Since the passage of the state budget, many in Wisconsin have wondered what impact a $1.6 billion cut would mean for our schools and students.
Now we know.
Data released last Thursday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show clearly that the budget has had a huge negative impact on our schools.
Among the findings:
• The state budget cut education by historic proportions: The state budget cut aid and revenue limit authority to Wisconsin schools by $1.6 billion. This is the largest cut to Wisconsin education ever and is one of the biggest cuts made by any state ever in the U.S.
• Class sizes have skyrocketed: What happens when you cut teaching positions? Class sizes get larger. In schools large and small across the state, the average class sizes, especially at the elementary school level, have increased dramatically.
• Fewer course offerings: The new data show the number of programs and services for students in our public schools have declined significantly. What’s worse, some classes, including programs for gifted students and the kinds of classes that are needed for admittance into highly selective colleges and universities, are gone. For those students who want to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison or another highly selective school, the challenge has become even more difficult.
• Schools face even bigger financial challenges next year: While the news is terrible for schools this year, the data show that half of Wisconsin schools are using one-time federal dollars to balance this year’s budget shortfall, money that will not be available next year. Moreover, two out of three districts say next year’s cuts will be even bigger than this year’s.
• We’re heading in the wrong direction: At a time when the knowledge and skills of our graduates are more important than ever before, not only for them but for our entire state, why are we making such devastating cuts to our schools?
Is this what we want for schools?
Clearly the data from the DPI show that our schools are headed in the wrong direction. We need to make education a priority again and save Wisconsin public schools before it’s too late.
Thomas Beebe is Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, a coalition of school districts, students, parents groups, teachers unions, faith-based organizations, other groups and many individuals committed to changing the way Wisconsin funds its public schools.