Scott Walker Leaves Wisconsin's Rural Students Behind

Jun 10, 2014

Scott Walker’s agenda to create an uneven playing field for Wisconsin education has real, harmful effects on Wisconsin’s students and communities.

In this year’s spring elections, at least 26 school districts had ballot measures asking residents to approve a boost in property taxes above state-set limits just to keep their schools regular operations running.

Scott Walker’ 2011 budget made draconian cuts to direct state spending on public education to the tune of $800 million dollars and restricted districts from raising property taxes to make up for the shortfall. Rural leaders, after exploring many options, were forced to ask their communities directly for more tax money to fund their school districts through ballot measures – measures that don’t always pass.

In addition to slashing education spending, Walker stuck it to educators and students again in the ’11-’13 budget by placing new revenue limits on local school districts. Revenue limits determine how much money school districts can take in from local property taxes and state school aids — and how much money gets into the classroom. The new limits stifle school districts’ ability to raise more revenue; in fact, schools can take in an estimated $800 million to $1.6 billion less over two years as a result of the revenue limits imposed by Scott Walker’s first budget.

In Tomah alone, fiscal pressures left the school district with a $700,000 deficit. The district only has four principals for seven elementary schools, it cut $700,000 in regular staff positions since 2008, adjusted teacher salaries, cut benefits, and audited its energy-saving techniques and explored more efficient transportation and private grants to pay for costs.

Those efforts still came up short thanks to a handcuffing by Scott Walker’s budget, forcing an urgent ballot measure to allow authorization to exceed the revenue limit for nonrecurring purposes consisting of sustaining educational programs.

In Fond du Lac County, a 2013 operational referendum for the Oakfield School District was rejected forcing the district to cut a sixth of it’s total budget and freeze teachers’ salaries.

Oakfield School District superintendent Sue Green says asking the community for revenue is tough, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “There can be a taxpayer who thinks we mismanaged our funds or that we didn’t do everything right. But we did. We did nothing wrong.”Oakfield School District was forced to issue another ballot referendum this fall.

Walker’s education policy handcuffs rural school districts from funding normal operations and keeping up with their expenses, not to mention destroying any chance of offering a top-notch education for students in those areas. Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, says referendums have become a “necessity” under Scott Walker.

Democrats, like Rep. Fred Clark, recognized the financial issues rural schools face in the latest legislative session, but common sense proposals were ignored by Scott Walker’s rubber-stamp majority in the Assembly.

“Scott Walker’s lopsided education funding leaves rural school districts on life-support every year. Walker has made huge cuts to public education while funneling millions into an unaccountable, taxpayer funded voucher system,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said on Wednesday. “Funding two different education systems – at two staggeringly different levels – fails students from Milwaukee to Ashland. Every Wisconsin student deserves a chance receive a top-notch education and have a true shot at success.”