This Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers are developing a budget for our state for the next two years.
This is extremely important work, and is likely to be contentious this year.
The Republicans in the Legislature have a majority, and have said they might ignore Gov. Evers’ proposed budget and start from scratch on their own.
Conversely, Evers campaigned and won on several issues that are typically included in the state’s budget but that are at odds with recent actions by Republican legislators.
The portion of the state budget devoted to public education affects every person in our state. Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and their staff have been touring the state, soliciting input to create what they call the “People’s Budget.”
I attended the session in La Crosse, and education was frequently discussed. That was true at sessions across the state.
As a Spanish teacher at Central High School for 21 years, I know that the state has underfunded public schools for more than a generation.
In particular, the state has reneged on its promise to cover 66% of the cost of special education services in our public schools.
This cost continues to grow, as more and more students are identified as needing more support. While private schools can and do exclude many students who need special support, public schools must not and do not shirk our duty to provide the best education we can for all students.
However, the state commitment to special education funding has dropped almost every year, to the point where it stands at about 25% today, far short of the promised 66%.
Evers has called on the Legislature to pass a budget that moves toward fulfilling the state’s obligation to these students and their families. He also campaigned on a promise to significantly increase general school funding, to make up for the stripping of support that our students and families have suffered during the last eight years.
As a veteran public school teacher, I can tell you that the academically strongest students in our schools are doing amazing things — things their parents didn’t get until college.
But the programs that we are able to provide them are under attack due to chronic underfunding. Those middle ground kids, who are doing fine but need some help now and again, are getting a broader, more diverse experience than ever, and they are discovering their talents and passions.
Unfortunately, their programs are being pitted against other programs in a battle for ever-shrinking funding.
Finally, the kids that need more consistent support are getting all the help we can provide, but it simply hasn’t been enough. They have more needs, at a younger age, and they need more support. This means increasing resources, staffing and programming so that they, too, can become healthy, happy, productive participants in our society.
We can keep the world-class education system we have in Wisconsin, but we need to fund it properly.
The state needs to quit picking winners and losers based on Zip code. It needs to quit abandoning our communities, in particular our black and brown communities, and properly fund a world-class education for all students, not just those born into affluence. We need the Legislature to adopt the People’s Budget and restore the funding that our previous governor took away.
Evers has talked about two huge drains on our resources that are not benefitting all Wisconsinites: the unaccountable voucher programs; and the manufacturing and agricultural tax credits.
The state voucher programs will cost our public schools $302 million this school year. In a twist of cruel irony, in November 2018 voters authorized more than $2 billion in local school referenda in our state, and in April 2019, more than 45 referenda passed totaling just under $800 million.
The people of Wisconsin clearly support public schools and are willing to raise their own taxes to do so. It is time that the Legislature listens.
Evers also wants to zero out the manufacturing and agricultural tax credit that did little to save family farms or manufacturing jobs, but that did quite a bit to enrich the already wealthy families that are able to make large campaign donations.
That giveaway will cost the state $334 million in 2019 alone. Those making more than $1 million make up only 0.2% of Wisconsin’s population, but they claimed 76% of the credit.
This strips funds from infrastructure and public education to reward the hyper-wealthy and corporations that are not paying their fair share.
Contact your legislators, hold them accountable to the people of Wisconsin and demand that they support increasing public education funding and pass the People’s Budget.