Janesville58.5°

Let’s get real about school funding

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Mary Bell
February 27, 2008

Throughout my 30 years in public education, most of it as a library media specialist, I have been a huge proponent of technology and innovation in the classroom. WEAC members all over the state use virtual technologies in their lesson plans every day and have for a long time.


WEAC was first in calling upon the Legislature to address virtual charter schools by compromising on a law to allow students enrolled in the schools to continue their education uninterrupted. We called for the law to address fiscal and educational accountability issues associated with virtual schools, something that can only be achieved through a state audit with an enrollment cap. On Feb. 19, the state Senate passed such legislation.


But in the midst of the important debate taking place in the Legislature about virtual charter schools, Wisconsin is also in the midst of a very real public school funding crisis.


Throughout our state, 43 school districts are holding referendum initiatives in April to attempt to override the caps that are driving them toward bankruptcy.


The state’s local school district revenue caps and the federal No Child Left Behind law are squeezing public schools at both ends. In the 15 years since state government began imposing revenue caps on local school budgets, schools have been forced to cut programs across the board.


The latest survey of superintendents conducted by WEAC and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators shows that 75 percent of the state’s school districts increased class sizes in the 2006-2007 school year because of the caps. Sixty-two percent offered fewer courses and 79 percent delayed the purchase of books and other curricular materials. Districts have been forced to reduce programs for students at risk as well as the gifted and talented. Cuts have worsened in each of the 27 program and service areas included in the survey.


In my conversations with parents and community members, I have found that most of us expect a lot from our public schools. As we should. Children reach their potential as students and human beings when they have a well-rounded education that includes a wide variety of courses and programs. In a public opinion survey conducted for WEAC last summer, almost 80 percent of the general public said it is very important or extremely important for schools to “offer a variety of classes and activities including art, music and vocational education.”


If that 80 percent includes you, I encourage you to become involved in your local schools and advocate on behalf of the majority you represent. Too often, the loudest voices in the education debate represent narrow interests that do not place the same value you do on a well-rounded education. A vocal minority drowns out the chorus.


If you want your voice heard, you can start by going to WEAC’s Web site—weac.org—to read about what people in your state believe about public education, and adding your perspective.


Mary Bell is president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union; address 33 Nob Hill Road, P.O. Box 8003, Madison, WI 53708-8003; Web site weac.org; phone 1-800-362-8034.

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