Act 10 savings simply don’t add up

When I hear Gov. Scott Walker’s claims of savings for school districts thanks to Wisconsin Act 10, two adages come to mind. One is that if something sounds to good to be true, it probably is, and the second is that if one plus one equals anything but two chances are its wrong.

He is just asking too much of us─to suspend our ability to be logical and reasonable─to believe things are better, and certainly no worse for the children, schools, and communities of Wisconsin following approximately $1.6 billion in revenue losses. I’m sorry, I just can’t buy it.

For those who don’t know, Act 10 gave school districts the opportunity to ask educators to contribute toward their pensions and health care. Without getting into the whether or not that was right or wrong, the point was 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 abound another $800 million.

Now, it is the job of state government to make sure local school districts have the resources they need so that children have the opportunities they need to learn in school and succeed in life. Act 10 and the 2011-13 budget actually devastated our public schools. And, remember, these cuts came on the back of 20 years during which the state paid a smaller and smaller share of the cost of quality public education.

Of course, that’s just my opinion. How about the facts? Well, as I said, if it sounds too good to be true – those so-called Act 10 savings ─ it probably isn’t true. As a matter of fact, virtually every school district in Wisconsin was left gasping for resources once they subtracted all of those so-called savings from their lost resources.

Which gets us to the second adage: If one and one doesn’t equal two, there is something wrong.

According to the Governor’s own website, the savings accruing to every school district, city, county, and township in the state due to Act 10 is $1.1 billion. The Department of Public Instruction says that over the biennium, general state aid will be reduced by $792 million . DPI also says that local school districts will lose the ability to collect $706 million (and another $902 million in 2012-13).

Here’s the tricky part for the math challenged: From the Governor’s savings of $1.1 billion (remembering not even all of that is going to school districts) subtract $792 million in aid and $706 million in local taxing authority. My calculation is a loss of resources for our public schools of about $700 million in the first year of the two-year budget.

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.”

That means $700 in fewer opportunities for kids at a time we need to be talking about more, not less education. That certainly isn’t better for anyone.

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