CONTACT: Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director, Wisconsin Public Education Network
[email protected] Cell: (608) 572-1696
Milwaukee, Feb. 2, 2018. As the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding begins the critical work today of finding real solutions to Wisconsin’s school funding issues, public education advocates around the state are eager to support the Commission in developing and implementing a plan that solves funding challenges by focusing on fairness and transparency.
“We hope parents and supporters of public schools statewide will come forward today and at future hearings to share their concerns and stories to help guide and direct this task,” said Heather DuBois Bourenane of Wisconsin Public Education Network. “This is an opportunity to transform a broken and inequitable system and meet our Constitutional obligation to provide what every student deserves: an equally excellent public education at every school in the state.”
Testimony will be heard at the James Madison Academic Campus on Friday, Feb. 2, from 10am to 4pm, and future hearings of the Blue Ribbon Commission will be held around the state. Those who wish to share concerns can also submit testimony in writing to the Commission co-chairs, Rep. Joel Kitchens and Sen. Luther Olsen at [email protected] and [email protected] Wisconsin Public Education Network has also set up a Blue Ribbon Headquarters at http://www.wisconsinnetwork.org/blog/blue-ribbon-commission to share information and updates about the work of the Commission in the coming year.
Supporters of public schools expressed commitment to helping the Commission identify solutions that ensure success for all students. Wisconsin Public Education Network partners represent communities around the state, who have shared in recent years that coming together across their divides is essential to supporting strong public schools. “I’m not speaking up for fair funding because I think my children deserve to attend the ‘best’ school in the state,” said Bryn Horton of Support Sun Prairie Schools. “I care about about fair funding because every child in this state deserves the best.”
Ellen Lindgren of CAPE (Community Advocates for Public Education)-Middleton Cross Plains Area School District agrees. Lindgren wants Blue Ribbon Commission members to know that “The people here testifying for their public schools all want what is best for their students, teachers and communities — strong public schools. What we don’t want is to have you pit us against each other by believing there is only so much you can do for our schools, and that there has to be a choice between all the needs. It’s a matter of priorities. We have an obligation to our students, and we need to meet it.”
“We are hopeful that the Blue Ribbon Commission will work towards a more equitable funding system and a much greater investment in our public schools, our kids, and our future,” added Stacy Racine Lynch, President, Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa. “Since 2011, it’s as if eight million apples were taken away from our kids, and the most recent budget gave about two million back. Wisconsin’s per-pupil spending recently fell below the national average. We need to reverse that trend immediately.”
Advocates remain optimistic and appreciative of the opportunity for a frank discussion of public school funding, and they’re calling on legislators to do more than talk. Jenni Hofschulte of Parents for Public Schools-Milwaukee, says “This is not our first time at the table. Parents and school leaders have shared the same concerns again and again at budget hearings, taskforce meetings, in the offices of our lawmakers. We saw some excellent recommendations come out of recent Speaker’s Task Forces on Urban Education and Rural Schools. But where is the policy to match? Where is the funding to support early childhood education, mental health services, resources to meet the needs of students with disabilities? We know what the problem is, and we know what our schools need. Let’s get serious about identifying a solution and find the dollars to make it happen. This Commission can do that, and we call on them to do it.”
While parents and community members plan to share very specific stories in their testimony to the Commission, one concern stands out across their communities: inequity. “All children have a right to a quality public education, but parents do not feel that their public schools are receiving adequate resources from the state,” said Ingrid Walker-Henry, co-chair of Schools and Communities United in Milwaukee. This concern is tied directly to the strain of private school funding schemes on public school funds. “For over 25 years, Milwaukee has been home to a private voucher school experiment. Parents have grave concerns about the millions of public dollars being siphoned to private, unaccountable school operators who are not performing better than our public schools. We hope that legislators on the committee will hear Milwaukee parents’ calls for adequate and equitable funding and for all publicly funded schools to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our public schools.”
This sentiment was strongly echoed by James Bowman of the Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education, an advocacy team serving six school districts in the Fox Valley. In a statement shared with Wisconsin Public Education Network, Bowman writes:
“The legislature has a constitutional responsibility to fully fund district (public) schools, not private, parochial schools. The 2017-19 Biennial Budget, however, continues and increases the diversion of state funds from public to private schools.
Income eligibility for receiving a voucher is increased from 185% of the poverty level to 220%. A new provision transfers over $3 million to private schools by expanding eligibility for the private special needs voucher program. Since inception, Wisconsin’s voucher programs have cost taxpayers $2.3 billion state-wide and $6 million in the Fox Cities.
If the legislature wants to rewrite the Constitution to read “fully fund all schools, public and private”, then it needs to amend the document. Until that action is taken, the state’s responsibility is to public schools.”
That basic responsibility to the 870,000+ students attending Wisconsin public schools is central to the concerns of parents statewide.
Heather DuBois Bourenane agrees.
“I’ve been all over the state in the past few years, talking to parents and students and teachers, visiting their schools. And without exception, every school in this state is packed with dedicated professionals doing their best to meet the needs of the students they love. Our schools are doing an amazing job providing for students even after years of budget cuts and frozen revenue limits, and we need to celebrate that.
But the disparities are overwhelming. We’ve got schools with saltwater pools and schools without libraries. We are not providing every student equal access to the resources they need to thrive.
Wisconsin’s serious school funding inequities are shameful and divisive. We have created a system of haves and have nots, and we are making it worse by dividing our communities and diverting essential funding into unaccountable private school vouchers that have neither the results nor the accountability the public demands.
We need permanent solutions that give our public schools the resources they need to meet the needs of the kids who need it the most. No excuses. There is truly no time to lose.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding presents an opportunity for all of us to be part of doing the right thing for our children and our public schools.”
Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan coalition of supporters of strong and thriving public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to succeed. The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, a 501(c)(4) charitable organization. Learn more at WisconsinNetwork.org, or contact Heather DuBois Bourenane at [email protected] for more information.