In WI, One Plus One Does Not Equal Two

Thomas Beebe, Project Director, Opportunity to Learn - Wisconsin

This blog originally appeared on the Institute for Wisconsin's Future website

When I hear Governor Scott Walker’s claims of savings for school districts thanks to Wisconsin Act 10, two adages come to mind: 1) If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And 2) if one plus one equals anything but two, then chances are it’s wrong.

The governor is simply asking too much of us: To suspend logic and reason and believe that $1.6 billion in revenue cuts to public education is better and certainly no worse for the children, schools and communities of Wisconsin. Sorry, I’m just not buying that.

Act 10 requires educators to contribute more toward their pensions and their healthcare. Without getting into whether or not it was right or wrong, the point is that Act 10 was sold as a way for school boards to make up for the damage done to them in the governor’s budget, which cut state aid by $792 million and reduced the ability of local districts to raise property taxes by another $800 million. Altogether, these amounted to an approximately $1.6 billion in revenue cuts.

It’s the job of state government to make sure local school districts have the necessary resources to ensure that children have the opportunities they need to learn in school and succeed in life. Act 10 and the 2011-13 state budget, however, drastically reduced funding for our public schools, coming directly after a 20-year period during which the state continuously reduced its share of the cost of public education.

Of course, that’s just my opinion. How about the facts? Well, if those Act 10 savings seem too good to be true, you’re right, they are. Virtually every school district in Wisconsin lost more resources than they gained in Act 10 savings.

Which brings us to the second adage: If one and one do not equal two, then there is something wrong.

According to the governor’s own website, the savings for every school district, city, county and township in the state due to Act 10 is $1.1 billion. The Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau data show that general state aid will be reduced by $792 million this year while local school districts will lose the ability to collect $706 million (and another $902 million in 2012-13).

The math is pretty simple. The governor says there has been $1.1 billion (remembering those numbers are hotly disputed and not all of the “savings” is going to school districts), but schools have $1.6 billion less revenue. The most conservative estimate still means a $500 million cut to public education.

And that’s not all. Much more important is the real-world impact on our schools and kids. For example, The Hartland-Lakeside School District in southeastern Wisconsin “was able to trim some $1.2 million out of its budget through restructuring salaries and benefits for employees.” The district is still being forced to referendum for $600,000, however, just to maintain “small class sizes, meet the State of Wisconsin educational standards, and keep important programs in place for ….. students.” 

What all of this really means ─ even if you believe Gov. Walker’s numbers ─ is that there are $500 million in fewer opportunities for kids at a time when we need to be talking about more education to ensure that our young people have the skills needed for life in a constantly changing, 21st century world. With these massive cuts, we are doing the exact opposite.

You can read more from Thomas Beebe on the Institute for Wisconsin's Future website here!

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