If Wisconsin’s public schools have the resources to give all children the opportunities they need to learn, the majority of students will succeed in school. Most will get good, family-supporting jobs, the economy will hum and the impact on society will be positive.
On the other hand, if we don’t provide all children with a quality education, we can expect lower incomes, fewer jobs, less civic engagement, more crime and higher healthcare costs, according to “A Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America.”
This is nothing new. Historically, when our public schools have had the resources they needed, our children received great educational opportunities, teachers did their jobs well and the system worked. When schools are underfunded—as they are in Wisconsin today—children do not receive the opportunities they need to grow and thrive in a 21st Century economy.
In Wisconsin, for over two decades, state aid has paid a smaller and smaller portion of the cost of quality public education. The funding system is too complicated, too riddled with holes and too wrapped up in politics to do its job.
On top of that, former Gov. Jim Doyle, and to a much greater extent his successor Scott Walker, actually took revenue away from our schools and students. As a matter of fact, Walker’s $1.6 billion in revenue cuts were, according to State School Superintendent Tony Evers, “the greatest cut to education since the Great Depression.”
Everyone wants our children to be well educated and ready to participate successfully in life after school. But how do we make it happen? We know opportunities are the key, so we need to make sure schools have the resources they need to provide them. That happens when we solve two problems—fix our broken school-funding system and restore the devastating cuts to state aid.
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a project of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future (IWF) promoting Opportunity to Learn-Wisconsin. WAES’s answer to the two challenges is quite simple: just do it.
According to WAES, the formula can be fixed tomorrow if state government approves “Fair Funding for Our Future,” the reform plan offered by Superintendent Evers. It is a great first step that creates a structure that addresses long-standing problems with the formula by providing more funding for students in poverty, delivering much-needed state aid to all districts and strengthening rural schools and those with declining enrollment. Furthermore, it does this without further burdening property taxpayers.
That’s only half the solution, however. Wisconsin’s public schools are bleeding resources. “A Penny for Kids”, a one-cent increase in the state’s sales tax, would add approximately $900 million a year to state coffers to restore opportunities for kids that were stripped away in the last state budget. It also gives us a chance to begin building the quality public education system that will make the difference in school and in life for all of our children.
These are not problems without solutions. In fact, they can be solved tomorrow if there is the political will across the state and in Madison to get it done. WAES’ job is to work with organizations and individuals around the state to build that public will and demand that change finally happen.