K-12 Education Cuts Detrimental to Rural Schools
By Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), 81st Assembly District
Since Governor Walker proposed his 2015-2017 biennial budget in February, there has been much backlash against the sweeping $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin system. If the budget passes in its current state, it will prompt layoffs and cuts to programs throughout the UW system, and will negatively affect the prestige of our top-notch state universities. This proposed cut greatly disturbs me, and the outrage that followed Governor Walker’s budget address was well-deserved. However, with all eyes on protecting the future of the UW system, one section of the budget that has flown more under the radar is the Governor’s deep cuts to our public K-12 schools.
As it stands, the budget will effectively cut $127 million in education aid next year alone. This cut is damaging to begin with, but it is especially harmful when placed in the context of the steady decrease in education funding over the past 20 years. Wisconsin schools desperately need more aid, yet Governor Walker has proposed decreasing aid to public schools in each of his three biennial budgets. Rural schools in areas like Columbia and Sauk counties have been, and will continue to be, most affected by these cuts.
Having been an educator in the Baraboo School District for 29 years, I know that what our schools truly need in order to improve is adequate funding. Our local schools are not failing; on the contrary, they are doing an excellent job in the face of rapidly diminishing state aid. Governor Walker has included in this year’s budget some funding for improving technology and bridging high transportation costs in rural school districts. This is a step in the right direction, but it is a small consolation. Over the biennium, districts will still be left with a net loss of about $135 per pupil. These kinds of cuts directly impact the quality of education in the classroom.
In 2013, after Governor Walker proposed a similar decrease in funding for public education, 13 Assembly Republicans from rural districts came together to oppose the cuts. In an open letter to the Joint Finance Committee, responsible for editing the budget, they wrote that rural schools were “right up against the wall” and could not afford to be stretched any thinner. These Republicans spoke out against their own party leaders, largely based in the far more wealthy Milwaukee suburbs, to protect public education in districts that look a lot like mine. It is now two years later, and with this year’s impending cuts, the situation is even more dire.
More than ever, Wisconsin’s public schools need help. Yet even with increased funding for technology and education, our rural schools will once again be worse off than they were a year ago if this budget passes. And as many rural legislators from both sides of the aisle know, our schools cannot afford that.