Despite Wisconsin’s top 10 public school ranking, debate over education funding remains

 

Wisconsin has one of the 10 best public school systems in the country, according to a new study by the financial consumer website, WalletHub.

In its report “2018 Best and Worst Public Schools,” WalletHub ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on scores across 25 key metrics within two main categories – “quality of education” and “school safety.”

Wisconsin ranked ninth overall, ninth in quality of education and 26th in school safety. Wisconsin also tied for first with its students having the highest median SAT score.

“The high quality of the state’s public schools is best represented by one of the lowest dropout rates in the country, at 11.8 percent, and the highest median SAT score,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told Watchdog.org.

While ranking states may be important to some, Julie Underwood, J.D., Ph.D., the Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy & Practice at the University of Wisconsin, told Watchdog.org that it’s important for every state to have a strong education system, which she argues is the key to America’s success. She said that one’s education “directly correlates to a stronger future, economy, and democracy.

“Well-educated students will be able to participate in democracy and good economic growth in any state and nation. Education in each state is important because people are mobile. It is equally important for a student to perform well in Alabama as it is in Colorado or Wisconsin.”

Underwood, known for her role in the nonprofit Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, was appointed by the State Legislature to the Blue Ribbon Commission. She has attended budget meetings and has traveled the state hearing from educators and parents about the needs of public schools. She argues that Wisconsin’s ranking reflects the state’s “historically strong effort in education and families have given strong input,” but they do not reflect the “challenging educational situations brought about by the Great Recession and the $1.6 billion in budget cuts to education,” from which she argues the public school system has not recovered.

Public school education funding became an increasingly controversial issue in 2011 after Gov. Scott Walker took office and the Legislature cut more than $1 billion in education funding between 2011 and 2017 in an effort to successfully eliminate the state’s $3.6 billion deficit.

This year, Walker signed a budget that increased K-12 spending by about $640 million.

Seeking re-election to his third term this November, Walker told Watchdog.org that he is proud Wisconsin offers quality public education for students across the state.

“That’s why we made a historic investment into K-12 education that put an additional $200 per student into the classroom last year, and another $204 per student on top of that for this coming year,” he said. “These kids are our future and we want to make sure Wisconsin students are prepared for college, careers, and real life.”

The state has frozen tuition at the University of Wisconsin system campuses for the last six years. It also passed the School Safety Plan legislation, which provides $100 million in grant funding to all Wisconsin school districts to implement safety measures.

Walker’s Democratic opponent, the state’s public school chief, Tony Evers, has spent more than 30 years in public school education and administration. At the State Democratic Party Convention, he said that he was running for governor “because I am goddamn sick and tired of Scott Walker gutting our public schools, insulting our hard-working educators, and destroying higher education in Wisconsin.”

Evers, who won his third term as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, told the Atlantic this month that “I don’t believe that Scott Walker will deliver on any promise he has around education.”

A central focus of his campaign is to bring public school funding in line with his proposal as state superintendent, which he claims would both increase public spending for public schools and lessen pressure to raise property taxes. He’s also proposed that the state establish an early childhood education program.

William D. Flanders, research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, told Watchdog.orgthat Wisconsin has many good public schools, “but many others leave a lot to be desired. For instance, the state has the largest – or among the largest – African-American/White achievement gaps in the country on the NAEP depending on the category you look at, and proficiency levels on state exams remain quite low.”

At the same time, Flanders added said “Wisconsin ranks in the top half of states in terms of providing more resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and funding for education has increased in every year since the low point of the Great Recession in 2012.”

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