The Wisconsin Public Education Network sponsored the First Wisconsin Education Summit held last week in the south-central Wisconsin city of Middleton. Participating in the Summit, Ken Bates, Superintendent of Schools in Green Lake, Wisconsin, said we need to keep the focus on getting the public back into public education:
“I grew up with the assumption that public schools would always be there, open to everyone, and that they would be funded. Things have changed. We need to get the public back in, which means all of the public including parents, speaking out and being vocal about maintaining high-quality public schools. If we can kind of harken back to the golden days of yesteryear when people actually thought of having schools for the common good, providing accessibility to all students and giving opportunity for all students. People who maybe can’t afford private education, the public school can provide them a way up and a way to improve their lives.”
In addition to getting the public back in public schools, Bates wants to get the private out:
“Funding going to private voucher schools and choice schools needs to go somewhere else, and we need to get back to what our constitution and the uniformity clause calls for, funding high-quality public schools. Voucher and choice schools are options. Automatically, my taxes are going to fund the voucher schools, and the way they got the money without running two separate systems is to take money away from the current public schools.”
Public schools across the state are having to slash budgets as money is diverted to private voucher schools. The problem is compounded by the fact that public schools are mandated to provide certain services to accommodate all students, such as special education services. The special education population in Milwaukee public schools is now up around 20 percent.
“Many of the special education students aren’t in the voucher and the private schools, so there’s been an outflight of regular education students into the voucher schools, and that increases the percentage within the Milwaukee Public Schools. And, frankly, if we do research in the future, we’ll probably find that to be true across the state.”