We need to have a difficult conversation. It’s a conversation that is important for our children and our community, and without it we risk a fractured future. It’s a conversation about a move by the Republican-led legislature to split up our schools in a way that would largely segregate our children, divide our communities and lead to less successful education for all students.
On Monday, the budget committee passed a provision specifically aimed at Racine Unified School District. The provision allows surrounding villages to hold a vote to break apart the school district.
The referendum unfairly allows one group of residents to decide the fate of another. Under the provision, residents in the villages will have the exclusive power to vote to break up RUSD. Residents of the city, however, will not get a vote despite the fact that the vote will determine what happens to children who live in the City of Racine and attend schools in RUSD.
The referendum would also divide our community down lines of race, income, and educational opportunities. The reality is that the children who attend schools in the villages are mostly white and affluent, while students attending schools in the city are more likely to be black and Latino and from low-income families. That means that a group of mostly white, middle-class residents will alone decide whether to kick minority and low-income students out of schools they currently attend. The parents of the children being kicked out will have no vote.
Even in 2017, it is painfully uncomfortable to discuss race. In Racine and across Wisconsin, we pride ourselves on being welcoming, inclusive, and diverse. That is why it is so important for us to discuss how this change could impact our community and our children. And even if the Republicans who drafted this provision aren’t trying to divide our community by race and class, that would be the consequence.
It’s true that some of our schools in Racine are struggling. More of our parents are working longer hours for less money, which means even more of our children are living in poverty.
Even as more of our middle class has seen the value of their working dollar stretched thinner, the state has reduced funding for our schools. Today, Wisconsin’s education budget is at least $1 billion short of where it should be, and no Republican plan to dismantle RUSD would fill that gap.
We’ve seen Republican gimmicks aimed at making some things better for some students — charters, vouchers, open school enrollment, and more. This provision to split up RUSD is just worse than a gimmick — it is a power grab. It could be a blatant test of Brown v. Board of Education that sought to integrate our schools and create equal opportunity for all children.
We need a unified school district for many reasons. School funding is better utilized across a large number of students. A unified school district makes it possible for us to pay for costly programs like special education and also to provide students with the newest technology. It makes it possible for us to hire and keep experienced teachers who are invested in the wellbeing of our children.
There is a lot that we need to do in Wisconsin to ensure our children get the best possible education. We need to fully fund all of our schools. We need to stop attacks on our teachers, which has resulted in recruitment problems for RUSD. We need to all be more involved in how our schools operate. We need to ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely and ensure accountability for how our money is used at private voucher schools.
This provision slipped into the budget two months after the due date without a public hearing and without input from community members will likely be signed by Gov. Walker. Only a strong backlash from the community and outreach from constituents can stop now stop it. So our hope rests with you. We hope that, if the villages are faced with this decision, we say “no.” No to dividing our school district. No to dividing our community. No to letting one group of individuals decide the fate of thousands of children from another racial group and social class. We should say no because we are stronger together than we are apart. We are One Racine.