Dear Members of the Joint Committee on Finance and Gov. Doyle,
I used to be an active parent volunteer in the Madison public schools. I helped with reading groups and on field trips when my children were in elementary school, then tutored middle schoolers and tutored and led after-school clubs as my children got older.
Then a couple years ago, I had to stop my in-class volunteering. Why? Like hundred of parents and school staff across the state, all my volunteer hours were eaten up with supporting a series of referenda to keep intact programs that both benefited my children and are needed to support the learning of thousands of Wisconsin’s children. Over the past 8 years, I have seen music and arts programs cut, driver’s education eliminated, family and consumer education and technology education at the middle schools eliminated, class sizes increased and sorely-needed social work, counseling and psychology positions cuts.
Still, the cuts loom large. This year, schools with great reputations and devoted community support may close. Activity fees will continue to increase. Middle school and high school course options are at risk. I paid more last year on start-of-school fees and supplies than I did on Christmas gifts. Yet, the cuts go on, the fees continue to rise.
So, what’s involved in passing a referendum? There are multiple evening meetings to PTA groups and neighborhood associations to educate them on complicated school finance issues. There are letters to write, phone calls to make, meetings to attend, signs to assemble, fundraising to organize, and general public relations discussions to have with neighbors, colleagues, friends and relatives. You lose friends. It’s very political and it’s not very fun. And to top it all off, it pulls hundreds of civic-minded, good-hearted, kid-loving adults away from children, classrooms and teaching and into a role they never asked for and don’t relish: politics and deal-making.
I’ve heard elected officials say that before a school district should come to the legislature for funding, they should really work a little harder locally at passing a referendum. What? I was under the impression that teachers, principals, superintendents and other school leaders were hired to educate children, not launch political campaigns. I want my district’s principals hiring and supervising teams of high-quality teachers and exploring new ways to teach students in meaningful ways, not spend their days on talk radio and their evenings at civic forums.
And I want to go back into classrooms again. I want to talk to kids about their passions and comment on their improvements in writing, not spend Saturdays stapling yard signs together and Sunday afternoons strategizing on campaign slogans or calling long voter lists.
So, I am asking please, that the State Legislature:
— Fund at two-thirds its original commitment to categorical aids, the program that provides special education services to students with disabilities. This would mean a $45 million increase in the first year of new budget and $55 million next year.
— Continue its commitment to SAGE programs that cap class sizes to 15 in schools with high poverty rates.
— Remove the revenue caps that make districts across the state incapable of simultaneously balancing their budgets and retaining existing program levels for students.