Budget surplus should help re-fund public schools

Tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Gov. Scott Walker will give his state of the state address speech for 2013. Certainly, he and I won’t agree when it comes to public schools.

We might agree that the new report cards and the new cut scores will turn out to be a good thing for students across the state.

But, he’ll likely push to divert even more tax money from public schools to fund entirely unaccountable religious and private schools through the voucher program, in which kids often perform at levels lower than Milwaukee Public Schools and far below the state average.

And he’ll certainly argue that Act 10 has worked for public schools around the state, though I’ve yet to find an educator or school-level administrator in Wisconsin who agrees. Unsurprisingly, political organizations of every stripe have been able to massage the numbers to support their positions on the results of Act 10, with our kids serving as the monkeys in the middle.

What I have seen as I visit Milwaukee Public Schools and talk to teachers and principals at other schools in the state is that Walker’s current biennial budget, which cut nearly a billion dollars from public schools in Wisconsin, has squeezed staffs.

More than 3,400 teachers and other staffers have been cut. There are fewer and fewer adults in schools these days in Wisconsin. Consider that the next time you ponder school safety issues.

MPS is facing a massive teacher crisis as record numbers of retirements loom. Class sizes have gone up as more money has been skimmed away from the majority of kids in public schools to help prop up religious schools, which all around the country have struggled with falling enrollment.

SAGE schools like the successful Milwaukee French Immersion saw some class sizes double as they could no longer afford to take part in the program.

MPS’ special needs population is now about 20% of enrollment, up from about 17% a few years ago. Meanwhile, the number of students with IEPs in voucher schools is about 1.6% percent, according to Disability Rights Wisconsin. Additionally, this year, roughly 3,500 MPS students are homeless.

Two years ago, Walker said there was a deficit and cuts had to be made. Those of us with kids in public schools, especially in Milwaukee, understood why he would make our children pay. We know how politics works.

But now, the state apparently has a surplus of $300 million. So, how much of that will go to our schools? And I don’t mean schools run by millionaire sports stars or California chains or tax-exempt churches. How much will go to the schools that educate the poorest in the state – not just a handful of them, but the bulk of them? That educate children with disabilities and special needs?

My hope is $300 million. My guess, however, is that he will cut public education even more deeply, and send even more money to church and private schools to help undermine the long-standing American tradition of public education in favor of privatization. Because as history has shown, big business has clearly got our children’s best interests at heart.

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