Seeing Congressman Sean Duffy walk through the crowds at county fairs meeting constituents and exchanging ideas is not unusual. His parade walkers wear Duffy shirts and greet the audience. Some of his parade walkers have carried signs that read “Conservative Teachers (heart) Duffy,” a strong reminder of how important educational issues are in any political season.
Congressman Duffy and I have had several discussions about educational issues. The Congressman understands that educators are determined to address misleading comparisons about the cost of educating students in America with the cost of educating students in other countries. Many countries do not provide educational opportunities and/or address quality of life issues for the neediest children as Americans do. These services, usually required through unfunded mandates, contribute significantly to the average cost of educating an American student. Aware of this issue, Congressman Duffy explained, “I am looking at what Washington does and its impact on the states. When Washington mandates state governments to provide a service, it must find a way to pay for those services.”
While advocating respect for life, America has found the most humane and least expensive way to meet the requirements of children who have special needs. Yet, that cost to the educational system is great. Special Education involves unfunded mandates which distort the actual cost of educating students in America. Dr. Ronald Heilmann, Jr., Superintendent of the Eau Clair School District, summarized the concerns of several administrators; “Educators are eager to provide the best educational environment for every child, but mandates for special education have consistently been underfunded and distort the actual cost of educating students which places an additional burden on school budgets.”
Superintendents across northern Wisconsin are concerned that comparing costs of educating children in America to that cost in other countries is unrealistic especially because special education mandates require American school budgets to include medical and hospitalization costs for severely disabled children.
Superintendents identify students with severe disabilities that require medical assistance costing the districts $30,000 to $116,000 a year per child. Educational systems in most other countries are not responsible for these costs; therefore, a fair comparison of the cost for educating children in America would remove the cost of special education from the formula. Because the Supreme Court ruled that every child had a “right to a free appropriate public education,” the American educational system should not be criticized for costs greater than those in less supportive countries.
Karen Schroeder, Rice Lake
President, Advocates for Academic Freedom