Full Funding Of Schools An Empty Promise

Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: A6
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
We all say we want great public schools.
Yet we continue to fight amongst ourselves for an ever diminishing pot of money for our public schools.
We blame board members, parents, students, teachers, retired individuals, businesses, administrators, homeowners, renters and everyone — except those who have put us in this position.
About 13 years ago, our state senators and representatives made a promise to Wisconsin citizens. A law controlling school revenue was passed. It allowed school districts to increase revenue by a small percentage — less than inflation and certainly less than heating, gas and health care costs have increased.
The only way around this mandate was to have school districts ask and beg for money year after year in the form of referendums, which pit children against taxpayers.
School districts, large and small, took up this mandate and spent the first few years cutting the services that did the least harm to students. Those years are long gone.
Very quickly schools were forced and continue to cut and cut. Schools are now cutting the programs that make Wisconsin schools great — gifted classes, remedial classes and smaller class sizes.
Revenue controls were supposed to be temporary while our state leaders worked on an equitable way to fund schools. No one can argue the fact that if you give schools less money than inflation, you are expecting schools to get rid of programs. What has been going on for the last 13 years?
I have been keeping my promises. Have they? Bills have been introduced to remedy this travesty, but nothing has changed. Schools keep cutting. Our children receive a smaller piece of the pie while living in one of the richest countries in the world.
Thirteen years is a long time to put off work that was promised. The children graduating from high school this year started as kindergarteners 13 years ago. We have our third governor, a new president, men and women have gone to war, died, and come home. What has been done?
I have seen a lot in the news about trying to change the hunting age for children, or how to help families pay for college, but nothing to remedy public schools.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the hunting age, properly funding our schools should be at the top of our priority list.
We all realize that our public schools are the founding blocks of our democracy. All of us benefit, whether we attended public schools, or our doctor did, or the person helping us at the store. A democracy needs superior public education. Just look at democratic countries without this.
Could it be that the promise our state leaders made was never intended to be kept? Maybe we don’t want “all” children to have good schools. Maybe we’re worried our good schools will help minority and low-income children achieve. Maybe we want rural or inner city or suburban or all public schools to close.
My taxes have been paying the salaries of our state leaders. We have waited too long for an equitable plan to fund school. I wait with voter pen in hand.
\ Lamont is the mother of a Madison middle school student.