Stand up for public schools
Editor, Daily Union: The author of the July 8th letter to the editor stated that the Daily Union's coverage of the "March to Stand up for Public Schools" was insufficient because it "had two big omissions."
The first omission the author hinted at was that spending on education for the next
biennial is an increase in spending of $500 million, not a $900 million reduction
from last year.
What actually happened is that Governor Evers asked for (proposed) a biennial increase
of $1.4 billion to cover pressing student needs which have remained unmet for the
past 10 years. The biggest reduction of the governor's proposed education budget
came in the area of special education funding. The Republican-led Legislature chose
to reduce the governor's proposed increase in special education funding by $500
million. Clearly, these legislators were discounting a recent study by the Wisconsin
Policy Forum which found that the gap between what public schools need to
adequately deliver special education and the state reimbursement rate has grown to
$1 billion a year.
The Republican-led Legislature also took out funding for English
language learners (Wisconsin is last in the nation for support for English language
learners.). They also short-changed funding for support for student mental health
needs and they did nothing to support students challenged by poverty in every part
of the state.
The letter to the editor author also criticized the Daily Union for not coming to the same conclusion that he has apparently, that "... public education is on a collision course with reality." He
then went on to trumpet praises of Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills.
Lakeside Lutheran is certainly a good school, no argument there. But since the
author named Lakeside Lutheran in his letter to the editor, let's do an apple-to-apples comparison
and a reality check with some of our public high schools in Jefferson County.
The best way to do that is to go to the Wisconsin DPI website and look up the "School
Report Card" for Lakeside Lutheran (as a private "choice" school) and compare that
enrollment data to that of, say. Jefferson or Fort Atkinson high schools.
For 2018-19, Lakeside Lutheran enrolled 78 students on school vouchers, "taxpayer money for private tuition." However, the most recent data that is available to compare Lakeside Lutheran with other public Jefferson County high schools is from the 2017-18 school year. The DPI data for that year shows that Lakeside Lutheran students in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program totaled 53 students.
0f those 53 "choice" students, just 1.9 percent had disabilities, just 1.9 percent were
economically disadvantaged, and there were zero English language learners. The
graduation rate for this cohort was unavailable.
If we compare the student population data of Lakeside Lutheran with iust two
Jefferson County public high schools for the same year, we can get an idea of the
"reality" that public schools here and all over the state have to face. Fort Atkinson
High School has 10.7 percent of students with disabilities and 25.9 percent of their enrollment is
economically disadvantaged, 4.3 percent are English language learners, and the graduation rate is
Jefferson High School has a similar student makeup: 14.8 percent with disabilities,
30.3 percent economically disadvantaged, 4.4 percent English Language learners, and a graduation rate of 94.8 percent.
The July 8th letter to the editor author also went out of his way to highlight the differences in per-pupil funding between public schools and "choice" schools. There are certainly
differences; however, we must consider that public schools are required by federal
and state laws to take all comers regardless of high needs, poverty or language
barriers. When we keep in mind that one child who is medically fragile or severely
mentally ill could cost a public school $90,000 in just one year and private schools
are not even required to be wheelchair accessible or have licensed staff to treat high-needs children, it is clear that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
If there is any institution that is facing reality and not skirting it or "colliding" with
it, it is Wisconsin's public schools. They have to adapt to all of the challenges of a
rapidly changing, more needy, diverse society. If only the public schools could pick
their students like private schools can do, those public schools would cost less, too.
But they can't because ... reality. — Donna Pahuski, Cambridge.