction in using information technology K-12 are just the sort of thing our students need to help compete with students in other parts of the developed world, and to compete for good jobs that rely so much on these skills in the marketplace.
Advanced placement courses to ready students for college, special school to work programs also will have to be trimmed if not devastaed by cuts. And the elective courses in our high schools that enrich the learning experience and give young adults more choices to motivate them to learn will be adversley affected.
Governor Walker and Senator Darling are going to have to do a much better job of explaining why the deep cuts in public education funding in Wisconsin are good for the students we hope to educate. We get the obvious fact that taxpayers are smiling this holiday season all over the state.
But parents and students who are moving through an already strained public education system might not be smiling nearly so much. And these are the kids that will be the key to Wisconsin’s Open For Business policy of the future and the economic development opportunities Governor Walker and Senator Darling claim to be so vitally concerned with.
It looks awfully like the Wisconsin workforce of the future will be much less skilled and be directed to low end jobs as far as pay, benefits and the ability to support a family are concerned. Cuts in education gut the future opportunties for the children in our schools. It guts what is left of the old American middle class.
And the education professionals who deliver the services that educate our kids are so severely under stress and have really taken a beating this past year that they are not in a position to take up a lot of the slack when resources that were already tight dry up further. Teaching staffs are going to be younger and energetic and have wonderful new ideas, but keeping those new teachers being hired in greater numbers and having sufficient experienced teachers with the highest skills will dissapate in our schools.
Walker and Darling are essentially lying to the public in Wisconsin about the real effects of $1.6 billion dollars in cuts in public education in the State, the most money cut from education in any of the 50 states in the Union. And the cuts in tax levys mean that districts are not going to try and fill the gap at all by raising tax levys on their own.
Walker and Darling: You are going to have to explain how all this is a great piece of news for the children of Wisconsin. Thus far you have failed to do so.