By Amy Traynor
We are in a time of great change for our public schools. We are adopting new standards, implementing new testing and accountability initiatives, and implementing all kinds of other reforms. At the same time, districts across the state are having to ask voters for more resources through referendums because of state and other funding cuts. Like educators across the state, I keep asking myself the question: What’s going to give first?
In my own classroom, continued budget cuts have caused staff reductions – resulting in higher class sizes and fewer chances for one-on-one instruction. I am teaching more students, and in some of my classes as many as a third of the students are identified as having special needs. These are children who benefit most from individual attention and instruction, and teachers used to be able to count on consistent help from classroom aides and support staff. Yet with budget cuts, that support isn’t always there.
My school has put an emphasis on staff collaboration, allowing us to coordinate on students’ unique challenges and skills. This is a critical part of instruction, where all the pieces of what we do in the classroom are put together not only by educators but also the students. They see how math is connected to English and to science. It allows educators to broaden our instruction beyond just one subject and to incorporate everything that a student is going through. But with all of us taking on more students and more courses, I’m concerned that collaboration might be targeted for cuts.
Fortunately, we have a solution. We have the opportunity to re-invest in Wisconsin’s public schools, support educators, and work collaboratively to build strong community connections. Currently, the state is projecting $1.3 billion in surplus revenue over the next two-year budget cycle. The governor and the Legislature should stand up for students and invest some of those funds in our public schools.
The last biennial state budget dramatically altered Wisconsin’s school funding landscape. Statewide funding dropped an average of $560 per student. What public schools need now is the restoration of per-pupil funding that allows them to at least cover basic inflationary costs. Please urge your legislators to support the $225 per-pupil increase requested by State Superintendent Tony Evers next school year. Coupled with an increased state investment, the proposed modest increase in student revenue will hold the line on property taxes.
Most important of all, Wisconsin students will benefit because public schools will be better positioned to provide them the full set of opportunities they need to succeed. History shows that there is no better strategy to promote economic development than to ensure that all children have the opportunities they need to grow and prosper.
A student is not just a number. Parents tell us they want opportunities for children and a well-rounded education for all students – and the upcoming state budget is a great place to make public education a priority.
Amy Traynor, Wisconsin’s Middle School Teacher of the Year, is a mathematics teacher at DeLong Middle School in the Eau Claire Area School District.