Thirty-three years ago when I started high school (GO PURGOLDERS!), my parents did not have to pay any fees for me to attend school. There were no fees for me to play football, and no fees for textbooks or consumables. As I recall, the only fees my parents paid while I was in high school were $20 for a season pass to all athletic events (total of $80 for four years), and $60 for driver's education my sophomore year. That was it.
Now, 30-some years later due to a shifting of the tax burden from the wealthy and businesses, school funding has taken a hit. Now my taxes no longer cover what it costs to educate a child.
And yet, Article X Section 3 of the Wisconsin State Constitution states:
The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years...Well, this does not look like free to me:
Off-season football camp: $75.00Follow below the fold for more.
Athletic fee (per sport): $115.00 x 2 (Football and Wrestling)
Off-season Speed, Strength, and Conditioning: $70
Spirit Pack (Clothing required for football): $45
Activity Fee: $30.00
Consumable Material Fee: $17.00
SCI111-Course Fee Yr: $4.00
Textbook Fee: $35.00
Gatorade Fee: $20.00 (Added fee for football to pay for post-game refreshments)
Optional Yearbook: $47.00
Optional Student Athletic Pass: $20.00
To top this off, any child participating in athletics is also expected to raise funds for the athletic department by selling discount cards for $20 each so that the athletic department has funds for maintenance. This past Wednesday my son and the rest of the football team had to go on a "blitz" to sell as many of the cards as they possibly could in a four-hour period.
In other words, my 14-year-old son has to be a salesman in order to play football.
Added to this is that the Madison Metropolitan School District no longer offers driver's education as a part of the curriculum due to budget cuts, which forces parents to the private market which is not cheap. And it makes me wonder how economically disadvantaged families are going to be able to afford having a child become a licensed driver.
I keep being told that we here in Madison are getting off easy on fees. Some of my friends have said they are paying double or triple what my family is paying. But that's not the point—the point is that in Wisconsin, voucher schools are siphoning money away from the public school system, and the wealthy and businesses are not paying their fair share.
It's not just public schools suffering. City services are cut as well. Across the Midwest communities, including Madison, are losing ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation. The city of Madison will have to cut down thousands of ash trees on public property and replant with hardier trees. The question currently before the city council on how to pay for this. One proposal is to charge property owners about 73 cents for each linear foot of street frontage, which would amount to $52.56 for a property with 72 feet bordering a city street. And this charge can't be added to property taxes because Scott Walker's Wisconsin ties the hands of municipalities with property tax caps. In the case of Madison, which is currently looking at $2 million dollars in increased urban forestry costs over the next two years, a fee is the only way to raise the money. You could face a higher fee just because you live on a corner.
All of these fees come at a time when wages have remained stagnant, with no relief in sight for the average worker in Wisconsin—who will be hit hardest by all these school fees, urban forestry fees, and other fees. In May of this year, Gov. Walker cut taxes once again, but those tax cuts will only benefit the wealthy—and they shifted even more of the burden onto the middle class. Now instead of all of us in society each paying our fair share towards educating our children and maintaining our cities and towns, the rich enjoy low taxes while local services crumble.
Wisconsin, the city of Madison, and the Madison Metropolitan School District are but a microcosm of what has happened and is continuing to happen in America today. We have the money to militarize our police forces, for jet fighters that do not fly, for wars that seemingly never end, but we cannot pay to educate our children, house the homeless, or provide basic city services.
While growing up my dad, a child of the Great Depression and a World War II veteran, would tell me how America was the greatest nation on earth. That she may have made mistakes along the way, but we were a beacon to the rest of the world. Today, I can't tell my son those same things. I feel as if I have lost my country. Our priorities are all wrong, and hate and vitriol have replaced reasoned debate. Our police forces look like they would be more at home on a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan than in Missouri. All of this goes on while our middle class collapses under an ever-increasing load of paying for everything.
What kind of world will my son be facing in four years when he graduates from high school?