The door to a small closet near our kitchen does more than hide shelves full of cookbooks and cooking devices; it serves as a measure of progress in the growth of our four grandchildren. Small scraps of masking tape on the doorjamb mark their heights with the dates of visits to our home: Ben, 32 1/2 inches at age 20 months, for example.
The marks have mounted to chest height and I paused to review them recently while fetching the coffee grinder. How different it is to see this measure of physical progress in their development compared with an assessment of their progress in becoming the educated, well-socialized human beings they must be to have a full life.
For that assessment and reassurance, we rely on our visits with them and with the careful attention we know their parents are paying to them. And there is this: our abiding hopes that public education will perform its key role ... and do it well.
With that in mind, I believe as I write this on Monday that I will be unhappy with what is likely to be the proposal we were told to expect in the State of the State speech by Gov. Scott Walker Tuesday. That is to use the state’s budget surplus for tax cuts, thus passing up an opportunity to recoup some of the cuts to public education that have put at risk the educational opportunities for our grandchildren and the rest of the children in the state.
It is an article of faith for most of us, liberal and conservative alike, that excellent education is the key to our future as a nation as well as to the full development of potential for our children.
Yet we in Wisconsin have cut our investment in K-12 schools by 15.3 percent since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — a ranking that puts us in seventh place behind only such conservative strongholds as Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Idaho and South Carolina.
According to the center report, “When cuts in state aid for education are measured in dollar amounts rather than percentage terms, Wisconsin’s cuts to education since the recession rank second in the nation, trailing only Alabama’s cuts. In 2014, Wisconsin will spend $1,038 less per student in state aid for K-12 education than it did in 2008, after adjusting for inflation.”
The Wisconsin Education Association Council noted recently that Minnesota had used some of its $1 billion budget surplus to support public education.
Minnesota and Iowa both maintained or increased investment in K-12 education between 2008 and 2014. Minnesota held state spending on education constant over this period. Iowa invests $550 more per student in state aid for education now than it did in 2008.
Betsy Kippers, WEAC president, said Wisconsin communities “are seeing firsthand the devastating impact of state budget decisions that have prioritized expansion of the unaccountable taxpayer-funded private school voucher program over our neighborhood public schools that serve all. Larger class sizes and cuts to education programs are the end result.
I’m grateful for my own public education — both K-12 and public universities in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Our children are products of Wisconsin public schools and universities. Both of them good citizens, active in their communities, they would probably say the same. I hope their children and their children’s children can say the same.
By exchanging investment in our children’s future for short-term political advantage, the governor’s tax cut proposal doesn’t measure up.