Last week, Gov Scott Walker visited Potosi Schools in a blatant election year event. I say blatant because Walker announced his support of the $100 increase in sparsity aid the week before at another school district, then went to two other schools the same day to tout his support of the increase.
Now there are reasons to go out and barnstorm to get support for a piece of legislation, but there were none here. He was not trying to drum up support in Potosi - State Sen. Howard Marklein was in tow and helped sponsor the legislation. Despite our far reach, the message in the media was not likely to sway any suburban legislators who may be against it.
No, this was to use Potosi students as a backdrop in order for you to remember that Gov. Walker and State Sen. Howard Marklein care, and will give you $100 more per student because they do.
Now I am not sure how many people will remember the visit 10 months from now when they are voting for governor, state senator, U.S. Senator, and the like. I would urge you to remember that visit, and how appropriate that it was Potosi Walker visited, because Gov. Walker’s past seven years have hurt rural schools far more than helped them, and Potosi is certainly a place to prove it, as the district has seen its revenue limit decrease $865,703 since Walker was elected.
Walker only seems to care when his name is on the ballot.
I am not going to go into Act 10 and the subsequent budget, which has had a chilling affect on rural school districts across southwest Wisconsin - it has been tougher and tougher to fill positions as there are fewer and fewer people getting into education. Budgetwise, Act 10 and the $1 billion in education cuts affected districts, large and small.
Plus, its too easy to take shots there, and that was nearly eight years ago.
No, I am going to point to two other times where Walker’s budgets have hurt the schools of southwest Wisconsin - two of the last three budgets Walker has done in office.
The first came in the 2013-2015 budget. Remember, this is the budget after the $1 billion in cuts to education. Walker touted that this budget he was going to get back to helping schools.
While education spending increased in that budget, funding for rural schools went down. That was because of changes in the formulas for school aid that determine what districts get.
I am not going to bore you with school aid, but what you need to know is that there are formulas for aid, and how much you get goes back to what you got last year, and really every year to 1996, when the aid formulas were created.
When the state decided to create the aid formula (and spending caps that accompanied it) the purpose was to help rural schools, where the value of land per pupil was less than suburban and urban areas. And the whole formula was set up so districts don’t see huge jumps or decreases in aid.
Well, that was different in the revised aid formula in the Fall of 2013. The legislature decided to reduce the primary aid guarantees for districts. What this did was hurt rural districts, and gave more money to suburban ones. They also did not increase the amount of aid to match increased demand across the state.
The biggest loser in the Herald Independent’s coverage area were Cassville and River Ridge, which saw decreases in aid in excess of $300,000, but Potosi saw $23,643 in less aid.
Then there was 2015-2017 budget, where Walker really tried to hurt local districts more than what the legislature ultimately let him. Now some may remember that Walker actually tried to use semantics to show he was raising student spending when he wasn’t back in 2015.
Fresh off his reelection, Walker wanted to fudge budget cuts to schools. In his budget proposal for 2015-2017, Walker stated he wished not to renew per-pupil aid that was added for the election year of 2014. Because that aid was written as one-time aid that sunset in the previous budget, Walker tried to tout that he was increasing student aid by $165 in the second year, taking the funds the first year, and sticking them into property tax credits, not funding for schools.
In actuality, that would have meant a cut of more than $150 a student for the 2015-2016 school year.
The State Legislature, knowing that would make the per-pupil spending look like a simple election year buyout, eventually agreed to keep the $150 in for students in the first year, and added $165 for the second school year in the budget.
Of course, those increases were averages per student, across the state of Wisconsin. And with larger districts growing, as well as passing building referenda, More aid going to students going to private schools receiving money, coupled with districts like Potosi dealing with declining enrollment, rural districts didn’t get to see that aid.
In reality, Potosi saw its budget reduced by $57,000 because of the budget cap freeze of the first year.
Because of those cuts, Potosi Schools had to cut a young math teacher, Matt Winkler. I did a story at the time the district had to make decisions about non-renewals, as one of his former students started a petition to save Winkler’s job. I looked up the interview I did with Winkler, who was touched by the support, but told people he would not fight for his position because he did not want to force the district to make another move, which would likely lead to another person that lost their job.
Things didn’t get much better for Potosi the next school year, as they did not fill three positions of staff who retired at the end of the previous year.
Overall, Potosi has seen a reduction in aid of $541,173. Now not all of the losses are Walker’s fault - Potosi has an overall reduction of 28 students during the same time. And farmland has kept its value over residential property in the large urban areas. But the governor, in previous budgets, has not done rural districts any favors, and this $100 per pupil aid is a drop in the bucket on what has been lost in the past.
So I would like you to stick that visit by Gov. Walker into your memory when you go to the polls this fall. I would also ask you to remember all these other times he had a chance to help rural schools, to help improve our local roads, to support local governments, and instead chose to tout tax cuts. I want you to remember when Walker attempted to claim he was increasing education funding, instead cutting it. I want you to remember he decided to tout tax cuts instead of helping schools.
David Timmerman - Editor, Grant County Herald Independent