Rep. Debra Kolste: Budget proposal would severely damage public schools

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Rep. Debra Kolste
Friday, June 5, 2015

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has written a proposal that would cause massive damage to public schools; even more than the original plan proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Public education built this state. Access to public education has provided people from every economic stratum with a shot at the American Dream. Most Wisconsin residents love their local schools and want to preserve them.

Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance removed the caps from the voucher program at the expense of public schools and created a new, expensive entitlement.

Up to $800 million and maybe more will be shifted to private schools in the next decade.

Voucher schools don’t produce better results. They take public money but don’t answer to the public.

The Republican plan diverts even more money for special-education vouchers. Private schools would take money for special-needs students but won’t have to provide programming or specialized teachers. The finance committee approved this proposal against the wishes of advocates for special-needs students.

Standards for public school teachers will decline. Bachelor’s degrees won’t be required for some, and others won’t need high school diplomas. Specific teacher training will not be required.

Knowledge of a subject does not necessarily qualify one to teach. Public school teachers learn classroom skills: organization, lesson planning, and how to engage students of varying ability, preparedness and motivation.

The plan also degrades academic standards. It awards graduation credit through demonstrating competency or “creating a learning portfolio.” Half of the credits for graduation could be earned this way. The competencies would be listed on the student’s transcript.

The effect will be to diminish the value of diplomas from Wisconsin high schools.

The plan opens athletic programs at public schools to home-schoolers or private school students. Home-schoolers can join the Janesville Craig football team under this scheme. Never mind academic standards at Craig or adherence to the athletic code. Only students who actually attend Craig will be subject to Craig’s standards and oversight.

The only valid purposes of school sports are to build character and bring school communities together. A teammate won’t necessarily be a classmate anymore.

The wholesale investment in private schools continues the establishment of parallel publicly funded educational systems. Separate but equal is never equal. Building a publicly funded private school system is wasteful and unnecessary.

Republicans have apparently designated public schools for nearly complete destruction. The sad remnant schools will accommodate students that private schools reject and will house expensive programs that private schools won’t have to provide.

The only conceivable motive for vandalizing public education is to create profits for private interests. The quality of education statewide will decline. The prospects for graduates of our high schools will decline. The economic outlook for our state will continue to decline.

Public schools have created a sense of community in cities and villages everywhere in Wisconsin. We are on the cusp of losing the value of those unifying institutions, along with the great opportunity that fine public schools provide for everyone.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District. Contact her at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-947-0044; email Rep.Kolste@legis.Wisconsin.gov.


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