Five candidates are competing for three seats on the Madison school board, with the general election on April 2, 2013.
The political context for the races is explosive, given Gov. Scott Walker's revolutionary proposals for education in Wisconsin: cuts to public school funding, an expansion of the voucher program, and a revamping of teachers' evaluations and bargaining rights.
In Madison, the issues are particularly complex, with the intense disagreements over the district's achievement gap between white and minority students.
In the race for Seat 3, former La Follette High School teacher and low-income housing provider Dean Loumos is running against retired Madison police lieutenant Wayne Strong. The winner will replace retiring school board member Beth Moss.
In this competitive series of elections, there are numerous candidate forums and listening sessions under way, and we thought we'd pose our own questions to candidates.
For this fourth and final week of questions, we ask candidates to evaluate Gov. Scott Walker's proposals for the Wisconsin's 2013-15 budget, and consider how it would impact schools in the state. Along similar lines, we ask candidates to share their thoughts on the proposal to expand voucher schools in Wisconsin.
What do you think about Gov. Scott Walker's funding priorities for Wisconsin schools in his proposed 2013-15 budget?
The main concern that I have regarding Governor Walker's budget proposal is that it provides only a very slight increase for K-12 education that amounts to approximately 1%. We need to invest more into our public schools to make the strong and viable. The defunding of our public schools further weakens them.
A recent survey conducted by Marquette University indicates that 73% of registered Wisconsin voters believe that we should increase our spending for public schools. I agree.
Governor Walker's budget proposal paints a bleak picture for our states' public school system. Obviously, this is very concerning for those of us believe in public education. In the Governor's first budget he cut state aid by 8%. This in turn had a profoundly adverse effect on public education, as some districts reported having fewer staff and teaching positions and increased class sizes.
It is my feeling that this budget is simply not good public policy. The lack of funding for public education will only serve to make the quality of education we are providing our students worse, not better. Our children deserve more. All children deserve a good quality public education. It is imperative that we adequately fund public education, and at the same time make sure that we hold the line on property taxes.
It should be clear to everyone that Gov. Walker's priorities for school funding do absolutely nothing to help public schools address the critical issues our school districts are facing. His proposal is a complete sham, as what he offers can only be used for property tax relief and cleverly disguises what is effectively another decrease, as every year costs go up simply due to what it takes to just operate the same programming.
What this budget really indicates is that Gov. Walker is fully attempting to position himself as the leader in the effort to completely privatize all of our public services. Looked at in its entirety, along with the selling of public buildings and resources, he is clearly trying to move our state and country away from democratically controlled institutions to a system where every public service is contracted out and we are all left to "make our best deal." Both the increase in funding to vouchers and expansion of where school vouchers can be used along with the creation of a statewide agency that can create and fund private charter schools are clear examples of this.
Public services run this way are disastrous wherever they have been done. Privatization, and the deregulation that comes along with it, leads to a complete lack of public accountability where the public has no ability to influence or keep track of where its money goes and what happens to it. The most recent case was Gov. Walker's Economic Development Authority that replaced the Commerce Department and was included in his first budget. The EDA was supposed to be some kind of public/private partnership and once established, help fund "job starters." After losing many key staff, the remaining overwhelmed staff lost track of where $25 million went. This happens all too frequently in privatized systems and I stand opposed to this proposal, as we all should.
What do you think about proposals to expand the voucher school system to Madison?
Proposals to expand the voucher school system in Madison will only serve to weaken the district as a whole. The use of public monies to send pupils to private schools only serves to lessen the effectiveness of our public school system. This would not be good for Madison.
The Beloit Board of Education just voted to oppose the expansion of the school voucher program. Other districts should follow suit. The use of public dollars should be used to support and improve our public schools, not send students to private schools on taxpayers' dime where there would be no accountability.
There is little evidence to suggest that attending voucher schools increases the overall academic performance of students. The Beloit Board of Education opted to support Tony Evers' Fair Funding proposal.
The Fair Funding for our Future plan restructures how money is distributed in the state. It emphasizes additional funding for low-income students. The total effect of the plan would be to provide support for increased state aid while providing property tax relief. In my view, this is a plan that seems to be fair, responsible, and good public policy.
One of the reasons I am running -- as I have stated many times in this campaign -- is that for over 30 years I have been opposed to privatization of public services. The funding of voucher programs siphon funding to private programs and more importantly, recent research shows that private programs do not compete well with our public schools.
What this demonstrates is that policymakers do not really make the concerns of parents to provide their children with a quality education their priority, and instead would rather promote their political agenda to privatize public services and squash unions. They use parent concern for their children in a shameless attempt to draw support for these programs while at the same time undermining efforts to improve public school systems.
This is a strategy that has been used and promoted for many years, first starting with cutting school funding, and then by pointing to other countries that seem to be out-performing our schools to claim we can't compete. They never mention that the very same countries they point to have fully funded early childhood programs, place a very high priority on the teaching profession, and fully fund their public schools many beyond high school.
In Racine, where the voucher system was introduced last year, half of the vouchers were awarded to families whose children were already in private schools. Families have always had a chance to send their children to private schools and these families already had figured out a way to do that. Where is the benefit to the taxpayers? I do not want my tax dollars going to any private, or especially, any religious school.
Current Madison school board member Ed Hughes and others have gone through the voucher proposal and countered every single point proponents use to promote the program, so you can read his accounts and other critiques quite easily if you desire, but what it comes down to is whether or not we still value public schools, and quite literally believe in democratically controlled institutions.