5 Ways Budget Cuts Risk Widening the Student Achievement Gap

Monday, May 7, 2012 at 4:52 PM by

Decades of investment in Wisconsin’s public schools have built a system that we can be proud of. Wisconsin students have the highest graduation rate in the country, the third highest ACT scores, and the highest Advanced Placement success rate of any Midwestern state.

But at the same time, deep disparities exist in the Wisconsin public school system. The state’s achievement gap between poor and non-poor students is larger than the national average. Students in high-poverty districts are one-third as likely to score at the most advanced level in state reading tests as students in low-poverty districts. And black eighth-grade students in Wisconsin read at about the same level as black students in lower-achieving states like Mississippi.

In this most recent budget, Wisconsin turned away from its historic investment in public education. Measured on a dollars per student basis, Wisconsin’s cuts to education were the second largest in the country. The lack of investment in public schools will diminish academic opportunities across the public educational system, but worst-off students will suffer the greatest impact, according to a new report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here are five ways the budget cuts hurt efforts to make sure that every Wisconsin student has an opportunity to succeed:

#1: Bigger cuts for poorer districts: High-poverty districts had their state aid reduced by $703 per student this school year, while low poverty districts lost just $319 per student. The cuts to poorer districts are larger because high-poverty districts receive a bigger share of their total revenue from the state.

#2: Higher property taxes for poorer districts: In high-poverty districts, local taxpayers pay higher property tax rates to support schools than taxpayers in low-poverty districts. Since the budget passed, the gap has gotten larger.

#3: Bigger cuts in teacher compensation in poorer districts: If districts absorbed the entire cut in state support by reducing employee compensation (as made possible by last year’s changes to collective bargaining rights for public employees), the compensation cut in poorer districts would be $6,400 per employee. In low-poverty districts, the compensation cut would be $2,800. Because reductions in state aid are more than twice as large for poorer districts, reductions in staff compensation must be more than twice as large.

#4: Bigger staff losses in poorer districts: Public school staff was reduced by 5.7 percent in high-poverty districts in the 2011-12 school year, compared to 1.1 percent in low-poverty districts. That means fewer teachers in classrooms and increased class sizes in poorer districts.

  #5: Fewer experienced teachers working in poorer districts: Poorer districts will have fewer resources available to recruit and retain the high-quality teachers needed to help students take full advantage of academic opportunities.

If we are committed to closing Wisconsin’s achievement gap, we should make sure that all students have a chance to succeed. Instead, budget cuts have limited academic opportunities for students living in poor school districts.

Tamarine Cornelius

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