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Written by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31   
Wednesday, 15 May 2024 10:56

teaching-studentsSenator Smith asks everyone to thank our dedicated teachers by sharing his personal experience and discussing the importance of our educators.


MADISON - Last week we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week. Summer is approaching as students and teachers look for a successful close to the school year. Now is the time to thank our teachers before everyone moves on to new summer adventures.

Wisconsin’s K-12 schools are the cornerstone of our communities. Our teachers are tasked with building up our kids so they can reach their full potential. It’s our responsibility to ensure teachers have the support to help all Wisconsin students.

Long before I served in the senate, my wife chose a career as a teacher. When our first child was born she let me know that I’d be responsible for volunteering in our daughter’s classroom when she reached school age. I understood the importance of our teachers as a former student, but little did I realize what an important job my wife and other teachers had day-in and day-out.

I volunteered as much as the school would allow. Gaining an understanding of the needs of our schools, kids and teachers, I helped organize as an active participant for the passage of an important referendum in the late 1990s.

jeff-smithIt didn’t stop there. I created a parent advisory committee that’s still involved with the Eau Claire School District. My activism in education morphed into engagement in the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association Board, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and an appointment to the Governor’s Task Force for Educational Excellence.

Years spent learning about how Wisconsin’s public schools prepare kids for the future has given me the perspective and appreciation for our teachers. As former students, each of us can see how teachers make a difference for our kids in the classroom and beyond. Our society as a whole depends on talented teachers rooted in our communities and serving families.

Challenges for teachers and our schools continue, especially when it comes to the recruitment and retention of quality teachers and staff. Finding teachers is hard, but keeping them is even harder. Housing, inflation and worker shortages are making a difficult job impossible for school administrators who are trying to piece together a crew of top-notch teachers.

I’ve seen the work and commitment my wife had outside of the classroom. Long hours preparing, bringing the challenges of individual students home with her and continually pushing students to be their best selves is the kind of work teachers don’t get paid for. It takes special people to go beyond. Acknowledging these difficulties deserves attention and appreciation for those who do it for our kids.

school-bus-kidsThe conversation about how we fund our schools has fallen by the wayside as we’ve invested more into education, but we need to keep discussing the inequities that exist in our school funding formula. Some teachers get more and some teachers get less – it all depends on how much property value is within a school district. It should depend on how difficult it is to educate the students. It’s wrong to pump money into a broken system, especially into a failed voucher school program. We can’t lose focus of our constitutional requirement to fund our schools equitably.

Another significant challenge schools are facing is the cost of special education. Students with special needs often require extra attention and resources to ensure their success and make sure no student falls behind because of a disability. Working around and through these challenges to help students learn is as varied as each individual student. More focused and tailored education is required to get each cohort of students ready for the world as adults.

Special education is costly and schools are trying to absorb the costs. Teachers are the ones faced with the challenges, and they are the ones who lose when special education costs ratchet up each year. It’s unfair and we need to figure out solutions to help. It takes a village of dedicated people to confront these problems and keep our schools strong.

Our teachers deserve our respect and they need our help. If there’s one thing you can do before summer, it’s acknowledging the challenges facing our educators and thanking them for their dedication to their honorable profession.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

 
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