By President Michael Bonds
Milwaukee Board of School Directors
There are signs Governor Walker’s budget plan to cut $127 million from public school districts across Wisconsin is facing significant resistance from residents and growing skepticism from state legislators, including Republicans.
A new Marquette University Law School poll released earlier this week asked Wisconsin residents what they think of several elements of Governor Walker’s proposed biennial budget.
Of those responding, 78% oppose his plan to cut aid to public schools across Wisconsin.
The Governor’s proposed budget eliminates a state promise of $150 in funding for every student in Wisconsin’s public schools. Walker’s proposed budget also fails to include any increases that allow schools to keep up with inflationary costs. In Milwaukee Public Schools, the state aid cut amounts to $12.1 million less for educational programs.
In addition, due to increasing costs associated with educating students, the district’s cost to continue budget was already projected to be $11 million short bringing the projected impact on the district to $23 million. As school districts across Wisconsin – including Milwaukee Public Schools – are preparing their 2015- 16 school year budgets, parents and educators are voicing their concerns about the impact of the Governor’s proposed cuts on school districts and classrooms statewide.
State legislators are apparently getting the message. In a standing room only meeting with Wauwatosa parents and citizens, in early April, Representative Dale Kooyenga heard firsthand about how Governor Walker’s budget proposal will impact educational programs in schools.
Representative Kooyenga is the Vice-chair of the Assembly’s Finance Committee.
In published reports about the meeting, Representative Kooyenga told residents his number one concern in the Governor’s budget is funding for schools and pledged he is working hard to restore the funding.
News reports quote Kooyenga as saying: “The next budget has more revenue that we’ve ever had in Wisconsin.
If we have more revenue than we’ve ever had in Wisconsin, then why is the university being cut, why is K through 12 being cut, and why is there a pause in pretty much everything else?”
Just days later, a leading Wisconsin Senate Republican also expressed concerns about the cuts to K-12 education.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Republican senators want to restore much of the $127 million in cuts in funding to public schools in Wisconsin.
At a speaking engagement at Marquette University Law School, Senator Fitzgerald indicated revenue assessment estimates available in a few weeks would be higher than current estimates and Republicans hope to restore the entire $127 million cut under Governor Walker’s plan.
He said there is a “…definitely a commitment to take care of K-12 education.” This is good news, but it doesn’t solve the entire issue facing public schools in Wisconsin in the Walker budget.
There has been no discussion of providing the inflationary increases school districts have historically received to keep up with increased costs of utilities, transportation and other goods and services.
Wisconsin needs to return to the level of school funding stability that existed under former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.
Under Governor Thompson’s budgets, revenue for schools kept pace with the rate of inflation, providing schools with a predictable, stable funding source even in the most difficult budget years.
If the State Legislature does not help schools keep up with the rate of inflation, it is inevitable that cuts will have to be made in school districts across the state.
There’s still time to reach out to your local representatives. Let them know the $150 per pupil funding cut needs to be restored and the state needs to make sure revenue for public schools keeps pace with the rate of inflation.
Call the Wisconsin Legislative Hotline at 1-800-362- 9472.
Let legislators know Wisconsin needs to provide the funding stability schools need to support the next generation of citizens and leaders.