Budget Cuts Felt in Our Public Schools
by Sen. Janet Bewley
I recently got an interesting letter in my Madison office. Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota wrote to let us know that, thanks to funding from the State of Minnesota Arts Board, seven schools from our area had been able to take advantage of unique opportunities for their students to learn from the Theatre’s cast members, directors, and designers. And that got me thinking about what’s going on in education in our two states and what that means for our children and for our communities as a whole.
We know there have been severe cuts to public education in Wisconsin. But as our students settle into their first month, what has been the impact of these cuts, and who has benefited at the expense of Northern families?
Updated figures from the state’s Department of Public Instruction show that Wisconsin had fewer teachers in 2016 than 2011. Those teachers are working for 7% less and have an average of nearly 2 full years less experience in their current district. In the 40 school districts that make up the 25th Senate District we’ve lost 75 teachers, nearly 16% of the total number of teachers lost statewide.
Why? New figures from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released this summer show over 75% of Wisconsin school districts are getting less general aid than six years ago. 36 of the 40 school districts in Northwest Wisconsin, 90%, have seen a cut in the general aid they receive from the state.
My Republican colleagues like to take credit for giving local communities the “tools” to cut teacher compensation, as if that makes up for the cuts. Unfortunately, as the numbers indicate, those tools haven’t put more resources into our students’ classrooms. Instead, they’ve taken countless years of talent and experience out of them.
Who has benefited by these cuts? Not local property taxpayers. In the last six years, according to a memo recently hailed by one of my Republican colleagues, state aid has fallen by $90 per student. But property taxes have increased by $91 per student. You are paying more for less experienced teachers.
At the same time, your state tax dollars paying for voucher schools have increased by over $1000 per student. Our tax dollars sent to voucher schools could and should come home to our public schools, and you shouldn’t be double-taxed to make up the difference.
Meanwhile, across the state line they’ve had different priorities. They’ve reinvested in their public schools. Minnesota has 3,000 more teachers in their classrooms than in 2011. Minnesota’s investments are paying off for more than just students, they’ve proven good for everyone. Minnesota has gained jobs at a much faster pace than Wisconsin over the last five years.
It’s time for my Republican colleagues to focus on public schools. It’s time to start making investments in our schools and in the other things that make our communities stronger, like our roads and bridges. Maybe there are some things that we can learn from our neighbors to the west.