Thursday, May 3, 2012

Education will play a significant role in the recall election

Cuts to state's school districts will be on the minds of voters across Wisconsin

With the primary election a mere five days away, it will soon be clear which of the four Democratic challengers will face off against Gov. Scott Walker in the recall early next month. With that in mind, it's worth taking note of some of the issues that will become part of the general election debate over the next thirty-some days.

One of the biggest concerns for voters will undoubtedly be the state of education in Wisconsin. Long-established as a value citizens have held dear to for generations in the Badgerland, education has taken a huge hit since Walker took office, with nearly $800 million in cuts across Wisconsin as part of his budget. That amounts to more than $635 cut per student, and is the largest cut to education ever seen in the state.

What's more, Walker also limited how local districts could raise funds to help schools. In the end, the governor's "reforms" resulted in a $1.6 billion shortfall for districts statewide.

Recent polling suggests that education is among the spending items that voters of the state support for the most part. For example, within the Marquette Law School poll released earlier this week, two-thirds of respondents opposed cutting education as a means to balancing the budget, including 63 percent of independents (and even four out of every ten Republicans).

Democrats would be wise to capitalize on the subject, an issue that seems to transcend partisan lines. Tom Barrett, for instance, who currently leads the Democratic primary candidates for governor in the polls, isn't shy to mention his wife is an educator.

To be sure, throwing wads of cash towards schools won't improve education on its own -- investments in education need to make sense, and resources provided to schoolchildren and their teachers require value beyond aesthetic appeal. But removing funding (especially at the rate that Scott Walker did) will without a doubt result in a reduced quality of learning for our children, as teachers' positions will be cut and resources end up depleted in our schools.

The value Wisconsin holds on education is one of striving towards exceptionalism, an uncompromising belief that a strong standard of learning will create a better society for us in the long run. That standard took a heavy beating when Scott Walker came to power.

And the longer he stays in office, the lower that standard will become.

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