By Kevin Binversie
In any other year, it would have been largely ignored or, at most, a one-day story in the state’s political news cycle.
But the spin coming off the biennial survey by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, or WASDA, has shown the document is intended more as a weapon in a recall of Gov. Scott Walker than to educate Wisconsin taxpayers.
The document has been co-opted by Walker opponents as a sign that his reforms and state budget cuts gutted Wisconsin’s schools with devastating results. Walker’s team in the governor’s office has countered the survey with not one, not two, but three releases intended to dissect and blow up his opponent’s spin from this year’s survey when compared with the group’s previous surveys.
The facts show fewer taxpayers whose income fell behind inflation during the past decade are paying more for public education and getting less.
WASDA’s surveys are nothing new when it comes to political documents. As the lobbying group in the state for school districts, WASDA traditionally has skewed its survey results to say educational doom in Wisconsin is nigh and the sky is falling.
The group along with its traditional survey co-sponsor, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s top teacher’s union, has long fought for as much funding as it can get for kindergarten through grade 12 education.
Predictions of an educational apocalypse in Wisconsin have been constant during the past decade, as the state dealt with deficits inflicted by Govs. Scott McCallum and Jim Doyle.
This year’s survey however, saw a change in sponsorship. Instead of WEAC, the state’s Department of Public Instruction, or DPI, openly sponsored the document. What is the reason for the sudden switch? No one seems to know publicly, and when reached by email for comment, a spokesman at DPI did not reply.
What is known is that even in a weakened financial state, WEAC is getting its money’s worth out of the state superintendent’s office. When the allegedly nonpartisan office opened in 2009 with the retirement of former Superintendent Elizabeth “Libby” Burmaster, she and WEAC pushed hard for her top DPI lieutenant, Tony Evers, to succeed her. WEAC showed its commitment to the Evers campaign by dumping nearly $600,000 into independent expenditures for pro-Evers television advertising and mailings, according to the records of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Evers has been hostile to Walker’s reforms from the beginning. Saying in a letter to Joint Finance Committee co-chairmen state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, “the collective bargaining changes simply go too far, are not necessary for balancing the budget.”
Evers is the sort of calculating political animal who would use his office to try to topple a governor.
There is a multitude of useful information in the recent WASDA survey. Wisconsinites deserve to have an idea what the Walker reforms mean for the classrooms statewide and, most importantly, the classrooms their children attend.
But they also deserve an unbiased lens, untouched by special interests that squandered taxpayer money to guarantee the educational bureaucracy’s stranglehold on taxpayers. How tight is that stranglehold?
While the private sector lost almost 94,000 jobs, 4 percent, in a decade, public K-12 school employment increased 3 percent, almost 4,000 jobs. While private sector total wages increased only 22 percent, K-12 public schools total wages went up more than 24 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And according to usgovernmentspending.com, total state and local government spending on education in Wisconsin jumped 34 percent between 2001 and 2010.
The public deserve data they can trust, not data filtered and spun to mislead democracy.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.