Since the first video I posted was from a rural district, I thought it would be appropriate to make the second post from Milwaukee (video from Wisconsin Eye — the full November 15 hearing can be accessed here — , excerpts posted via YouTube, playlist of all hearing videos posted thus far, here).
Laura L. Vernon (click here for the video) from the Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association seemed like a good choice (it was hard to choose, check back to hear other important voices from Milwaukee and around the state).
Defenders of our current system will say that it works for most districts or children (only those who have a weak grasp on reality would say it works for all districts and children). I don’t agree with that statement, but even if it is true our children deserve a system that works for all.
At one point Senator Grothman speculated that the gap between high spending district and low spending districts has been shrinking (Senator Grothman did a lot of speculating and quoting questionable “facts”, apparently he’s too busy to railing against taxes to look at any actual research). There are many possible ways to assess this (data can be found here), based on a quick calculation it looks to me that since 2000 the standard deviation in per member spending has remained about 15% of the average, but shrunk slightly.
All of this is interesting in an analytical way, but as the MMSD Equity Task Force (and many others) have concluded, equity does not mean equal. The diverse and very real needs of districts and children require different resources based on these needs that dollar for dollar comparisons do not capture.
We hear about the uniformity in taxation clause of the Wisconsin Constitution as an impediment to school finance reform (although the current system is far from uniform and falls under one of the exemptions in Art. XIII, sec. 1), but we don’t hear so much about the uniformity of education clause in Art. X, sec. 3. Seven years ago in Vincent v. Voight the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the current system (barely) met this requirement, yet it is increasingly clear that when diverse circumstances are considered, each year the differences in educational opportunities based on residence continue to grow.
My point is two-fold; the current system exacerbates the inequalities that public education is supposed to overcome and that a system that fails to provide the necessary resources to any district or child is unacceptable.
Be it urban Milwaukee or rural Phillips, our current school finance system is failing many. It is past time to fix it!
Thomas J. Mertz