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Legislatively Speaking

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Governor Tony Evers would place a priority on K-12 education funding. After all, as the former State Superintendent of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, Evers made it clear that he would be looking to dramatically address the funding for the state’s school funding. In calling for a $1.4 billion increase in state aid, the governor seeks to get more resources to lower-income districts and to child with special needs.

The astonishment rests in the consistent failure of Republicans in the legislature to position our neediest students with the educational funding they need to excel. After imposing historic budgetary cuts to education in the early years of the Walker Administration, Republicans have slow walked the return of those dollars to the educational system.

It is during moments such as these that constituents become most frustrated. When observing the zeal by which Republicans worked to pass a funding deal to help build a world-class arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, many in the community asked about other needs in the state. In crafting one of the worst deals likely in state history, Republicans stumbled over themselves to give Foxconn an incentive package and tax breaks that had folks scratching their heads. It reminds me of an old saying, “we pay for what we want and beg for what we need.” We need school funding that either keeps pace with or exceeds the changing needs of education, we just don’t want to pay for it.

Whether balancing social ills such as homelessness, hunger, bullying, or post-traumatic stress, schools have needed to adapt to accommodate the unique needs of students and their families. There are also issues of classroom safety, constantly changing educational ideology, and testing. The pressure is on to increase graduation rates, improve test scores, and prepare our next workforce and set of leaders. However, with the advent of technology and the rapid pace at which it is advancing, teachers are expected to be innovative or simply miracle workers.

Utilizing real-time experience from his former educational role, Governor Evers understands that more resources are required to meet students where they are when entering school. Systems need to have a predictable revenue stream that is not subject to the whim of changing administrations or the values of leadership. Budgets need to keep pace with inflation and reflect the needs of all students.

After more than 15 years in the legislature, I’ve seen almost everything. Yet the one thing that remains elusive is a commitment of those, on both sides of the political aisle, to get on the same page on education. We have been empowered and entrusted to govern, legislate and craft budgets that best serve the state. Right now, all we are getting is posturing, power struggles, and a fight to see who will blink first. In the meantime, what about the children?

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