Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another school year, and Wisconsin's rural schools continue to bleed

State Senator Janet Bewley sent a note off to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau earlier this month, asking a simple compare-and-contrast question. "What did every school district in Wisconsin receive in general state aids in 2010-11 (the year before Scott Walker's Act 10 and first budget took effect), and how much did those districts get in aid in 2015-16. Well, the LFB came back, and not only were the overall amount of general school aids is down nearly $197.5 million you can click on your own district and look for the results in your own neck of the woods, but worse is that nearly 3/4 of the state's districts receive less money from the state, before inflation.

And remember, much of these cuts from 2010-11 have been at or near this reduced amount for five straight years, so multiply by 5 to get an idea of the total amount of money that has been taken away from these districts in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. With the one-shot “tools” of Act 10 now being long gone, the Walker Administration or WisGOP have not done enough to fill in the gaps that now exist.

Note that outside of New Berlin (you know, the place where Icki McKenna encouraged citizens to taunt teachers with pacifiers to tell them to “quit whining”?) the biggest percentage cuts are overwhelmingly in rural Wisconsin.

Cuts in state aid 2010-11 vs 2015-16
Northwood -61.7%
Spooner -61.1%
New Berlin -56.9%
Northland Pines -56.8%
Williams Bay -55.9%
Herman -55.8%
Wabeno Area -55.1%
Phelps -54.3%
Alma -53.6%
Erin -53.5%

And then there are a ton of small districts that have lost 53.2% of their aid after that. Now, some of that may be made up by the relatively new sparsity aid program (the LFB memo is unclear on whether that is counted), but it sure doesn’t seem to be coming close to solving the funding concerns. Bewley (who represents a northwest Wisconsin district largely made up by the counties bordering Lake Superior) notes that while public school districts are losing talent because of low pay and appreciation, the failed policies of Walker/WisGOP tax cuts and giveaways to their campaign contributors in the voucher school lobby have continued.
“My Republican colleagues’ budget priorities are out of whack. They gave $209 million a year to a wealthy few, claiming it would spur the economy. The truth is that we created fewer jobs in the 3 years after we enacted that tax giveaway than we did in the three years before. Unaccountable voucher school operators were rewarded with over $200 million more, right out of taxpayer pockets,” said Bewley. “At the same time, our classrooms have been cut by $197 million.”

Bewley pointed out that data from the Department of Public Instruction shows that Wisconsin has lost 2,867 public school teachers and seen a 12.7% decrease in local experience in our student’s classrooms over the same period. “The 25th Senate District alone, with 36 of 40 school districts getting less general aid back under the Walker Administration, has lost 193 teachers,” Bewley said. “It’s time to stop favoring millionaires and voucher operators. Time we starting taking care of our public school students and looking out for middle class property tax payers.”
Walker policies have made it difficult for districts to come up with adequate funding to pay and support their teachers, and Bewley’s statements back up what a teacher friend of mine that works in a small, central Wisconsin district said on Facebook recently.
Act 10, in my understanding, was the means for local districts to have more control over their staff and costs. It was endorsed as a means to get rid of those "bad" teachers since they would no longer have the union to protect them.

Funny enough, in my district, I can't say that I've seen many if ANY bad teachers leave or get fired. I've only seen a surge of great teachers retire, leave for other states or other cities because we are a POOR district and don't have the means to offer higher pay or benefits.

Our schools are a revolving door of new teachers. The climate at school [is] abysmal. There is a plethora of new faces that I have no idea who they are, what they teach or the building they service. And they keep changing every year. They have no loyalty or ties to the district/town. They don't buy homes because they aren't planning on staying. They stay for 2-3 years and then move on....

Perhaps in better cities (i.e.: richer communities) like De Forest, Waunakee, or others have better results due to Act 10 but I can't say I'm reaping the benefits. My insurance out-of-pocket has gone up and I've lost long term and short term care. Thus, my pay is decreasing although my years of experience is increasing. The percentage cost of living increase we receive yearly falls far below the actual cost of living.
And despite what AM hate radio (paid for by the privatization folks at Koch and Bradley) may say, teacher pay continues to lag, especially in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Budget Project jumped off from a report from the Economic Policy Institute titled “The Teacher Pay Gap is Wider than Ever”, and said that Wisconsin teachers make approximately $11,900 less a year from other college-educated professions.
Nationally, public school teachers earned 17.0% less per week worked than other workers in 2015, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute. That wage gap has tripled since 1979, when the wage gap was 5.6% between teachers and other workers. The analysis controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender.

In Wisconsin, the wage gap means that public school teachers earn $229 per week less than other workers with the same level of education. Teachers earn less than other college graduates in every state in the U.S….

When benefits are included, teachers still earn less than other workers: 11.1% less per week worked.

When teachers earn less than workers in other fields, it becomes harder for schools to attract and retain high-quality teachers. Some Wisconsin school districts have reported struggling to hire teachers, and as the wage gap grows, schools will face an even more difficult time attracting candidates to fill vacant positions. If we want to make sure that schools are able to hire well-qualified teachers to teach Wisconsin students, we need to make sure we can offer potential teachers a job with competitive salaries and benefits and a good working environment.
And that’s especially true in small-town Wisconsin, where there are notably fewer people with 4-year college degrees than the 27% of Wisconsinites that have one statewide. Sure, the reality that teachers are better-educated and likely better paid than most local (non-college educated) workers, and that may cause jealous anger that Trump/Walker types have exploited to their advantage (UW’s Katherine Cramer has hit on this with her book “The Politics of Resentment”).

But reality and numbers show that the Walker Way has failed rural Wisconsin, and if these individuals want to take out some resentment, it should be on the GOP poliiticians who have funneled sizable amounts of needed funds away from their schools, and into the hands of their cronies. So deal with where we are today, small-town Wisconsin. Understand that if your local schools fall apart and/or have to consolidate, one of the largest unifiers and areas of pride in that community go away. And then small-town Wisconsin becomes ghost-town Wisconsin. If you want to avoid that reality, you’re going to have to compensate teachers enough so that they will want to work in your community, and the way that’ll happen is by the state of Wisconsin (and especially corporate Wisconsin) contributing enough tax money to adequately fund a quality public education that benefits all of us in the state.

There’s only one way the aid cuts will stop, and the property tax increases resulting from the aid cuts will stop, and rural schools will be maintained and able to attract decent talent. That’s by removing the ALEC crew at the Capitol that doesn't care if they public education in Wisconsin and the state’s economic competitiveness, because they value a few more campaign contributions over improving things for the taxpayers that pay their salary. There is no other option, and the time for excusing this disgusting, destructive educational policy in Fitzwalkerstan is far past.


  1. They won't change until they're voted out. Letter writing, phone calls, going to "listening sessions"...the current ALEC crew in Madison doesn't care about any of that.

    They won't admit it either, but I have heard from a reliable person that they've started discussing possibly closing 1-2 UW campuses. They're also totally fine with more and more school districts consolidating. As that happens, you're going to see small town Wisconsin look more and more bleak, as supporting businesses are forced to close and people move away for better opportunities.

    Teachers being part of their communities? Forget that. You treat people like mere hired guns, and that's what you are going to get.

    1. Funny how that "hired gun" mentality comes in when you treat people like garbage. But then again, perhaps that's the intelligence of the ALEC plan's design.

      And you're right, small town Wisconsin looks very much endangered these days. A majority of the state's counties are already losing population as it is- and they're almost all rural.

  2. Quick follow-up. Just saw today that so many smaller schools qualified for sparsity aid this year, that the per-student amount got cut by nearly 3% (about $9), in order to stay within budget limits.

    The fact that sparsity aid is limited and cut per student, while voucher aid is "sum-sufficient", and shells out more money if there are more students, is quite....ironic.