Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Explaining Walker's K-12 Cuts to the Kids

Just as the fight over Governor Scott Walkers budget repair bill centered on changes to collective bargaining for public employees, much of the attention given to his budget focuses on his cuts to school district aid for K-12 funding.  The sound bites from the budget hearings have included a few supportive ones, but the majority of comments about a reduction in aid for K-12 have been quite negative, and at times bordered on hysterical.

If I recall correctly, the West Allis hearing featured a woman speaker who challenged supporters of the Governor's budget to look in her daughter's eyes and explain to her what was happening, or something to that effect.  OK, here goes.

In Wisconsin we spent about $10 billion dollars on education in 2007-2008 according to the US Department of Education.  That works out to be around $10,500 for every student in the state.  There are almost 900,000 students total.

Some of the money to run the schools in Wisconsin comes from the state government.  The other way that schools raise money is through local property taxes.  The Governor is opposed to tax increases, generally speaking, so he is also proposing to limit the amount that school districts can increase taxes to offset his aid cuts. 

Tony Evers is the director of schools in Wisconsin.  He says the Governor's proposal will reduce total school spending by a little less than $1 billion dollars per year between the aid cut and the tax limit. This is about 10%.  To put it another way, the spending per student could go down from around $10,500 to $9,500. 

The Governor has also proposed to increase the amount that teachers pay toward their pension and health insurance to help offset some of the reduced aid from the state.  The Governor likes to highlight this aspect of his plan, but it most likely won't offset the entire amount of the cuts.  I believe I heard Mr. Evers on Wisconsin public radio today saying this change could offset as much as 40-60% of the cuts.  If so, we would be back to only a 5% reduction in education spending, rather than 10%.

Whether it's 5% or 10% in the end, if you listen to some of the Governor's critics this relatively small cut in spending spells the end of education in Wisconsin and we might as well just all give up.  As for me, I'm skeptical cuts of this size could really change public schools that much.  Even if per student spending went all the way down to $9,500, this is still much more than it was in the late 1990's.  It's probably more than was spent per student when your mom and dad went to school here in Wisconsin.

The student/teacher ratio here in Wisconsin is about 15 students for every teacher.  I suspect your class may have more than 15 students because this ratio probably includes teachers who specialize in small groups of students that need extra help.  Regardless, a ratio of 15 is right at the national average.  A political ad that is running on TV here in Green Bay alleges that the Governor's cuts to education could increase class size to "35 to 40 kids in a class."  Again, this sound like it is intended to scare people into opposing the governor.  It's too bad that so many people will be convinced by an accusation that is almost certainly untrue.

What about his increased in spending on roads you say?  I know, you can't drive so this doesn't affect you.  I agree that the Governor should concentrate his efforts on reducing spending wherever possible, so maybe this is something that should be looked at very carefully by voters and the legislature.

When you step back and take a look at the big picture, you will see a Governor that has proposed the first budget in a long time that addresses the gap between spending and revenues in this state.  That goes for governor's of both parties.  Yes it is true that education funding will be reduced by the Governor's proposal, but this does not automatically mean that the quality of the education you receive will go down dollar for dollar.  Ultimately, the quality of the education you receive will likely be tied to where you live.  That is the case throughout the United States and is not likely going to change as a result of a single state budget.

So in the end we may spend a few less dollars on your education now, but we will still spend quite a lot, and the education you receive will be quite good.  In exchange you will get a state budget that starts to put Wisconsin on sounder financial footing.  That may seem unimportant now, but it may make the difference between a prosperous state and a bankrupt one by the time you are older and are starting to pay taxes.  Doing this now is important to Wisconsin's future, which, after all, is your future too.


Joe Barz said...

Your post sounds all fine and dandy, but you seem to overlook the fact that the local school boards and administrators control the number of teachers and class sizes.

Do you think the boards and admins are going to step up and take a 10% cut in pay? Instead, they will give themselves a nice pay raise and cut the number of teachers to make up the difference.

Mrs. RWC said...

Here's what I would say:

Ask your parents about the bills they have to pay each month. They'll probably mention things like the mortgage, groceries, electric bill, and water bill. Well, the state has bills to pay too. Now ask you're parents what happens when they don't pay the bills. They'll tell you the companies might turn off your water or the power to your house. If you don't pay the mortgage, you might have to move out of your house. Sadly, sometimes people even become homeless. If you don't have enough grocery money for food, you won't be able to eat or you might have to eat less. (Remember how you had that canned food drive before Christmas to help the people who don't have enough food?)

So what can you do if you have bills to pay and not enough money? You cut back on spending. Sometimes it is hard but it is better than having no power or moving out of your house. In this case. Gov. Walker only wants to cut back 10%. Even though it seems like a lot of money, 10% isn't that much. That would be like getting nine Christmas presents instead of 10. But you still get NINE!! Nine presents is a lot, some kids don't even get nine. There are other ways to cut back and save money. Being creative can save 10% AND sometimes have other benefits. What if instead of buying juice boxes you made juice from the frozen section of the grocery store and put it in your own container. You could save 10% of the cost, do something helpful for the environment, and you still get to drink juice! (If you drank water instead of juice you could save even more.) Doing other things to save electricity and water are usually better for the environment too! And isn't your teacher always telling you to do good things for the environment? Gov. Walker isn't trying to hurt education he is just trying to be creative and find a different way to cut back.

If you don't want to cut back, there is another way to get money when you have bills to pay. That is to make more money. You mom or dad might have to get another job and be gone from home more to make extra money to pay your bills. That would be sad because you wouldn't get to see them as much. Gov. Walker could do that too. He could ask your parents to pay more money to the state (in taxes), but he is trying not to do that because he knows your mom and dad need that money to pay their own bills. If he takes that money away from your family you will have less to spend on your own bills and that wouldn't be a good thing.

There is one last way to get money if you need it. You can borrow it. But you know if you borrow money from a friend you have to pay it back, right? Well, if borrow money from a bank you have to pay it back plus some extra (called interest). If Gov. Walker borrowed money to pay Wisconsin's bills, guess who will be paying for it? Your mom and dad will pay for some of it now (in taxes) but it takes a LONG TIME to pay off loans especially when you don't solve the problem and need to borrow more and more. It could cost so much that your parents and ALL the grown ups in Wisconsin can't pay for it all. And then when you grow up you'll have to pay too and that means less money for you to buy the things you need for your own family. You don't want that do you?

Dean Weichmann said...

No need to explain is such detail, the kids will get it. They are not as important as providing tax breaks to big business.

Joe Barz said...

All the more incentive for the next young entrepreneur to create the next company and turn it into a "big business".