Ed Garvey Gets It

Although I can see a continued (albeit smaller) role for property taxes, school funding from other sources is needed and on the big picture, I’m with Ed Garvey (and am wishing he was our Governor instead of Doyle).

Ed Garvey’s words also give me another chance to plug educational historian David Tyack’sA Conservationist Ethic in Education Reform” and remind all that there are many good things about the “Status Quo” and if “innovation” means closing neighborhood schools, increasing class sizes, cutting arts and extra curriculars, then I want no part of it.

Thomas J. Mertz

From today’s Capital Times:

Ed Garvey: Schools’ problem is a horrible system of funding

By Ed Garvey
May 8, 2007

OK, I’m mad as hell and, as the star of “Network” yelled, “I’m not going to take it anymore.”

What has driven me to this state of mind? An editorial in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal was the immediate cause. Stupidity in state government tax policy is the underlying factor, and the fact that our children and grandchildren will struggle in substandard public schools was the impetus I needed. We must get serious about public education.

First, the obvious. This nation has enough money for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, now estimated at $2 trillion.

Here in Wisconsin we have plenty of dough for every new prison project and for longer sentences for crimes. We spend like drunken sailors on shore leave when it comes to highway bypass projects dreamed up by the highway lobby, but we apparently cannot afford excellent public schools.

Nope. Can’t do it. We spend $25,000 to $30,000 per year per inmate in our prisons, but we can’t take care of special needs children.

The State Journal editorial was titled “For schools, status quo is not an option.” While the School Board got an unenthusiastic pat on the back for cuts approved last week, more cuts are needed, according to the newspaper.

Here in a nutshell is the educational philosophy of the State Journal: “Schools must create ways to deliver education more cost-effectively.”

As if education can be packaged, wrapped up and delivered like a Mother’s Day gift. Well, it ain’t that simple.

Education is not a commodity to be “delivered.” It is a process involving the administrators, teachers and students. The students aren’t customers, and they don’t “consume” education over lunch. They need attention — some more than others. They need the best teachers, and we all need an educated citizenry.

The State Journal added to my angst with these words, “The board saved more than $800,000 by increasing class sizes in art, music, physical education and in other classes called special.”

Whoa, Nelly! The editors might as well shout it out — “Who cares about art, music, debate, forensics, drama, dance anyway? Aren’t our kids in school for job training?”

What is the real problem? Not smaller classes, or too much extracurricular activity. It is the nutty funding of education. Our schools have been held hostage to an absurd system of funding our schools through property taxes.

The Madison School Board has just voted to close or consolidate schools (your choice). They cut almost $8 million from the budget needed for programs, but the anti-education Wisconsin State Journal editors want deeper cuts without once suggesting the impact of these cuts on the education of our students. They ignore the impact on our community.

Excellence in our schools? Secondary. Saving money is all that seems to matter.

But I have to ask, saving for what? To fall behind other school districts? To watch math and science scores plummet? To see many of our best teachers leave? To find that professionals will look elsewhere to raise and educate their kids?

I guess I am a suspicious type. I suspect the State Journal will soon begin a crusade to push state politicians to support the Milwaukee voucher program, created by the neocon Bradley Foundation, for Madison. In Milwaukee, vouchers are given so children can go to any school — private, parochial or charter — at taxpayer expense. Why? Because underfunded public schools are failing.

If the public schools in Madison fail because of insufficient funds, the State Journal will argue that it is time to give poor parents “an option” to send their kids to private schools at taxpayer expense. In other words, abandon the bedrock of our democratic system: public education. Needless to say, there will be precious little discussion about the experience of those kids who remain behind in the public schools.

The “option” we really need? Enough money for smaller classes, enough for special needs kids, enough for the gifted.

So, you ask, how can school districts deal with the animosity from property taxpayers when we know the property tax is the worst tax ever devised? The money from property taxes should be linked to property, not to schools.

And that is the point. As corporations pay a smaller percentage of property taxes than homeowners, the burden falls on the middle-income families who are struggling.

So? Move school taxes off the property tax. Period.

Change the debate. Our schools are not “inefficient.” The tax base to support education is nuts. Money for schools must come from sales and income taxes. OK, possibly 25 percent could come from property taxes.

Stop inflicting wounds on our children and focus on a Legislature dominated by contributions designed to keep the givers from paying their fair share. Even they should want an educated work force.

Larger classes. Are you kidding?

Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer, political activist and editor of the fightingbob.com Web site.

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3 Comments

Filed under AMPS, Local News, School Finance

3 responses to “Ed Garvey Gets It

  1. Robert Godfrey

    Amen!

  2. Karen Bassler

    Ed Garvey for MMSD Superintendent!!

  3. I was so irritated with the WSJ’s editorial Sunday, and am glad Ed responded so eloquently that I didn’t feel compelled to have to write something to the staff myself…he said it much better than I could have.

    Do folks on this list have ideas for mobilizing all the people out there, including heavy hitters like Ed, to create a more concerted noise to our Legislature?

    I watched a lot of the public comments at the BOE meeting on TV Monday night and noticed that many spoke of the broken school funding formula, at least in passing. It would be great to harness all that energy, as well as the statewide outrage being generated across districts. Our advocacy efforts through the MMSD group are a great start…other ideas???

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