An improving national economy means Wisconsin’s checkbook might be about $1.8 billion fuller than expected. It also means our public schools might be in line to get back some of the resources they’ve lost over the last two decades due to bad public policy decisions–resources so desperately needed to educate our kids.
Two important numbers were released on Nov. 20. First, Wisconsin’s Department of Administration said the state would end the current state budget cycle in June with a modest $283 million surplus. Additionally, the Department of Revenue estimated an increase in tax collections, thanks to the recovering national economy, of $1.52 billion.
In other words, it looks like the state will have available revenue to start the upcoming budget discussion for 2013-15 of about $1.8 billion.
Over the last 20 years, Wisconsin’s public school children have been punished by a funding system that has drained off hundreds of millions of dollars in opportunities for young people to learn. More recently, the past two governors have made bad public policy decisions to cut even more resources meant for schools. Governor Scott Walker alone, in his 2011-13 budget, cut those opportunities by $1.6 billion.
So, our public schools were first in line to take cuts–revenue cuts that led to fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and limited course offerings. We should expect those same public schools to be near the front of the line, now, to see resource increases that restore the cuts and begin making an larger investment in quality public education.
It won’t be easy. Republicans, who control the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion, have signaled their interests are elsewhere. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “the Governor has talked about a broad income-tax cut, and some business groups also are pushing for a bill to boost investment in Wisconsin start-up companies that could require tens of millions of taxpayers dollars over two years.”
As always happens, it boils down to the upcoming budget: It will be a document that sets the state’s priorities. Will those priorities be schools, kids, families, and the long-term strength of the Badger State or will it be short-term gains in the form of tax cuts.
Do what you can to start that discussion. Contact your legislators today. Tell them schools took more than their share of the cuts when things were bad and now that it’s raining cats and dogs on them its time to put some of those course offerings, quality programs, good teachers, and necessary services back in the classroom.