Over the course of the past year, Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature conducted an all-out assault on Wisconsin’s cherished public schools.
Last summer, the governor signed a state budget that reduced funding for public education by $1.6 billion. While our public schools were forced to manage these devastating cuts, the governor increased funding to unaccountable and unproven voucher schools by $40 million and approved $2.3 billion in giveaways to large corporations and special interests.
Districts all over the state have already begun to feel the pain of these cuts through larger class sizes, staff reductions and a loss of experienced educators due to massive retirements. Nearly 97 percent of districts are seeing reductions in state aid this year. And a recent nonpartisan national report shows Wisconsin is second in the country in education cuts. However, the worst may be yet to come.
Districts from Black River Falls to Superior to Oshkosh are giving their communities an early forecast of major shortfalls for next school year and seeking input on how the cuts should be managed.
With the one-time fixes already used up, school boards are now forced to make the types of decisions that divide communities and families. This includes property tax increases, additional teacher reductions, cutting educational programming, increasing class sizes, and shutting down entire schools.
Here are some notable examples of how Gov. Walker’s extreme agenda will affect school districts across Wisconsin:
● Merrill is facing a $1.4 million shortfall and is considering increased class sizes, further cuts to teachers’ take home pay, and they may have to close two elementary schools.
● Lodi is projecting a $1.6 million deficit. They too may be closing a school and are considering moving to a four-day week, cutting co-curricular programs, and firing up to 20 staff members.
● La Crosse avoided layoffs this year thanks to federal stimulus funds, but next year they face a $2.8 million shortfall and a likelihood of having to raise property taxes.
While Gov. Walker and his Republican allies pushed brutal cuts and created these shortfalls, the Assembly Democrats put forth a bold plan for Wisconsin. The “Save Our Schools” initiative would have provided $376 million for public schools and tech colleges while lowering property taxes statewide. It also would have provided more than 85 percent of state districts with higher funding than under Gov. Walker’s plan. No district would have received less
My colleagues and I will be re-introducing this plan as a stand-alone bill next month. We will not stand on the sidelines while our schools are decimated by draconian cuts.
Our schools are the foundation of our economic future. The direction that Gov. Walker has taken Wisconsin is putting our children’s future prospects and our state’s economic viability in jeopardy. As school districts around our state plan their budgets for next school year and the bleak projections become a reality, one thing grows increasingly clear: Gov. Walker’s reforms are not working.
Sondy Pope-Roberts, of Middleton, is a Democrat representing District 79 in the Wisconsin Assembly.