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Wisconsin Cuts Resulted in School Job Losses, Survey Shows

A survey of Wisconsin school districts released this week has found that budget cuts imposed by Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers have resulted in 3,368 net education job losses this academic year.

But Walker says those estimates and other data released by the survey are misleading—and that the numbers actually show that the steps he took to control public spending are working.

The survey, released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, found that districts reported starting the academic year with 1,655 fewer teachers, 172 fewer administrators, 776 fewer support staff members and 765 fewer aides. Two-thirds of districts reported that they expect to make deeper cuts next year.

The survey was conducted this fall, and 83 percent of the state's districts responded. Ninety-seven percent of the state's school districts will receive less school aid this year than they did last year, and the median decrease was about 10 percent, the survey showed.

The two-year budget approved earlier this year by Wisconsin's Republican governor and the state's GOP-controlled legislature reduced general school aid by $749 million and limited the amount the local school districts could raise through local taxes.

"Budgets have consequences, and the 2011-13 state budget made sweeping changes to funding for public schools," said state schools superintendent Tony Evers, in a statement. "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."

Those cuts were controversial partly because they were approved during the same year that Walker and lawmakers imposed sweeping curbs on teachers' and other public workers' collective-bargaining powers, through a law that provoked large-scale protests at the state capital earlier this year and inspired a series of recall elections this summer. The governor has argued that those changes will result in cost savings for districts, particularly in school systems where administrators and unions are willing to embrace them.

Walker believes that argument continues to hold up, and he offered a very different interpretation of the survey results. By his breakdown, three of the districts that account for 67 percent of the teacher layoffs in the state, including Milwaukee, were those that have not yet adopted the policy changes approved by the governor.

The governor also says that when the employment numbers are dissected, they show that school districts surveyed made 1,213 more new hires than they did layoffs and non-renewals. (Districts reported 4,581 retirements, which the survey reported occured at a 2.5 times greater rate than in prior years.)

In addition, the governor's office noted, strong majorities of districts kept the same number of staff members, or increased them, in many areas, including technology support, social work, special education, early-childhood education, and gifted and talented programs.

"Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators' survey shows Walker's reforms are working," Walker's office said in a statement.

As we've reported, many states have made substantial cuts to K-12 spending this year. Just for context, know that other school job-loss estimates have emerged in other states—the count was 14,000 in Pennsylvania—and that those numbers have been interpreted differently by policymakers, who have questioned whether districts have taken all the available steps they can to save money.

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