I live in Waukesha, and I have three daughters. At the start of the 2020 school year they were going into 5th, 7th, and 10th grades. Our school board voted initially in July to be open five days per week, then voted again in mid-August. This brought immense relief to many parents, as we knew our children would have somewhere to go, and would be able to stay on track with their studies. At this same meeting in August, a board member, unhappy with the 5-4 vote to open our schools to in-person learning, made a motion to learn more about a hybrid model. Within 45 minutes — just two weeks before school was to start — one board member changed her vote to the hybrid model. This meant my middle school and high school students would only be in a classroom two days per week. I had just two weeks to figure it out.
I started to panic. Unfortunately, I knew I had to leave my high school daughter in this disaster. There was no way our family could afford private high school. I started looking at other options for my two youngest daughters. School was to start on Sept. 1. On Friday, Aug. 28, my 5th-grader, 7th-grader and I toured a private school in Waukesha. By the end of the weekend, I had removed my youngest two daughters from the School District of Waukesha and enrolled them in a private school which would be open five days a week. Talk about a gut-wrenching, painful parenting decision.
Even though the public school system would allow full in-person learning at the elementary level, I saw what it was going to look like for my 5th-grader after speaking with her teacher. There would be a good chance the school would get shut down due to the quarantines of healthy children, or my child would be missing so much school because of ridiculous close contacts with potentially unhealthy children. This turned out to be exactly what would happen in the public schools. It was in and out, with no stability.
My family was forced to spend our hard-earned money on a private school while our tax dollars for public schools paid for schools that were closed. In addition, I had to purchase a laptop for my high schooler so she could participate in virtual learning thee days a week. I also was forced into paying for counseling sessions because my high school was suffering from mental health issues. Virtual learning and the canceling of school activities took a devastating toll on her.
These additional expenses and heartache could have been avoided if my taxpayer-funded schools would have been open. It really is unfortunate what happened to our family, but I know many others had it much worse. I can’t imagine if I were a single mother and trying to make this work. Not only did this put an immense amount of stress on our family to ensure my children’s education needs were met, we all were suffering emotionally. It’s incredible what being in a classroom does for my children’s learning abilities, but also for their mental and emotional health.
If my taxpayer funds had been saved, it would have allowed our family to pay for items needed for school and it would have put less strain on our finances. It is my hope that our school district, and even state government, will learn from this past school year and put the needs of children and families before their own. I along with 175 other parents join together in calling on our lawmakers to refund our tax dollars so that we can cover lost expenses from this past school year. It really is only fair.
Stacy Keene is a resident of Waukesha.
Here is the letter Keene and 174 other Wisconsin residents sent to Gov. Tony Evers and state lawmakers urging them to to refund taxpayer dollars that were spent on closed schools this year.
Dear Governor Evers, Speaker Vos, Majority Leader LeMahieu, members on the Joint Finance Committee, and members of the Wisconsin Legislature,
We are residents of Wisconsin upset that our tax dollars were spent on K-12 public schools that were closed. No one should be forced to pay full price for an incomplete product. But that is what occurred for public education in Wisconsin during COVID-19.
The state should refund taxpayers.
In 2021, while states like Florida had nearly all of their school districts open, the majority of Wisconsin school districts were closed for full-time, in-person learning. This occurred even though there was an abundance of scientific evidence that schools, with precautions, could be safe.
With so many schools closed for in-person learning, parents were forced to stay at home from work or pay costs related to childcare or virtual learning. That’s unfair to Wisconsin families, especially when Wisconsin school districts are receiving their full per student state funding as well as additional federal funding for COVID relief.
Virtual learning is not the same as in-person learning. When school buildings are closed, districts spend less on basic functions and children receive a lower-quality product.
We are asking the state to issue a refund to taxpayers who were forced to pay full-price for an inferior product. Doing so would hold school districts accountable, requiring them to be better stewards of our money and provide some financial relief to parents who had to spend out of pocket for virtual education.