Use revenue increase to fully fund Wisconsin’s K-12 public schools

Wisconsin now projects a healthy increase in revenue over the next two years.  Those hundreds of millions of dollars in additional resources must be used to restore funding for K-12 public education.

It’s time to return to the annual per pupil increases that at least kept up with inflation. There is no doubt we need a more rational school-funding system and an even larger investment in public education, but a reasonable per-pupil increase will help Wisconsin’s 870,000 public school students now.

The alternative is the budget that’s currently on the table. It is a proposal that strips even more resources from public schools and more opportunities from our children.

It hasn’t always been that way. Back in 2010, while the state was reeling from recession, a group of Republican legislators had the good sense to co-sponsor a bill that gave a per-pupil revenue boost of $275 to public schools.  Assembly Bill 919 even mapped out a route to raise state aid, over six years, to the percentage it had been for decades.

The bill was sponsored by current Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, some members of this session’s Joint Finance Committee, and other prominent Republicans.

So, what’s changed? Now, the Governor’s education budget enjoys the support of most legislators in his party, including those who proposed a $275 per pupil increase a mere three years ago. Today’s budget gives an increase of  $72 million to expand private vouchers, includes special education vouchers for private schools, and provides absolutely no revenue limit increase for public schools.

That’s right, not one new dollar would land in K-12 public school classrooms.

The Governor and some Republican legislators are saying the increased revenue estimates make some resources available for public schools, but they have not yet offered an amount. Some insiders are guessing it will range from $50 to $150 per pupil. This is not enough to restore school budgets to a healthy level and prevent more cuts in teachers, programs, and services to public school children who only want the opportunity to learn in school and succeed in life.

Our policy makers need to show the same pragmatism and common-sense that led to AB 919’s birth in 2010.  A $275 per-pupil increase in the revenue limit is a good down payment on putting desperately needed resources back into the classrooms they were taken from.

It only makes sense to put that funding increase into a school-funding system that links money to the needs of kids and their quality education. The money is there and so is “Fair Funding for Our Future,” the reform effort of Tony Evers, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.

The bottom line is clear:  There is no better return on investment to taxpayers than public education. Strong public schools are critical to our children’s futures and they are keys to economic recovery. When kids are better educated, they get better jobs and contribute more to the community as adults.

If this debate is all about providing children with that type of education, Republicans and Democrats should be expected to work together to make it happen. There is no reason not to do the right thing. The money is there and “Fair Funding for Our Future” has already been introduced.

We need to hold our elected representatives accountable for  helping public schools succeed. Right now it is all about political agendas and cutting more and more funding. We should expect more of lawmakers and our young people deserve better.

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