School Administrator’s Alliance May 20, 2015 Statement
Joint Finance Committee Votes to Underfund Public Schools
Committee action puts Wisconsin on a clear path to fall below the national average in per-pupil spending for the first time ever
MADISON — In the middle of the night, long after most parents went to bed, GOP members of the Joint Finance Committee passed, on a 12-4 party line vote, an education spending motion that undermines our tradition of strong public education and puts Wisconsin on a clear path to fall below the national average in per-pupil spending for the first time ever. The 30-page motion, which includes 51 separate school-related provisions, was put together behind closed doors with no public scrutiny, and Republican committee members presented it just one hour before the committee took it up.
Even after its passing, many items included in the motion are not well understood. Despite this, it is clear that the motion puts ideology ahead of evidence by siphoning millions of dollars away from public school students to spend on private voucher schools, which research suggests do not improve student achievement and lack meaningful accountability to the public. Although vouchers produce large political contributions from out-of-state interest groups, they do not produce better educational opportunities for children. We cannot afford to make political hay with educational policies that are both ineffective and expensive.
“This must have felt like Christmas morning for Wisconsin advocates for taxpayer-funded private school vouchers,” said John Forester, director of government relations for the School Administrators Alliance (SAA). “They got to unwrap a wide-open statewide voucher expansion and a brand new special needs voucher program. Clearly, this is the best education budget that millions of dollars in largely out-of-state political contributions can buy. And it didn’t seem to bother majority Republicans one bit that this voucher expansion will drive up local property taxes.”
The committee voted to restore Governor Walker’s proposed $150 per-pupil cut in the first year of the biennium, resulting in a first-year revenue freeze for public schools. The committee then added a very modest $100 in per-pupil revenues for the second year of the budget. At the same time, the committee’s vote to dramatically expand taxpayer-subsidized school vouchers and deduct aid from public schools to pay for it, will leave public schools with a first year cut and significantly reduce the effect of the second-year increase. Wisconsin school districts needed an inflationary increase in revenues to meet the needs of students. What they got will diminish educational opportunities for the students they serve.
“The actions by some members of the Joint Finance Committee in advancing budget provisions that dramatically undermine the future educational opportunities of Wisconsin school children are unconscionable,” said Forester. “The success of our state over the generations has been linked to the
quality of our public education system. Last week, we learned that our state was expected, for the first time, to fall below the national average in terms of per-pupil spending. The action late last night from members of the Joint Finance Committee exacerbates that trend. It’s an embarrassment for the state of Wisconsin and a monumental disservice to our public school students and parents.”
The Joint Finance Committee vote comes after months of advocacy from parents across the state in support of their public schools, efforts these groups have said will continue.
“The success we have in public education in this state is a reflection of the generations of work by Democrats and Republicans in support of our public schools,” said Forester. “Wisconsin parents are joining educators and community leaders in saying loud and clear: ‘We will not stand by while elected leaders dismantle public education in our state.’”
It is unfortunate that the education policies in this budget plan are clearly based on ideology and political expediency rather than evidence. If our objective is to improve student achievement for all Wisconsin children and close achievement gaps, research indicates that we should address the impact of poverty on student learning, invest in early learning opportunities for impoverished children and focus on the recruitment, retention and preparation of high-quality teachers and school leaders.
Unfortunately, the majority’s policy prescriptions — continued under-funding of public schools, dramatic expansion in school privatization, dismantling Wisconsin’s nationally recognized school accountability system, weakening standards for teacher preparation and adding a high-stakes civics test — simply will not move the needle for kids.
“In the days and weeks to come, we will work with pro-education legislators of both parties, parents and community leaders in the fight to restore Wisconsin’s tradition of sound investment in and support for its public schools and public school students,” said Forester. “Budgets are about choices. They are about priorities. It’s clear that the 860,000 public school students in Wisconsin are not a priority in this budget.”