Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Public schools: safety net or drift net?

4-K, Education, Elmbrook, History, TAXES

Recently at a neighborhood party, a few of the moms were talking about school and the high cost of private school tuition. Two of them had their children enrolled in parochial elementary and high schools.

I believe it is the right of every parent to choose the type of school their child attends.Sending children to private school or homeschooling them is a financial sacrifice many parents are willing to make, but as our property taxes increase it is a choice that is becoming increasingly difficult. (The major portion of your bill is the school tax).

That discussion reminded me of something I read in January's 2007 Elmbrook Link regarding the budget.

There has never been a greater need than now to recruit all possible resident-student enrollments into our schools, according to assistant superintendent for finance and operations, Bob Borch. The amount of revenue that the State of Wisconsin allows school districts to receive each year is based on enrollment figures under what are called, "state revenue caps." Either the School District of Elmbrook increases its resident enrollment as one way to produce more revenue or it must continue to make dramatic spending cuts to keep the annual budget in balance.  (Emphasis added)

When that publication came out, some people made the comment that because property taxes (school taxes) were getting so high, soon residents would have no choice but to send their kids to public school--they couldn't could afford tuition on top of the property taxes. Elmbrook was taxing us out of our ability to choose! This holds true for homeschoolers too. (Most homeschool moms cannot work outside the home and teach their children at the same time, so they are single income families.) 

The absurdity of Elmbrook's rational in their wish to recruit every possible student is unbelievable. In very rounded numbers, the total cost per student is $13,000/year. The district receives about $3,000/student from the coveted state reimbursement mentioned in the Link. The remaining $10,000 per student comes from us, the ELMBROOK School District taxpayers!

But cost aside, is this what Public Schools were designed to be? Something that parents had to enlist their children in with out a choice? A drift net that would snag and snare every living creature in its path? Or was the concept of the public school set up to be a safety net, designed to catch those who fell through the cracks, to keep them from injury.

If we look at the history of public education in the United States, we see that the Puritans were the first to implement free public education in the colonies. They wanted their children to be literate so they could read the Bible. It is ironic that the very reason for free public education is evolving into a mandate to attend a school where God cannot be mentioned nor a Bible read.

The first free public school in the United States was not available until the mid 1800s. (Section, The Beginning of the Public Education System)

The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty.

These reformers thought education should not just be for the wealthy, who could afford tuition to a private school or a tutor, but be available to all American children. It was not until 1918 that there even was a Federal law on the books requiring compulsory elementary school attendance in all states. These laws came about to ensure that all children, regardless of financial ability to pay, could reap the benefits of a basic education.   

Many families today are already being priced out of their ability to choose the type of education their child receives by the very system of public education (and resulting high property taxes) that was created to ensure all children be educated.  If this pattern of ever increasing school property taxes continues, then ironically, the only families that will still be able to choose will again be those who are very wealthy, or in select districts, the poor who qualify for school choice vouchers.

Elmbrook must come to terms that they must find other ways to work within their budget than just continually trying to increase their student enrollments. Recruiting all the resident students who currently attend private schools, non-resident students, and now the possible 4K students, just to receive the paltry (in comparison to the total cost) state aid monies to boost their budget is not the answer.

Enrollments will continue to drop. That is just the reality of the aging baby boom. Adding 4K may ease Elmbrook's budget woes for now (not the Embrook taxpayers' burden), but how will that help when enrollments drop further?

Elmbrook will suggest adding all day 4K, to double the state aid money. Then they will suggest adding 3K. The real answer lies in cutting the fat out of the budget and improving efficiency, and only asking the public to fund our own students.

Elmbrook needs to be reminded that they only receive about 25% of actual cost for each Elmbrook student from the state (that includes Elmbrook taxes too) and that it is the Elmbrook taxpayer that must make up the remaining 75%.

Elmbrook's drift net mentality costs the taxpayer about $10,000 per student. At that price, how does snagging a larger catch help us? 


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