One of the most important things on your ballot this election is something you probably haven’t even heard about.

It’s the Madison Metropolitan School District Referendum, a $26 million operational referendum spread over four years. This money would be used to increase the school district’s revenue limit from the state-imposed level of $281,158,559 in order to pay for school funding and operations in the district’s 49 schools.

Madison ballot to let voters decide $26 million school district budget referendumIn additional to the candidate races, Madisonians will be able to cast a vote supporting or opposing the $26 million Read…

This funding increase may have an adverse affect on students through higher rents, but this funding is completely necessary to reduce racial disparities in the area. As found in the 2013 Race to Equity Report, Dane County is the worst place to live in the country if you are a person of color. The great equalizer is education, and in Dane County, that’s where the racial divide is exacerbated.

Among third graders in 2011, 48 percent of Dane County’s black students are not proficient at reading. This is compared to only 10 percent of their white counterparts. Additionally, in 2011 the four-year high school graduation rate has a huge disparity between black and white students. Fifty percent of black high school students in Madison Metropolitan School District did not graduate within four years, compared to only 16 percent for their white counterparts.

The $26 million will be used in concordant measures to reduce this disparity. Last year alone, schools in the district saw a 12 percent increase in literacy among African American students in one year, according to MMSD. Without the referendum, this type of programming will not be able to be expanded.

As students at the University of Wisconsin, we are shielded almost completely from the stark racial divide of the city we reside in. We cannot merely be passive about the affairs of Madison. There are real problems that need to be addressed, and as students we can and should help to address them.

Not everyone has the time to volunteer in Madison’s schools. Not everyone has the skills to provide real assistance to Madison’s most vulnerable. But everyone here can vote to make Madison more equitable.

As UW students, we have benefitted from the structures put in place to get us here. It should be our obligation to make sure these same structures are in place for everyone.

Aaron Reilly ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in social work and economics.