Providing Wisconsin’s children with the education they need, deserve and are entitled to under the state constitution is essential for healthy communities and economic competitiveness.
Historically, Wisconsin has been a state with excellent public schools. Unfortunately, in recent years, the funding for K-12 education has fallen behind the actual cost of operating effective schools. The structural flaws and gaps under the current system force more school districts every year to eliminate educational programs and services as if they were "going out of business," instead of investing in our children’s’ shared future.
This has to stop.
As a local school advocate in Waukesha and president of Project ABC for the last 10 years, I am deeply concerned with how the current funding formula diminishes the capacity of our public schools to deliver excellent educational outcomes. Now, as president of the statewide advocacy organization, Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), I am joining with other motivated citizens to advocate for a school funding plan that begins with the question: "What do we want our children to know and be able to do and what do our schools need to get them there?"
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools is a coalition of 150 groups from across the state representing parents, educators, school administrators, school board members, religious congregations and advocates for children with special needs. WAES is committed to rebuilding our school finance system so that all children have the opportunity to succeed. On Nov. 15, hundreds of our members attended a legislative hearing in Madison to support a resolution that mandates reform of school funding by 2009.
WAES champions an adequacy approach to reform because we put education and kids first. The resolution (authored by Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts of Middleton and Sen. Roger Breske of Eland) that was the topic of the recent Senate Education Committee hearing asks all members of the Legislature to do the same thing.
As dozens of people from around the state told the Senate Education Committee, inadequate funding for schools has led our districts to:
- Postpone textbook purchases and technology upgrades.
- Delay building maintenance.
- Eliminate extracurricular activities.
- Cut programs for the gifted and talented.
- Cut guidance counselors and psychologists.
- Reduce special education services, elective offerings and arts education.
Is this the future we want?
The Pope-Roberts/Breske resolution offers a road map to better education for our children. Rep. Pope-Roberts, Sen. Breske, their 60 co-sponsors and innumerable supporters ask only that our elected officials commit to making a positive change. That means providing the resources schools need based on the actual costs of effective education while holding the line on local property taxes. Numerous experts from across the United States have defined the resources necessary for schools to meet state and federal performance standards as well as addressing the diverse needs of districts and students.
Funding adequacy is a critical first step toward restoring educational excellence in Wisconsin, moving us all to a more prosperous future.
Ruth Page Jones of Waukesha is president by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.