Wisconsin’s public schools are drowning; No better time to use the Rainy Day Fund

The Wisconsin Department of Administration recently sent out a press release praising Gov. Scott Walker for his leadership in making the “largest deposit to our Rainy Day Fund in state history.”

You can read the press release here.

The deposit, $108.7 million, is part of a $342.1 million surplus projected for fiscal year 2012 that must go, statutorily, to a fund for the bad times …. for example when revenues decrease for important state services or programs. In other words, when it rains.

There’s an obvious point being missed here. If you cut spending on enough public services─such as public education, roads, conservation, fire and police protection, and health care─coming up with a surplus is easy. Taken to a somewhat absurd conclusion, if you continue to collect taxes but pay nothing out this budgeting thing becomes child’s play and the Rainy Day Fund grows.

That’s exactly what’s happening here in Wisconsin. By dis-investing in schools, for example, we’ve created a surplus to put into the Rainy Day Fund while at the same creating a downpour and a hurricane for our kids.

It’s pouring, folks, so let’s use the money we’ve put aside for this very rainy day.

Here’s the point: In the 2011-13 state budget, Walker and his allies cut aid to public schools by $792 million. Why would anyone then be surprised that as school aids went down the state’s projected surplus went up? The under-reported story isn’t the surplus but the devastating impact it created on our schools, our children, and the future of all of us.

The Governor’s office would have us believe that everything is better for our schools─or certainly no worse. For example, school aids for 2012-13 were increased $31.7 million over the 2011-12 school year. Well, that’s all well and good, but that still leaves a cut of about $760 million. The increase is so minimal that it isn’t even enough to continue programs and services in most districts.

And, when all is said and done, 64 percent of Wisconsin’s school districts will still receive less school aid than they did the previous year. 

There is no doubt; this is wrong-headed public policy that puts our young people in the middle of a storm. According to the Department of Public Instruction’s “Budget Survey Analysis,” core academics have been cut; class sizes are increasing; children are losing art, music, physical education; there are fewer career and technical education opportunities; and special education services have been cut.

As I said, if it’s raining let’s use that Rainy Day Fund. After all, it was built on the backs of public school kids. As a matter of fact, it’s about time we had a statewide discussion on the full $342.1 million surplus. Let’s talk about whether or not it really exists and, if it does, how much of it should go to replace the devastating cuts to our public schools.

Do what you can to start that discussion. Contact your legislators today. Tell them schools took more than their share of the cuts when things were bad and now that it’s raining cats and dogs on them its time to put some of those course offerings, quality programs, good teachers, and necessary services back in the classroom.

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