We need to stop digging the hole deeper

Opportunity to Learn-Wisconsin settled into the United Way of Dane County headquarters in Madison recently to talk about the future of public education. As thousands of Wisconsinites before them, they came to the conclusion that sound schools and educated children are the basis of thriving communities and great futures for all of us.

It was, however, a discussion tinged with foreboding and pessimism. We can’t talk about highly qualified teachers, top-notch early childhood education, challenging classes, and opportunities for all kids in Wisconsin because we have to deal with devastating cuts to the resources our public need just to provide the basics.

OTL-Wisconsin gave an emphatic thumbs-up to leading a campaign to talk about the former rather than the latter, starting with a pledge to rally folks statewide to push their elected leaders to reverse course and stop digging the hole deeper.

For far too long the problems of fewer resources and a dysfunctional funding system have plagued our children. Politicians have nibbled at the edges and made excuses. What is now clear is that it isn’t a case of not being able to do what is right for children. It is a case of not wanting to─whether because of a lack of courage, not enough knowledge, or an abundance of politics.

The answer is so simple: Pass “Fair Funding for Our Future,” the State Superintendent of Schools’ plan to fix the formula, and put about $900 million into school aid to restore the cuts made in the last state budget and begin the reinvestment in our schools and kids.

Sup. Tony Evers’ plan  guarantees minimum aid to all kids, makes poverty part of the calculation, and accomplishes technical changes that ease the way for small, rural schools and those with declining enrollment. It creates a structure that addresses long-standing problems with the school funding formula and does so with few losers.

What “Fair Funding for Our Future” doesn’t do is undo the damage of the last state budget─it doesn’t stop digging the hole deeper. We also need to restore resources cut from the system.

Remember this is about wanting to do the right thing. Budgets reflect the morals and ideals of the state, and our budget needs to reflect the value we put in our children, our schools, and the futures of our communities. It’s about priorities.

Take a look at “Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin”  through that lens. There are all sorts of opportunities to begin filling the hole. For example, a one-cent increase in the state’s extremely low sales tax─“A Penny for Kids”─ will not only restore the devastating cuts of the last budget but it would begin that all important reinvestment in public education.

Of course it won’t be easy; doing the right thing never is. We absolutely have to talk about what our schools will look like in the 21st century, but we can’t do that until we deal with the problems we’ve created and stop digging deeper the hole our children are sinking into.

It will take a movement to help our schools and our children. Decades of inertia and the weight of politics-as-usual are working against us. We need to help our elected officials arrive at the unmistakable point of agreeing to do what is right.

In other words, it is critical for you to get on board with OTL-Wisconsin. Give me a call at 920-650-0525 or write to me at tbeebe@excellentschools.org. You can also visit our website. Most importantly, “like” OTL-Wisconsin of Facebook and let’s start working together for our kids, our schools, and the futures of our communities.

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