Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, Middleton, and Sen. Roger Breske, Eland, testified before a packed house, Nov. 15, on Senate Joint Resolution 27.
On Thursday, Nov. 15, comprehensive school-funding reform was before the Senate Education Committee. In 6-1/2 hours of testimony, 50 speakers from across the state urged the committee to back a, resolution — authored by Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, of Middleton, and Sen. Roger Breske, of Eland — to throw out the present funding system and replace it by July 1, 2009.
An additional 62 people registered their support at the meeting for Senate Joint Resolution 27. In their demands for reform, they joined 60 members of the Senate and Assembly who signed on as co-sponsors.
Testimony by Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma, not a member of the Committee, highlighted the troubles the small schools in her district have under the current state financing formula. She said there is “a fundamental disconnect” between what drives spending and what drives revenue.
Vinehout framed the resolution as a “get‘er done” order for the State Legislature, not a specific plan. The Senator called it a needed first step.
Rep. Pope-Roberts said that “we have the opportunity to get it right, something we failed to do in 1993” when the Legislature approved the present formula that places limits on how much revenue school districts can raise. Several testifiers reiterated the point that the revenue limits have failed to keep pace with districts’ rising expenses.
Testifiers at last Thursday’s hearing came from urban, suburban, and rural districts. Speakers cited shortages of books and desks; crumbling buildings; and too few courses, librarians and counselors, sports, and after-school programs. Many said these problems have been compounded by increasing class sizes. Those districts hardest hit are the ones with declining enrollments, six out of every 10 school districts in the state.
“Instead of prescribing how the school-finance system should be changed, the resolution calls for a finance system that meets four criteria. It must be based on:
Ruth Page Jones, president of a parent group called Project ABC-Waukesha, said “it’s time to trash this going-out-of-business plan.” Jones said the present system pits neighbor against neighbor as communities are forced to go to referendum in order to stop program losses.
Talking to that point, Tony Evers, deputy superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said half of all referendums have failed in recent years. He said, basically, that geographic location is now the prime indicator of how good an education a child will receive.
Page Jones observed that “districts have already fired administrators, delayed maintenance, slowed text-book adoption . . . and now in the last few years all that is left to cut are teachers.”
Upcoming, the Senate Education Committee will determine whether to forward the resolution to the full Senate. No hearings have been scheduled in the Assembly. You can weigh in on both accounts. Click on the following links to:
»Read the media coverage of the hearing:
Links to additional coverage:
From a local blogger and sometime AMPS contributer: Democracy in Action.
From Jennifer Morales of the MPS Board: Democracy is Sexy.
And of course all the related posts on AMPS (including videos!)
Thomas J. Mertz