Friday, August 29, 2014

As the bell rings, why are there all these kids in the classroom?

Tuesday starts a new school year in Wisconsin, and the fallout from Act 10 and related Walker/WisGOP policies still reverberates today. The always-good State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout has an excellent column discussing the numerous funding and staffing issues that schools throughout her Western Wisconsin district are facing this year.
Many public schools are forced to do more with less because lawmakers who voted for the last state budget increased state tax dollars to private schools. Nearly half of Wisconsin’s public schools will receive less aid this school year than the last – including many of our local schools.

Eau Claire received the largest dollar amount cut statewide – over $2.3 million while Pepin and Alma received the largest local percentage cuts - over 15%. At the same time, state aid per pupil going to private ‘voucher’ schools reached its highest point in state history.

In his letter, [Pepin Area School] Superintendent [Bruce] Quinton noted the difference between amounts of state aid for Pepin to that of private schools: for the 2014-15 school year Pepin receives $1,667 per student; public tax dollars to private ‘voucher’ schools are $7,856 per high school student and $7,210 per K-8 student.

“Pepin Area School District taxpayers will pay an additional $70,119 in taxes to educate children in other districts this school year,” Mr. Quinton wrote. “I cannot comprehend why taxpayers are willing to subsidize a private voucher school education system, especially when research indicates that private voucher schools perform at best as well as the public school system and in many cases below their public school peers.”
Vinehout also mentions that several districts in Western Wisconsin are facing school referenda that force citizens to choose between large property tax increases and the closing of schools and reduction in other education services.

The culprit in this is Scott Walker's education policies, which began by cutting state aids to public schools in 2011 and 2012, and continued by expanding the state's voucher program statewide. And the "tools" of Act 10 have not come close to offsetting these cuts, particularly in the smaller districts in rural Wisconsin.

Take a look at this map that shows the changes in state funding for 2014-15. Nearly half the districts in Wisconsin will have reductions in state aid for this year- more than 3 years after Act 10 took place.

Notice all the districts in red that are up North? Those districts are each looking at state aid cuts of more than 10% for this year, and will need to raise property taxes to make up for that difference. The beige-colored districts are also disproportionately away from the big cities, meaning that rural districts are facing the lion's share of funding difficulties for the upcoming year. Sure makes you wonder if that reality will sink into those areas before the November election, and if they'll realize that there's no payoff to denigrating teachers and destroying one of the few reasons to stay in these communities- strong public schools that develop strong communities.

And this is coming on the heels of public school services already being stressed. The Wisconsin Budget Project notes average class size increased 8% from 2004-05 to 2011-12, from 14.3 to 15.5, and Wisconsin teaching positions were reduced by 4,300 FTE in the sme time period. In the two years since, the DPI indicates that 500 FTE teachers have been hired back (meaning we're "only" down 3,800), but class sizes have stayed high, and the replacement of teachers has often been at the cost of numerous years of experience.

Some districts continue to bleed teachers as the teachers' current agreements run out, and they lose their voice over pay and work conditions. This was recently shown in the case of West Allis-West Milwaukee English teacher Eric Zentner, who was one of 139 teachers in the district to leave this Summer. Zentner quit after 18 years, and wrote a four page letter that described an administration that he felt was too busy trying to micromanage teachers after Act 10 took effect, instead of leaving it up to the judgment of the pros in the classroom.
He said new behavior policies that emphasize keeping kids in the classroom rather than sending them outside class when they disrupt the learning environment is difficult for teachers.

Teachers are also undermined by interesting content children can access on their iPads, and he said, they're limited in their ability to take away the devices.

Teachers are also urged to give students as many tries as necessary to complete assignments, and pass students even if they're not ready, he said.

Zentner said there appear to be more administrators in the building at a time when teachers are asked to attend more meetings, limiting their time for meaningful interactions with students.
As we start the 2014-15 school year, I'd ask you to treat your teacher with respect. They're underappreciated while being worked as hard as ever, likely taking home less pay than they did 4 years ago, and their districts are being squeezed by budget cuts from an ALEC-beholden Republican Party, who would love nothing more than to screw up public schools so they could justify funneling even more taxpayer dollars to corporate and religious private school operators. And despite the claims of Gov Walker and company, these policies will likely jack up your property taxes over the next two years.

So tell me, is it working?


  1. How many times on my blog have I pointed out that Mary Burke was in Rhinelander or the northwoods?

    She's been making a name for herself up there since last fall, and I hear there are a LOT of homemade Burke signs in the Eagle River area.

    Those northwoods voters are still ballot-splitters and don't like what happened with Medicare, school vouchers, or education cuts. It may not be turning out the base, but in a close election like this one is shaping up to be, those voters are going to be huge.

  2. Spot on! Can I re-blog this through The Otherfish Wrap?

    1. My home has a hand painted sign. More heart than money is not a bad thing.

  3. Absolutely! My stuff is always OK to be shared, sliced and diced. Go ahead. Thanks for reading Tony!

  4. "Teachers are also urged to give students as many tries as necessary to complete assignments, and pass students even if they're not ready, he said." My son is a prime example of this comment... He did not pass any classes last year and the school was still going to pass him on to the next grade level. His father and I had to write a letter stating we wanted him to be held back - we were given 24 hours to complete this letter and send it to the school. The principal of the school told us "In my 15 years as a principal in this school district I a have never had to hold a child back and I do not want to tarnish my record before I retire." Needless to say 2 weeks ago my ex-husband received a phone call from the principal to reconsider holding my son back and to let him go on to the next grade - we said absolutely not. What happened to the days when the kids were the most important part of education? My child has a lot of issues but he that doesn't mean that he should move on if he isn't ready. We wanted to hold him back the year before because he wasn't ready and the school wouldn't do it - so last year was horrible for him. I hope he gets it this year. The good news is the principal will retire next summer - oh, darn he has to do it with a tarnished record! My kids are more important than any record!!!! Sorry for the rant - but this just frustrates me....

  5. Christina- Rant away, and thanks for sharing. You're illustrating one of the biggest problems we seem to have with education today- where far too many people care about everything BUT what happens in the classroom, and in making sure kids have the best chances for success.

    It amazes me how so many people say "Schools were better in the good ol' days," and then decide to do the exact opposite of what was done in the good ol' days- like adequate funding of public schools, respect for teachers, and local control.

  6. Nearly 1,300 page views in 2 days! Already 3rd all-time for a post here. Thanks everybody!

    Any idea whose Facebook profile grabbed this article? That seems to be the source for the increased traffic

    1. I'm not sure if I posted a link through FB, but I imported your blog to The Otherfish Wrap blog, then shared that through fb.

  7. I noticed that the Douglas County Dems have this article printed out and on the wall of the campaign office.

  8. Thanks for passing the word along, all! Sadly, this issue didn't get discussed as much as it needs to. Hopefully we start to stop the bleeding tomorrow