Parents, Wauwatosa school district representatives and city officials attended an informational meeting set up by the Support Our Schools Wauwatosa organization Oct. 3 at Wauwatosa West High School.
S.O.S is a parent-powered, nonpartisan, grassroots nonprofit that advocates for public education in Wauwatosa and throughout Wisconsin. The S.O.S. Wauwatosa board members are parents of current and former students of the Wauwatosa School District who are concerned about the ways in which state funding for public schools has been cut and taxpayer money has been diverted from public education to private voucher schools.
Speakers at the forum included Julie Mead, UW-Madison professor of educational leadership and policy analysis, Tom McCarthy, Department of Public Instruction (DPI) communications director, John Forester, Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance director of government relations and Phil Ertl, Wauwatosa School District superintendent.
"Parents and community members deserve a thoughtful, factual conversation about the value of public schools and how the budget impacts them,” Mary Young, S.O.S. Wauwatosa president said. “They want to know what’s ahead for our kids' schools and classrooms."
Mead spoke to the crowd of 50-plus parents about the effects that parental choice programs have had on the quality of education in Wisconsin. Milwaukee implemented and is currently operating the first PCP in the nation and Racine is also currently operating a PCP. Mead brought up statistics including the number of children involved in PCPs (nearly 28,000 in 2014-15) and said public schools generally perform better in tests scores when compared to voucher and charter schools.
Mead cited the fact that the state constitution (Article X, Section 3) says the state legislature is charged with providing the funding for public education to all children in Wisconsin between the ages of 4 and 20 years. She said that an education is not only important for the student but that everyone in the state and beyond benefits from an educated person.
"Government structure alone does not dictate the success or lack thereof of a school," Mead said. "But public accountability lessens for charter schools and public schools do outperform other types of schools."
In an effort to inform attendees about the changing demographics of Wisconsin's schools, McCarthy discussed the correlation between poverty and school performance. He said the current political climate has caused an increasing reliance on individual districts to raise their own taxes because they can no longer rely on state funding as the primary source of revenue, and that has caused the student achievement gap among Wisconsin schools to increase.
"Recently our state government has been developing policy based on ideology and political expedience," said John Forester, Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance director of government relations. "We have to put together a group that is more broad-based. We have nothing to lose."
S.O.S. Wauwatosa is advocating for the Wisconsin Legislature to increase the state-imposed revenue cap, which restricts the amount of funding that can be spent on K-12 public schools; an increase in per-pupil state funding for K-12 schools; and a pause to the statewide expansion of voucher and private charter schools until accountability standards for all schools receiving taxpayer dollars are the same.
Representing the Wauwatosa School District at the meeting was Superintendent Phil Ertl. He said all schools -- charter, voucher, private or public -- should be held to the same standards.
"I would like to see fairness in the funding," Ertl said.