Common sense would tell you that when crucial educational programs are cut, people are going to make a lot of noise. But under the noise, Gov. Scott Walker was able to swiftly yet quietly eliminate a program that this state’s students are in dire need of — the Wisconsin Covenant Scholars program.
The covenant program was introduced by Gov. Jim Doyle in January 2006 as a way to get Wisconsin children motivated to do well academically and reward them with much-needed financial aid once they reached college. If the student met the program’s requirements, which included earning a high school diploma while attaining at least a B average and contributing at least 30 hours to community service, the student was to be ensured a spot in either a University of Wisconsin system school or a technical college.
Passed by the Legislature in 2007, a $25 million annual permanent appropriation was given to support students in need. In 2011, as soon as the first grants began for the first eighth-graders who signed, the program, including $38 million in state tuition financial assistance, was cut from the biennial budget under order from Walker.
Walker in 2010, then campaigning for governor, criticized Doyle for making a promise that he wouldn’t be able to keep. In reality, Doyle and his program kept its promise while Walker is the one who decided to bail on Wisconsin’s students.
A small glimmer of hope for the future of the program is that all students who signed prior to Sept. 30, 2011, will be ensured their grants — up to $1,500 annually — through four years after high school, only because Walker has a financial obligation to do so. Doyle’s promise will be kept to some, and too few, because of Walker.
Aside from the financial successes of the program, the spark of inspiration and discussion it creates amongst young people and their families goes completely unnoticed. The motivation and desire to do well in school is something that is needed for every student, as education is key to a good middle-class future. The idea that your own government is behind you and will personally support you is a quality that is immeasurable.
For me personally, knowing the government would be more than willing to help me become a productive member of society was a boost of confidence. It gave myself and others a more clear path to the future — one that let me know that whatever I chose to pursue would be something that’s worthwhile and that somebody from the outside cares enough to lend me and others a much needed hand.
Toshia Spindler, a student attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, told Urban Milwaukee in a story earlier this year that she was “extremely disappointed” that the program was being cut. Just as valuable as the financial aid, she describes helping the community to meet the service requirement as a part of “learning what’s truly important in life.”
It seems astonishing that the sentiment of those with the majority control of this Legislature think that your child should fend for themselves simply because their education, this state’s catalyst for the future, isn’t worth the smallest of concerns for a budget. In fact, they want to take away as much of it as they possibly can — even a crucial program that’s cost in comparison to the budget represents a needle in a haystack.
Education is the basic foundation and engine to economic prosperity. It all starts with a spark of inspiration and hope from something such as the covenant program that also gives crucial financial support. It represents two absolute needs for a student’s education, one measurable and one not — money and a drive to succeed. And all the conservative wing of this state has done is kill it.