Organizing for Adequacy

Tom Beebe writes:

Wisconsin�s public school system is arguably the most important component
of our high quality of life. It has historically been part of the �village�
that raises intelligent, motivated, and successful participants in both
public and economic life.
The quality we have known for decades, however, is under siege. Unless we
act soon to change the way we fund public education, more schools will
close, school districts will begin to disappear, communities will wither,
and our children will lose sight of the future we promised them.

How do you know if your kids and their schools are under attack and at the
mercy of a funding system that no longer works? First of all, answer these
seven questions:
1. Is there more crabgrass on the playground than last year or is that leak
in the roof getting larger?
2. Do you have enough librarians, nurses, and school psychologists to meet
the needs of all of the children in your district?
3. Are you paying more in fees or, perhaps, paying fees where you never
paid them before?
4. Does your child still have access to music, art, and physical education?
5. Have teachers in your district been laid off, or have retiring teachers
not been replaced?
6. Can your children take the classes that will get them into the college
of their choice?
7. Is your school district facing consolidation, not because it is
educationally sound but because it will have to shut the doors if it does
not consolidate?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, chances are pretty
good you live in a school district that is suffering thanks to Wisconsin�s
school-funding system. In most cases, children are at risk and, in many
cases, communities face uncertain futures at best.
You are not alone. Virtually every district in the state is suffering,
through no fault of its own, because the system is too complex, unequal,
and inadequate to give all children, no matter where they live or what
their special condition, an opportunity to meet Wisconsin�s rigorous
academic standards.
It is worth repeating: Yes, bad things are happening to you, but the
problem is not in your school district. Classes are not too large because
of your administrators. Teachers� salaries are not capped because of your
school board. And your students� textbooks do not still refer to the Soviet
Union because of bad parents.
The problem is the statewide system used to fund public education. It is a
system that pays no attention to the real needs of young people, has no
relationship to the goals and standards of our communities, and uses a 19th
century measure of wealth to deliver state aid.
And because the problem is statewide, the only way to solve it is at the
state level: Throw out the entire school funding system and replace it with
one that links resources to the needs of children and the standards of our
towns, cities, and villages.
That system exists and it is called �adequacy.� It is a nationwide
school-finance reform movement that is growing at the grassroots level in
this state through the work of the
Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools
(WAES), a diverse, broad-based coalition of more than 60 teachers� unions,
school boards, parent groups, and faith-based and civic organizations.
Under the adequacy model, funding levels are based on the actual amount
required for the infrastructure and resources schools need to educate
children to reach state and federal educational goals. It means determining
the actual cost of providing a sound, basic education, including staff,
materials, and facilities, and creating a structure to deliver it.
Partners in WAES worked together to put this theory into practice in the
Wisconsin Adequacy Plan embodying these six principles:
1. Property tax relief for virtually every district in the state;
2. Long-term growth toward full adequacy goals;
3. A foundation level of general funding for every student in the state;
4. An increase in all categorical aid?special education, English Language
Learners, transportation, and poverty;
5. A revenue adjustment to offset the economic and educational
dis-economies of scale in small, rural school districts; and
6. Maintenance of local control with the option for school districts to
spend above adequacy levels with a school board supermajority vote.
If you appreciate this kind of common sense approach to funding our public
schools, you need to work for school-finance reform. And you need to do
that work with other people who appreciate quality public schools that
offer a future full of opportunities to all our children, not just the few
whose families can afford it. You need to become a partner in the Wisconsin
Alliance for Excellent Schools.
(Editor�s note: You can join the alliance through the WAES website or by
contacting Beebe at (414)384-9094 or
May 25, 2004
Tom Beebe is education outreach specialist with the Institute for
Wisconsin’s Future in Milwaukee