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New teacher

Nathan Hutchins, a new hire at Memorial High School in Madison, prepares his classroom for the new school year that started Sept. 1.

JOHN HART - State Journal

Gov. Scott Walker has tried in recent weeks to claim that his assault on the collective bargaining rights of teachers and his deep cuts in education funding have somehow benefited school districts across Wisconsin.

But he threw in the towel Monday, with an acknowledgement that the cuts have been deep and painful.

Of course, Walker did not know he was admitting the failure of his initiative.

But consider the governor’s response to the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators survey of districts across the state. The survey found that the majority of Wisconsin students now attend schools that have experienced significant cuts in teaching staff and education aides and that the deepest cuts were to special education programs. The report was broadly seen as a damning indictment of the governor’s approach. Walker had to say something.

On Monday, the governor’s office put out a press release headlined: “WASDA Survey Results: Myth vs. Reality.” The statement had the governor chirping: “The reforms put in place earlier this year have not only helped schools balance their budgets without massive layoffs or property tax increases, but these innovative changes have also helped improve education, which is good for students all across Wisconsin.”

Yet the statistics the governor chose to focus on — in an apparent effort to “back up” his claim — revealed:

One in four school districts (25 percent) that responded to the survey had been forced to increase class sizes for kindergartners and children in first, second and third grade.

One in three districts (33 percent) had been forced to increase the class sizes for children in fourth through sixth grade.

These numbers add up to less teacher time per student in the critical early grades for tens of thousands of Wisconsin children.

But it gets worse.

Walker acknowledges in his own statement that children in the most vulnerable circumstances are being hit hardest. According to the numbers cited by the governor:

• More than a quarter (26 percent) of school districts have cut special education staff, meaning that children with disabilities will have fewer aides and that teachers will have a harder time balancing the demands and needs of all children in their classrooms.

• More than a quarter (27 percent) of districts have the cut library and media center staff, meaning that children who do not have access to new technologies at home will have less access to them at school.

• One sixth (16 percent) of districts cut drug and alcohol abuse staff, meaning that hundreds of thousands of young people will get less education and encouragement to resist pressures to abuse drugs and alcohol.

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• One sixth (16 percent) of districts cut reading coordination staff.

• More than one in seven districts (15 percent) have cut guidance staff.

• More than one in seven districts (15 percent) have cut staff that directly serves at-risk youth.

These are not the areas that the governor’s critics chose to focus on. These are the cuts that the governor has acknowledged in his own statement on the WASDA survey.

Why? Perhaps the governor really does believe that increasing class sizes, cutting staff for special education and at-risk kids, and making it dramatically harder for thousands of Wisconsin students to learn about technology represent “reform” that is good for students.

But Wisconsinites are not as ignorant as their governor. They know that the cuts are causing real pain.

As Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers says: “It is clear this year that districts had to cut staff, eliminate vital support services, and reduce course offerings, narrowing educational opportunities for Wisconsin’s school children.”

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