Tiny Budget Increase Doesn't Replace Lost Opportunities

Thomas Beebe, Project Director, Opportunity to Learn - Wisconsin

It’s an indisputable fact: Public education is the great leveler in our economy and our society. If we put in the resources up front we will get the results we all want: Successful young adults, an economy that works, and a civil society we can be proud of.

At the very time Wisconsin’s students need more quality education, however, state government continues to bleed school districts of the resources they need.

A week or so ago, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced the aid estimates for the 2012-13 year for all 424 districts. It’s not a pretty picture. The coming year’s increase is smaller than in the past, and a full two-thirds of the state’s school districts will lose resources. The total increase is only $21.06 million, certainly not enough just to continue programs and services in most districts.

As a matter of fact, if you compare the 2012-13 state aid numbers to the first year of Governor Scott Walker’s budget─actually a $792 million cut in school aid─ most districts will continue to scramble just to make ends meet.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, total state aid of $4.29 billion is “far below what schools received in general aid before Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature dramatically cut funding for schools” as part of the 2011-13 biennial budget.

It also doesn’t take into account the budget’s impact on revenue limits (a local school district’s ability to make up for lost aid with property tax increases). The budget required districts to reduce their revenue limits by 5.5 percent, which amounted to a loss of about $800 million in resources statewide.

And we are still understating the challenge to our schools because all this comes on the back on 20 years during which a broken school funding system has siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars that were supposed to help districts provide quality learning opportunities.

So, that brings us to the real tragedy: The devastating impact these budget cuts have had on Wisconsin’s more than 800,000 school children. According to the Department of Public Instruction’s “Budget Survey Analysis," the budget cuts have forced: 

  • 71 percent of districts cut in at least one core academic area
  • 59 percent of districts increased class sizes
  • 46 percent made cuts in art, music, and physical education
  • 45 percent made cuts in career and technical education
  • 28 percent cut special education services

Even worse, however, is the devastating impact these cuts have on the futures of our children and our communities. Our children are not getting what they need to succeed, and that’s something we will all pay for in the long run.

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