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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 18:25

There are welcome signs of the people of Wisconsin rising up to defend their schools against the onslaught of state aid cuts

The handwriting is on the blackboard: The people of Wisconsin value their public schools and expect their state government to support them.

    Gov. Scott Walker apparently missed that memo. He has proposed cutting state funding for public K-12 schools by $127 million in the first year of his biennial budget.

    But the legislators who will decide whether the governor gets his way had better read and comprehend the message, because evidence is growing that taxpayers have had enough of withdrawing funds from their children’s schools, as though they were some sort of ATM for state government, to balance the state budget.

    In school districts around the state, places such as Reedsburg, Lake Mills, Dodgeville, Whitefish Bay and Wauwatosa, citizens are protesting the K-12 cuts with rallies, door-to-door campaigns, yard signs, mass letter-writing, panel discussions and websites.

    One of the most outspoken groups is in Wauwatosa, Gov. Walker’s home school district. The organization has adopted the name Support Our Schools and members wear T-shirts proclaiming “S.O.S.”  They are highly motivated in their mission to persuade legislators to reject aid reductions to public schools because the budget proposed by the governor will cost their district about $900,000, resulting in cutbacks in educational programs.

    These groups are leading the battle, but there is strong support behind them throughout the state. A Marquette University Law School poll found that 78% of Wisconsin residents oppose the K-12 cuts.

    There certainly is good reason to oppose them in Ozaukee County. One way or another, the value of the education provided by public schools here will be damaged if the state aid reduction becomes law. Port Washington-Saukville would lose $395,000 if the cuts were approved. The impact on Grafton would be about $300,000. Every district in the county woud face six-figure losses.

    These cuts follow severe aid reductions in previous state budgets, leaving districts with little or no room to tighten operations without affecting curriculums. What’s more, costs have increased since the last budget. State aid needs to be increased, certainly not decreased. With state levy limits in force, districts do not have the option of meeting the shortfall by raising local taxes.

    Walker administration officials who thought cutting K-12 funding to balance the state budget would be supported by the public appear to have underestimated the intelligence of the people of Wisconsin. Wisconsinites recognize absurd priorities when they see them, and there are plenty to see in the state budget.

    The same budget that reduces aid to public schools, for example, increases taxpayer funding for private schools. Many in the state support the idea of some public funding for charter schools, but to starve public schools to feed private schools is indefensible.

    For strange spending priorities, though, nothing tops the governor’s proposal to spend taxpayer money—something close to the $127 million he would take away from public schools—to help pay for a new professional basketball arena in Milwaukee.

    It wasn’t that long ago that there was a lot of black-slapping and high-fives in Madison over the balancing of the state budget, and then to add to the celebrations, taxes were cut. Now the state has a deficit again. And the remedy offered taxpayers is to go to that reliable ATM and withdraw some cash from public schools.        

    It’s clear the people of Wisconsin don’t want that. They put a high value on their local schools, and are willing to pay for them.

    No more dramatic affirmation of that can be found than the approval in April by voters of the Port Washington-Saukville School District of spending $49.4 million plus millions of dollars in interest for high school and elementary school building improvements. The referendum passed by a narrow margin, but it was nonetheless remarkable that a majority of the voters in effect volunteered for substantial property tax increases in the interest of better schools.

    Let’s get a new piece of chalk and write the message bigger so no legislator can miss it: The people of Wisconsin value their public schools and expect their state government to support them.



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