Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Time to value public education again in Wisconsin

By Melissa Sargent 

Each new school year should be met with celebration. New school clothes and backpacks bring smiles to our students’ faces. I remember loving new art supplies and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. With three kids in Madison public schools and one on his way to UW-Madison, I’ve witnessed these joyful occasions over and over.
This year, these feelings are tempered with the weight of the cumulative cuts to education at all levels through Scott Walker’s short-sighted and destructive agenda.
From our preschool children through our college graduates, no one has been able to escape the wide-ranging devaluing of both public education and the professionalism of our educators in Wisconsin. The long-term effects of these cuts cannot be overstated.
School districts around the state are barely functioning on current funding levels and many are dependent on local tax referendums — like the one that was just approved by the Madison School Board for the November election. Programs, teachers and other critical staff are being cut to compensate for this lack of funding. Teacher shortages across Wisconsin are forcing the Department of Public Instruction to act quickly to ensure that we simply have enough people to educate our children. At the same time professors are leaving to teach and research at universities in other states where they feel more respected.
We are no longer in the realm of normal budget fluctuations from one administration or party to the next. We are witnessing a dismantling of our public schools. This is a direct attack on our children’s future and the future of Wisconsin.
Budgets are about priorities. In fact, the last biennial budget was the largest in our state’s history, but the GOP prioritized tax giveaways to special interests and out-of-state corporations over fully funding education at all levels.
How is this good for our future prosperity? We need to be building a culture of curiosity and creating lifetime learners. Instead, the GOP is giving money to unaccountable private schools and treating public education as a nuisance rather than the cornerstone of our local communities.
It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The first step is a simple acknowledgement that educating our children, our future leaders, is our No. 1 job. If we are not in the business of providing the best possible education from preschool through college graduation, we will continue to fall behind our neighboring states in this most basic function of government.
We must act boldly. As progressives, we must stand together to restore full funding to our schools. We should also be proposing new, innovative plans. Things like universal pre-K child care, fair funding for our K-12 schools, and debt-free college.
We cannot afford to lose a generation due to the devaluing of public education at all levels by the Republicans. Our kids do not get a second chance at their education.
I am filled with pride to be a graduate of Wisconsin’s public schools and our fabulous University System. I know that they made me who I am today. We can return to that sense of pride and opportunity if we put our minds to it. These are challenging times, but Wisconsinites have never shied away from a challenge. For all of Wisconsin’s families, we need a public education system that provides each child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life — the American Dream.

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