Schools are at the center of our community. The teachers and staff prepare our youth for the future and schools serve as a cornerstone that brings friends, family and neighbors together in a common bond and identity. Losing staff hurts our schools and our community.

This past week, the Department of Public Instruction released a report (http://dpi.wi.gov/eis/newsroom.html) showing cuts to teaching staff across Wisconsin for 2011-2012. While Wisconsin school districts witnessed a 50% increase in staff loss from the previous year and cut over 2,300 staff positions, I want to focus on what this report shows for rural schools in the 91st Assembly District in Western Wisconsin.

There are sixteen school districts in the 91st Assembly District. Thirteen of our school districts experienced staff loss this past year. While three districts saw the size of their teaching staff increase, this ratio is much lower than the rate at which thirteen districts lost staff. The three districts that saw an increase in their staff size only witnessed seven total new positions. Conversely, thirteen districts saw their staff size decrease by fifty-three staff positions. With a gain of seven and a loss of fifty-three, school districts in the 91st Assembly District witnessed an overall loss of forty-six staff positions. These staff positions include administrators, aides, pupil services, teachers and others.

I understand that in tough financial times we need to pay greater attention to fiscal matters. However, balancing a budget, just like in any household is about priorities. In difficult financial times, we must re-evaluate our situation and use a laser-like focus on priorities and keep the things we deem to be necessary. Without question, school funding should have been a priority this past budget cycle. Wisconsin's $1.6 billion cut to school funding was the largest in the nation. As a result, 74%, or 315 of the 424 school districts across our state witnessed staff loss.

While our schools suffered the highest cuts in the country, voucher schools in the Milwaukee and Racine area received $300 million dollars in funding. Voucher schools are virtually unaccountable and do not have to meet the same reporting and monitoring requirements as public schools. None of the voucher school funding benefits students or school districts in our Western Wisconsin communities. I believe it is irresponsible to provide additional funding for the unaccountable, unproven voucher school programs while drastically slashing funding for public schools.

Education and proper school funding has been a priority of mine as your State Representative. I am proud to advocate for our schools. It is my hope that this report has not only been informative but also shines a light on what has happened to our schools in just one year. We must make our schools a priority because the future of our community, state and country depend on it.