Saturday, February 4, 2012

All of Wisconsin Profits from SB 257

“Education is not a private good,  it is a public good…we all profit and we all hurt depending on the quality of education other people’s kids get.”

Our nation’s premier educational researcher, Linda Darling-Hammond’s comment is spot on identifying the importance of equal, quality educational opportunities for all students. As Darling-Hammond points out in her new book, the World is Flat, all of America profits from appropriate and wise investments in public education that properly prepares American youth to be productive in the global economy.

Similarly, I suspect the progressive-minded Wisconsin legislators, who pushed for equalization in school aid in 1949, were fulfilling an American concept as old as the Declaration of Independence. “All…are created equal with unalienable rights.” In a modern society, we rightfully understand these unalienable rights to include quality public education for all. 

A couple months ago, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen sponsored an important bill (SB 257) in the honorable and original spirit of the state aid formula for school districts. As Sen. Cullen reminded local school leaders at a recent school board-legislator meeting, the original intent of the state aid formula was to balance finances of rich and poor school districts. Sen. Cullen’s bill asks for a relatively modest shift in 2012-2013 school aid to the state’s neediest school districts—which includes the School District of Janesville (my children’s and students’ school district).

Some may narrow-mindedly argue that SB 257 gives unjust favor to districts—like the SDJ. A broader look at the additional aid request shows it to be a necessary and appropriate investment. Janesville is one of the hardest hit communities in Wisconsin by the recent recession with its General Motors plant closing in 2008. This has led to declining enrollment and revenues for the SDJ.

As the school board pointed out in its official petition to legislators, “Programs have been cut, class sizes increased, employees laid off, taxes raised, and reserve funds utilized to balance a budget deficit of over $10 million for the 2011-2012 school year. Adding to the despair, our district is facing another projected $8 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year.”

Some historical perspective would also unveil how Janesville gave generously to state coffers during the heyday of Janesville’s GM plant. It is reasonable in a time of need for the SDJ to request a modest increase in its state aid package to equalize its services with other school districts around the state.   
State legislators and Governor Walker would be wise to recognize that “we all profit and we all hurt depending on the quality of education other people’s kids get.” Janesville’s hopes lie in continued investments in our children. Passage of SB 257 would be an investment in Janesville’s youth —who will shape a post-GM legacy for south central Wisconsin. All of Wisconsin benefits from this. 

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