Paul Soglin Checks in on School Finance


Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has given sporadic attention to state school finance issues on his blog. More would be better, but today’s is good:

The Tragedy That is California Education and Now Wisconsin

A trip last week to Los Angeles and San Francisco served as a graphic reminder of the rise and fall of public education in the state of California since the adoption of Proposition 13. The enactment of that law after a 1978 referendum created an unfair tax system, taxing property not on its use, its present value, or its potential for development, but the assessment on the day it was purchased.

The result not only creates an imbalance in taxation but it strangles deprives government of needed revenues. The most important example is California public education. In the three decades following World War II, California public schools were the best in the nation. Now they are among the worst.

Within California, test results and rankings of their schools show a clear delineation along economic lines. Schools in wealthy communities score the best. Obviously, schools in low income areas do poorly.

Starved for adequate funding, each school is dependent upon activist parents and community leaders to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year. It is no surprise that the poorest communities fail miserably at this semi-privatization of education.

One impact of Proposition 13 was, in part, to privatize the schools. Public schools cannot survive without private resources. The same thing is occurring in Wisconsin where restraints on school expenditures from public funds results in continued fundraising. Some communities like Madison centralize the fundraising for the entire district so that all schools share equitably in the private monies.

In the meantime, while some taxpayers can point to significant savings, the quality of education suffers at greater expense to all of us, particularly those dependent upon a well educated workforce.

If there are problems with the public education system, then fix it. Ensuring failure was not a wise choice.

One correction, Soglin wrote: “Some communities like Madison centralize the fundraising for the entire district so that all schools share equitably in the private monies.”

Madison does not do this. PTO raised funds are not pooled, individual donations may be targeted to individual schools or purposes, the Foundation for Madison Public Schools’ grants are often for a single school and their endowment program is based on matching grants. There is much, much inequity in MMSD fundraising.

For more on wealthy schools (or schools serving wealthy kids) scoring high, see the US News and World Report “Best High Schools” ranking/.

I hate these rankings. If I have time I’ll do a little thing on the method and methodology of the US News & World Report ranking, but without taking the time to look closely at how the rankings are made they are a complete waste of time. Sometimes even after looking they are a waste of time, more often they are interesting but not useful. At least this one is an improvement on Jay Mathews’ ridiculous “Challenge Index” (scroll to comments).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, AMPS, Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, National News

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