Walker: Math-challenged on school cuts | WisCommunity

Walker: Math-challenged on school cuts

[img_assist|nid=49419|title=Walker-based education|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=120|height=135]What with all his non-factual, rhetorical flourishes like "tools" and "dynamic" and "bold" and "we're broke," it's sometimes hard to keep a sensible perspective about Gov. Scott Walker's agenda. But let's try to do the math, even though Walker himself likely would prefer we not.

And the math boils down to this: Walker's proposals statewide average out to cuts of $1449 per public school pupil.

Here's how I arrived at that figure, which I have not seen reported in any popular media:

First, in the name of balancing the state budget, Walker would strip $835 million from state aid to pubilc schools. There are 879,825 public school students in the state. Divide the cuts by the number of pupils and this one step will represent a loss of $949, on average, for each public school student in Wisconsin.

But wait, there's more. Walker also would reduce public school district property-tax authority by an average of $550 per pupil – a move that makes it more difficult for schools to compensate for that lost $949. 

Add up the cuts in state education aids and his effective forced reduction in revenue via local property taxes and the total is $1,449 per public school pupil.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction , the average cost for educating a student in Wisconsin is $10,549 per student per year. Walker's initiatives are in a two-year budget, so halve the dollar amount of his cuts and they represent nearly a 7 percent annual spending reduction per pupil.

What's a public school pupil worth? Almost $1,500 less than we think, according to Walker.  

Now, if school districts can figure out how to make up all or some of that lost revenue by cutting spending -- say for instance by whacking teacher salaries, as another Walker "tool" would make almost mandatory -- then the loss in education funding wouldn't be as severe. And surely there is more to teaching than money. So say conservatives who nevertheless have grabbed big chunks of cash from Milwaukee Public Schools in order to enable their vision of private, tuitiion schools that run like competitive businesses, and for a profit.

But there's no way around it: Walker wants public schools to do with less. A lot less. And if you think, like he pretends to think, that this will improve public education in Wisconsin, you need to attend a remedial math class.

Naturally, some school districts stand at risk of losing less than that $1,500 amount. But others could lose more. A lot more, in the case of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Indeed, MPS also stands to lose more money through the private school voucher program Walker proposes to expand, enabling even some wealthy city residents to send their kids to pricey private schools outside the city, and at a fat subsidy from already beleagured city taxpayers. Currently, the private school voucher program pays a subsidy of $6,442 per pupil, money that MPS is made to cough up without recompense. Last week the legislature's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee approved a Walker measuree bill that eliminates the cap on students enrolled in the program, and makes it possible for much wealthier families to take advantage of the vouchers to move their kids out of MPS.

The cap is currently 22,500 students. MPS pays for all the subsidies, at the expense of revenue intended for its own students. That's not part of the nearly $1,500 Walkernomics would take from the system. MPS would have to pay for more for the voucher program yet the governor and legislature continue to refuse to offset a dime of these expenditures. Thus the hit to Milwaukee is greater than just the cut in state school aids and cap on property taxes. It's an additional unfunded mandate that will constrain MPS yet some more. This from Walker, a Republican who professes to hate unfunded mandates. Except when he doesn't.

In sum, the Walker view is that pubilc school pupils should get $1,500 less -- and then some -- but an increasing number of private school pupils should get multiples of that in further Milwaukee public tax dollars going to vouchers. And get it regardless of how much their parents are worth. Can you say "upward redistribution of wealth," boys and girls?

And all this because, according to Walker, private schools introduce "competition" into the school "marketplace" and that will magically make pubilc schools better. If it doesn't kill them first. Good old Grampy Walker and his homespun remedies! Feed a cold (that would be voucher schools) and starve a fever (that would be Milwaukee Public Schools). Never mind studies showing that voucher schools don't produce kids who are noticeably better educated. Gotta crack the whip on those "failing" public schools! Oh, and also remember: Pubilc, unionized teachers are thugs.

Thanks to our college-dropout governor, MPS is planning to lay off nearly 1,000 of its teachers, in anticipation that Walker will get his way. That's nearly one teacher for every 82 students in the Milwaukee public system. Some of those cuts are, to be fair, the result of the loss of federal economic stimulus dollars -- which Republicans refused to extend. In any event, if this goes on much longer, 82 students may end up being the average class size in the system. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not much of one. Otherwise, why is Milwaukee's nationally recognized school superintendent, in office barely a year, now making noises that some interpret as his desire to quit the post as soon as possible?

But, hey, Walker's here to reassure. Oh, yes, all this will certainly improve education for Milwaukee's kids and help boost the city, the state's number one economic engine. Right? BZZZZT! To the corner with a dunce cap for you, guv!

As the old joke goes, I yearn for the day that schools have the tax funding they need to educate our kids for the future, while the Pentagon has to hold bake sales to keep its doors open. The amazing thing is that Walker hasn't yet attempted to seize school bake sale money and give that, as well, to the private entrepreneurs he thinks represent the future.


May 10, 2011 - 10:56am