May 23, 2007

Education: An Investment in Our Community's Future

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Education is an investment in our community’s future, and Democrats voted last Tuesday to make a historic investment in education, particularly in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). As members of the Joint Finance Committee, we worked tirelessly to deliver real investments in education funding, school safety, math achievement, small class sizes and property tax relief.

Fully Funding Our Schools

I voted to support Gov. Doyle’s plan to fully fund our schools, investing over $75 million dollars in MPS. This historic investment means books for our children and teachers in our classrooms. Additionally, we approved increased funding for special education, bilingual education, school breakfast and student transportation costs.

Keeping Our Schools Safe

Working with educational leaders and local law enforcement, Democrats proposed an enhanced version of Gov. Doyle’s school safety proposal. Our plan would provide $100 per student statewide for violence prevention and school safety activities (about $9 million for MPS). Sadly, my Republican colleagues did not believe this is necessary, but we will include the safety proposal in the Senate version of the budget.

Milwaukee Math Initiative

We approved $15 million to expand the MPS math initiative. This successful program will help improve MPS math scores, giving our kids the tools they need to succeed. 

MPS has a 39 percent math achievement gap between black and white students, and MPS was the only school district identified as “in need of improvement” under the federal No Child Left Behind, with over 56 schools missing their “annual yearly progress” goals. We cannot continue to fail our children, and this math initiative demonstrates real, measurable results.

SAGE – Smaller Classes Mean Better Learning

We invested over $7 million in new SAGE funding for MPS. Sadly, however, this still falls $6 million short of the SAGE funding increase Republicans agreed to last year as part of the voucher school expansion compromise.

Turning their backs on that agreement, all eight Republican members of the committee voted AGAINST the agreed-upon funding for SAGE.  In order to protect Milwaukee taxpayers, I offered a motion to eliminate the voucher expansion, grandfathering all current students into the program.  While the motion did not pass, I believe a message needed to be sent:  A deal is a deal.

Milwaukee Property Tax Relief

Every Milwaukee taxpayer knows that voucher students cost more on local property tax than MPS students. This issue has become know as the “voucher funding flaw.” As part of last year’s agreement on the voucher expansion, Gov. Doyle’s budget provides $21 million in property tax relief to hold Milwaukee harmless. Under the proposal, the state pays 100 percent of the voucher expansion cost.

However, Republicans refused to accept Gov. Doyle’s proposal. In an effort to find a compromise, we proposed providing a statewide special aid for high poverty schools, providing over $17 million in property tax relief to Milwaukee and another $4 million across Wisconsin.

Republicans voted against property tax relief for high poverty districts, so Gov. Doyle’s proposal was adopted. Some community members have accused us of failing our city and MPS because we did not fix the funding flaw their way. However, we delivered over $127 million in new funding for our children’s education. We call that taking care of business.