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Video and story from WSAW (sorry about the advertisement)
There has been a lot of hot air, half truths, spin and misinformation about education funding in the 2009-11 Wisconsin biennial budget, but this story from Wausau takes the prize (for a recent, local entry in this sweepstakes of dishonor, see this column by Madison Rep. Mark Pocan, page 16 of the pdf). Democratic Rep. Thomas Nelson and Republican Rep. Jerry Petrowski claim in this report that their parties are constant champions of education who have placed educational excellence on the Fall legislative agenda.
The editing by the reporter may have skewed things, Nelson and Petrowski may be capable legislators; I really don’t know. What I do know is that what appeared in this story needs some critical attention.
Time for some fact checking.
So far the only Republican initiative of note is a proposal from Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Brett Davis on “merit pay” for teachers. Right now the proposal is nothing but a press release. It is worth noting that previous school reform plans (and here) by Brett Davis never made it past the press release stage.
The announced Democratic Fall agenda is silent on education; Governor Jim Doyle has some ideas, but not much to say about funding these ideas or even the quality of education that Wisconsin has boasted of in the recent past.
Nelson touts tripling sparsity aid to some rural districts. What isn’t mentioned is that the resulting $11.18 million for the biennium is a drop in the bucket and doesn’t come near to addressing the unique diseconomies of scale of Wisconsin’s “small but necessary” districts. Nelson also doesn’t acknowledge that this increase in a categorical aid was accompanied by a much larger decrease in general aids resulting in a substantial net loss for all (or almost all?) districts receiving sparsity payments (to get the picture compare this list of sparsity distribution estimates with this list of general aid estimates for all districts, or just read this wonderful editorial from Frank Murphy in Florence). I’m all for an increase in sparsity aid, but that alone does not make for adequate school funding.
Petrowski is correct when he said “In the last budget that Democrats passed, was a cut for local school districts… and I’m afraid these cuts will affect [property] tax payers.” What he doesn’t say is that the GOP stance throughout the budget process was to claim taxes and spending were too high and that at no point did the Republicans attempt to increase state education funding.
Enough of the back-and-forth, the real howler is in the closing lines of the story:
But at the end of the day no matter what side of the isle [sic] State Representatives are on..
“Democrats and Republicans in good economic times and tough economic times have always made the consistent decision to fully fund our schools,” says Representative Nelson.
Amazing…after 16 years under our current school finance system, after a Governor’s Task Force, a Special Joint Committee, an independent task force, proposals from Republicans , Democrats and advocacy organizations (and here) all agreeing that school finance is broken and needs to be fixed; after a biennial budget that cut state education investments by $535 million, increased the school levy credits — money that never goes near a classroom, but is counted by Wisconsin as “State Aid — by $352,852,200, a 26% increase bringing the total to $1,697,625,200 for the biennium… Nelson asserts a long term bi-partisan consensus for full funding of education. Who is he kidding? Who are they all kidding?
For a refreshing (and depressing) dose of truth see this recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story: “”State aid drops to many school districts” (or just click around in the AMPS archives).
Thomas J. Mertz