In light of the COVID-19 virus, school districts are struggling to make decisions about the upcoming school year. Public education has generally been afforded significant local control. Most legislation and regulation provide the locally elected school board members the responsibility and flexibility to do what they believe is right for the community and the district. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has supported local control of education for many years, and in this pandemic, we strongly support local decision making for public schools. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has released guidance regarding the reopening and operation of schools, which has respected local control by local school boards.
However, on July 29, 47 Wisconsin legislators sent a letter on Wisconsin Legislature letterhead to all school districts that puts the local control of school operation into question. Within this letter, the legislators are threatening public schools into opening face to face in the fall or face a cut in state funding. Public schools need additional funding, not cuts, to respond to COVID-19 and the needs of children at this time. Let us work together to provide adequate funding for every child’s education.
The legislators in the letter question the effectiveness of virtual learning and strongly encourage districts to require teachers be physically present in their classrooms:
“The state is minimally obligated to provide students the opportunity for a sound, basic education, but we wish to ensure all students have access to the best education possible. To that end, we ask that you consider opening your doors this fall to provide every student with an in-class experience.”
To claim the state is “minimally obligated“ to provide an education is a misstatement of the state’s obligation to provide an adequate education for all children as set forth in the Wisconsin Constitution and interpreted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
This push from legislators is a bullying tactic to force districts to open public schools face-to-face in the coming weeks. Various areas of the state and, thus, school districts are being affected differently by the virus. Each community and district must weigh the health risk of students, teachers, and staff with other relevant factors to make their decisions. Consultation with local and state health officials is an important factor in the decision-making process. Opening schools too soon can result in large increases of virus cases and harm to the entire community.
We urge all League members to voice support for local school district decisions. Contact your school board members and administrators to offer your support. Attend the meetings where these issues will be discussed. Contact your Assembly Representative and state Senator to voice your opinion about the need for local control of public schools.