Letter from Rep. Danou: A new school year brings fewer resourcesWith summer vacation winding down, families are getting ready to send their children back to school for another year.
By: Rep. Chris Danou , Pierce County Herald
With summer vacation winding down, families are getting ready to send their children back to school for another year. A new school year brings changes: new teachers, classrooms, books, courses and friends. However, this school year will bring significant changes to the overall makeup of schools in our area.
Wisconsin school funding took a $1.6 billion cut in the state’s 2011-2013 budget. This was the largest budget cut to school funding in the country and school districts across our state are trying to figure out how to balance their finances. Our schools were already operating on a lean budget and with such a drastic cut, there is far less room for creativity for school board administrators and members to shift funding around. The expected result is deeper salary cuts and forced lay-off of staff. We have already witnessed such layoffs in school districts within my Assembly District.
This past April, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released a report http://dpi.wi.gov/eis/newsroom.html showing cuts to teaching staff across Wisconsin for 2011-2012. I represent 16 schools districts in the State Assembly and 13 of them lost a total of 53 staff positions last school year. The remaining 3 districts witnessed a slight increase to the size of their staff with a total of 7 new positions created. Across Wisconsin, 74% or 315 of the 424 school districts across our state witnessed staff loss. These staff positions include administrators, aides, pupil services, teachers and others.
This past July, DPI released an estimate of the 2012-13 general aid allocation for Wisconsin public school districts http://www.dpi.wi.gov/sfs/July1Summary.html. The report is sorted alphabetically and by percentage. According to DPI’s estimate, 267 districts will experience a decrease in funding with some school districts in our community witnessing double digit budget cuts. For example, the Alma School District will experience the largest cut of the school districts I represent with a 15.17% cut. Pepin Area will receive a 15.14% cut, Gilmanton 12.55%, Alma Center 7.18% and Blair-Taylor 4.1% to name a few.
I believe that fiscal matters and balancing a budget should always be a top priority, especially during difficult financial times. However, balancing a budget, just like in any household is about priorities. In tough financial times we must re-evaluate our situation, focus on priorities and keep the things that are most important. Without question, public school funding should have been a priority this past budget cycle and it is our children who suffer the most by missing out on the quality education they deserve.
While our public schools suffered the largest budget cut in the country, voucher schools in the Milwaukee and Racine area received $300 million taxpayer dollars in funding. Voucher schools have first claim to funding and if they take more, that means there is even less money available for our public schools. Additionally, voucher schools are virtually unaccountable and do not have to meet the same reporting and testing requirements as public schools. I believe all schools that receive taxpayer money should be held to the same standards of accountability and testing.
We can’t go back and put more money into our schools for this school year. Instead, we can look ahead and find realistic ways to move forward. It is clear to me from talking to people across our community that they want fiscal responsibility and quality schools. I believe we can have both. For that to happen we must look into overhauling the way we fund our schools.
Our school funding formula is outdated and it punishes school districts that have high property values and fewer students. As a result, the overall quality of an education can significantly vary from one community to another. It is our responsibility to make sure that every child in every school district in Wisconsin receives a quality education to prepare them for the future and move our community, state and country forward.
As always, it is a privilege serving you in the Wisconsin State Assembly and I appreciate hearing what’s on your mind. Please do not hesitate to contact my office to express any thoughts, concerns or ideas you may have regarding school funding.