It’s simple: Public education is the most important investment our society can make in its future. Economic growth, public health, gender equity, crime reduction and political stability are all tied to high levels of investment in public education. The effects of education are overwhelmingly positive and that’s why Democrats across this state and country are intense advocates of a strong public education system for all Americans. It’s also why Republican attacks on our K-12 education system at local, state and federal levels concerns us College Democrats.
Here in Wisconsin, Republicans diverted more than $1 billion away from the K-12 system between 2010 and 2016. Back in 2005, Wisconsin spent 12 percent more per pupil than the national average. But by 2017, the state’s ranking fell to 22nd. Funding cuts and unreasonable reforms to the three vital keys of educational success — teacher recruitment, community support and student resources — have devastated public school systems.
In 2011, a trio of researchers from Harvard and Columbia released the results of a study that tracked 2.5 million students from urban schools over two decades. They concluded that when a “value added” teacher joins a school, student test scores rise immediately. When that teacher leaves, scores drop. Public schools should be working to attract, train and retain the most effective teaching staff as possible.
Republicans push for free-market competition in the economy, but they’ve created a system in our state that makes teaching positions less desirable, thus, weakening competition and teacher quality.
An average starting teacher salary of $36,141 just doesn’t incentivize graduates to become teachers. Now, remember, through Act 10 and through 2012 budget cuts, Gov. Scott Walker and our Republican state government cut $782,000,000 from our education system, forcing teachers to pay higher premiums while losing job security. These attacks have also allowed local conservative politicians to limit teachers’ raises, forcing teachers to move districts or leave the education sector entirely, making retainment nearly impossible and causing a dangerous shortage in our state.
As important as in-school activities are, supporting communities is also necessary to promoting in-school success. Ensuring that students can stay focused on education relies heavily on community strength.
Graduation rates among low-income students lag behind the national average in 44 states. These students have the same potential to succeed as anyone else, yet they struggle. Despite this, Republicans at state and federal levels have pushed strategies that further adversity in low-income districts, taking away tax credits, destroying safety nets that allow parents to raise their children and imprisoning parental figures with unreasonable sentencing.
Even with great teachers and strong communities, students can’t succeed without the resources they need to learn. Too many students learn in schools in disrepair, in packed classrooms, with outdated textbooks and without access to technology-based learning strategies.
Having these tools in small classrooms allow students to stay connected with their learning and with the progress in the world around them, closing the achievement gap and improving student performance. These resources cannot be obtained without adequate funding.
That’s why we are concerned about Republican cuts to education, not only with Walker’s cuts, but also with Trump and DeVos’s Department of Education proposals to cut initiatives that help reduce class size and to redistribute public education funds to private charter schools. For our education system to improve, we need to repair schools, lower class sizes and update learning tools.
The future of our country relies on our ability to educate students at all levels. For too long, Republicans have worked to slash education funding, teacher recruitment and community assistance. If Wisconsin and the United States are to move forward, we need to stop handing out tax cuts and private school vouchers, and to stop Republicans from holding the American education system back.
David Pelikan ([email protected]) is a freshman studying political science and economics. He is also Press Secretary for UW College Democrats.