Legislative Update – June 15

Current WEAC Action Alerts

Sign up for updates at www.weac.org/budget.

Ask committee to oppose referendum restriction bill

Tell your legislators to make public school funding a priority in the budget

Ask your senator to protect the WRS

Latest in the Legislature

Joint Finance Nixes Self-Insurance       
The Joint Finance Committee unanimously nixed the governor’s plan to move state workers to self-insurance, after halting meetings for over a week, saying it was risky and they can find other ways to insure schools. “I’m happy we were able to do that without sticking it to state employees,” Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, told Madison insiders.

JFC leaders also told insiders that they are getting close to an agreement on K-12 education. The Assembly Republicans have introduced their own education budget, while Senators have said they’ll likely work off the governor’s proposal. We’re still waiting for three biggies – education, transportation and taxes – to be taken up. The current state budget expires on June 30.

Assembly and Senate Floor Sessions

The Assembly and Senate were in session Wednesday – it was the last scheduled date for a Senate floor session. Senators will convene as necessary going forward, but so far no other floor sessions are on the docket. The Assembly is expected to meet on June 21, when campus speech might be taken up, along with:

  • AB-071 Pupil Data Inventory An inventory of pupil data.
  • AB-072 Pupil Data Security Responsibilities of state superintendent related to privacy and security of pupil data.
  • AB-250 Alternative Education Grants
  • AB-251 DPI Grant Programs Modifying rules related to various grant programs administered by the Department of Instruction.
  • AB-266 Technical Excellence Scholarship Program Eligibility for the Technical Excellence Higher Education Scholarship Program.
  • AB-280 Financial Literacy in Schools Incorporating financial literacy into the curriculum of public schools.
  • AB-299 Free Expression in UW System Providing an exemption from rule-making procedures, and granting rule-making authority.
  • AB-383 Parental Choice Programs The Special Needs Scholarship Program, granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation.
  • AB-111 Threat to use Firearm Threat to use a firearm on school property to injure or kill a person and providing a criminal penalty.

Referendum Restrictions
Also today, the Assembly Committee on Education held a public hearing on three bills to restrict school boards’ ability to place referendum questions before district voters and limit the length of time a successful referendum can be in effect. Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, summed them up this way, “Public schools were told, if you don’t have enough money, go to referendum, ask your local voters. And now you don’t like that either. You’ve driven schools into this and now that they’re doing it, you’re saying we got to stop this. I don’t understand the philosophy.”

The three referendum restriction bills are:

  • Assembly Bill 282, prohibiting a school board in a unified district from voting on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school board meeting that is not a regularly scheduled monthly meeting, and prohibiting voting in a common or union high school (UHS) district on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school district special meeting. The bill would further provide that the electors of common and UHS districts may vote upon an initial resolution to raise money through a bond issue only at the school district’s annual meeting.
  • Assembly Bill 268, eliminating recurring referendums to exceed revenue limits and limiting the duration of successful non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums to 5 years, creating an automatic “cliff effect” when those referendums expire. The bill would also convert all previously approved recurring (permanent) operating expense referendums to non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums with a duration of 5 years, which would create a similar “cliff effect.” The five-year clock would begin ticking in the year the bill, if enacted as a new law, is published.
  • Assembly Bill 269, requiring, with certain exceptions (e.g., in cases of fire or natural disaster) that all referendum votes must be held on the dates of spring and fall General Elections. This would limit school boards to only two opportunities in an even-numbered year and only one opportunity in an odd-numbered year.

A bipartisan Senate bill (SB293)/Assembly bill (AB383) is on the fast-track, with a host of changes to the voucher program. It received an Assembly hearing Tuesday and was approved by the full Senate. It’s a mixed bag, but what’s grabbing headlines is that voucher schools would have to conduct background checks. Lawmakers say they’re looking to streamline Wisconsin’s four separate privatization programs, but there are still serious concerns that this prioritizes selective vouchers over the public schools that serve all children.

Merit Scholarships
A fiscal estimate was received for WI AB 338, on a plan for sale of public lands to fund merit scholarships.

DPI Scope Statement
SS 055-17. Red Tape Review of rules governing school district boundary appeals, pupil nondiscrimination, and school finance.


Several appointments have been made government boards:

  • Board of Regents of the UW System: Robert Atwell, Michael Jones
  • State of Wisconsin Investment Board: Norman Cummings, David Stein
  • Wisconsin Technical College System Board: Hunter Kautz

Legislative Update – June 12

Sign up for updates at www.weac.org/budget.

Current WEAC Action Alerts

Ask committee to oppose referendum restriction bill

Tell your legislators to make public school funding a priority in the budget

Ask your senator to protect the WRS

Latest in the Legislature

With the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee holding off meetings last week and committing to none in the future, the division between Assembly and Senate Republicans around, among other topics, education is front-and-center. The Assembly is still pushing its own education budget that differs significantly from the governor’s, while leading senators say lawmakers should work off the governor’s proposal and the promise of per-pupil categorical aids of $200 and $204 over two years – or perhaps the Senate Republicans will make their own.

Friday, several school groups released a joint memo in favor of that promise over the Assembly plan. You’ll remember WEAC weighed in early in the debate to support A Budget For All.

At the crux of the budget debate is the governor’s demand that property tax bills sent to homeowners in 2018 will be lower than those they received in 2014 or another year. Due to a lower lottery credit and rising costs for private school tuition vouchers, the budget Walker sent lawmakers no longer meets his own pledge of coming in below the $2,831 bill for a median-valued home in December 2014. And the governor is campaigning heavily in advance of a formal re-election bid that he is helping schools.

The Assembly plan would cut about $90 million from the governor’s school plan, and result in a slightly larger property tax bill, in part, because it would allow low-spending school districts to raise per-pupil spending from $9,100 to $9,800 through a property tax increase.

By the Issue

School Employee Tuberculosis Screening. AB-382, requiring screening of school district employees for tuberculosis, was referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

Vouchers. A pair of bills in the Senate (SB-293) and Assembly (AB-383) are moving quickly through the Legislature, with the Senate bill getting a public hearing just two days after it was introduced and the Assembly companion bill up this week.

See Other Bills We’re Watching

Coming Up:

Tuesday, June 13

Wednesday, June 14

Thursday, June 15

  • Assembly Committee on Education public hearing. Members are to take testimony on several bills relating to school referendums. Also on the agenda is AB 77, relating to state aid payments to school districts; and AB 329, relating to prohibiting aiding and abetting sexual abuse.

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.

Trump-DeVos cuts will ‘really hurt our public schools,’ Monona Grove teacher says

The cuts proposed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “are going to really hurt our public schools,” Monona Grove teacher Kelly Sullivan says.

Sullivan, interviewed by Workers Independent News, says the school privatization movement embodied by Trump and DeVos is taking badly need resources away from public education.

“There are a lot of people who are getting into this education privatization movement that are very dangerous because they are all about making profit off of students instead of  being about the value of learning and the value of helping kids learn,” Sullivan says.

“It’s really important to understand  that we do have some challenges in education, but cutting the resources and funding  isn’t helping us fix those challenges.”

Listen to Kelly Sullivan’s comments:


The Trump-DeVos budget slashes public education funding by almost 14 percent and eliminates 22 programs, including teacher training and after-school programs. Public school educators throughout Wisconsin – and the country – are expressing similar concerns.

“For Trump and DeVos, education means only one thing: vouchers, which do nothing to provide students with the support, resources and time to learn they need,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade teacher.

La Crosse teacher John Havlicek said increased funding for vouchers is especially concerning. “That’s throwing bad money after bad, after bad, after bad. We’re going to take a program that doesn’t work and continue to expand it and keep saying it’s going to work.”

“You have to quit stealing from public schools to find private education,” Havlicek said.

Listen to John Havlicek’s comments:

Citizens overwhelmingly want their legislators to support public education

By Ron Martin, President
Wisconsin Education Association Council
Eau Claire Social Studies Teacher

There is something significant happening in Wisconsin. And people are paying attention.

It’s a massive groundswell of support for our public schools. A few weeks ago, Platteville area residents lined up for hours to tell lawmakers their rural students need opportunities restored after losing teachers and programs from years of cuts. Milwaukee is getting national attention for a different approach to school improvement – one that involves the community instead of shutting them out.

This surge in advocacy for public schools is no surprise, given that the vast majority of Wisconsin students attend public schools. Yet, those 860,000 students were shortchanged in the last few state budgets while tax subsidies for private schools skyrocketed. Wisconsinites now see the results playing out in our local schools. And we don’t like it. A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed a whopping 80 percent of Wisconsinites believe we should invest more money in public education.

After all, enough is enough.

Some lawmakers realize they had better get in front of this wave of support for public schools before they get all wet, coming forward so far with a state budget that – for the first time since 2011 – doesn’t cut funding to public schools but instead provides basically an inflationary increase in per-pupil funding. There’s also funding for a student mental health initiative developed by State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Evers, which educators have long called for after state cuts reduced the number of counselors, social workers and nurses in our schools. Some help for rural districts to afford teachers and transportation is also included, although there are no desperately needed new special education funds.

These measures will be helpful, but there’s so much more Wisconsin can do for our students – our future. And the good news is that there’s funding available to do more – if lawmakers listen to the Wisconsin majority and say no to shifting even more public money to private voucher schools.

The budget proposal under development right now promises tax-funded tuition to about 33,750 students in 300 private, mostly religious schools. The price tag for taxpayers? About $263 million next school year alone.

How does that impact public schools? Our public school districts are forced to raise property taxes to fund tuition vouchers, even for the 75 percent of students who never attended a public school. Voters from Green Bay to Chippewa Falls and beyond have approved an unprecedented number of referenda just to maintain basic programs and services.

Now, there are a handful of legislators who want to make matters worse instead of better for students. They’re proposing a package of six bills that would tie the hands of local school boards from providing for the schools they’re entrusted by voters to lead.

Wisconsin has made it clear what we support: More funding for neighborhood public schools. It’s time for elected leaders to deliver, with a budget that restores funding for the majority of students. A budget that reigns in exploding private voucher spending. And a budget without last-minute surprises that have never before seen the light of day, much less a public hearing.

As public school educators prepare the Class of 2017 to graduate into the world, we’ll also be keeping a close eye on the value our elected officials place on our students. We won’t be alone, we know the public is with us. We’re all paying attention.

NEA’s Eskelsen García says DeVos is ‘throwing students under the bus’

In testimony before Congress Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to say she would deny federal funding to private schools that discriminate against certain classes of students. That, and other responses from DeVos to questioning by members of a House appropriations committee during a review of the Trump administration’s education budget proposal, prompted NEA President Lily Eskelsen García to tweet that DeVos was “throwing students under the bus.”

Eskelsen García tweeted that DeVos is still unqualified and still using alternative facts. “We should invest in what makes schools great, the things that build curiosity and instill a love of learning,” she tweeted.

The Trump-DeVos budget would slash the federal investment in public education programs by a whopping 13.6 percent for the upcoming fiscal year, eliminates at least 22 programs, and cuts $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives overall.

During questioning, U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, challenged DeVos on private school vouchers, noting that Milwaukee’s school voucher program has resulted in years of failure. When he pressed DeVos on whether the federal government would hold recipients of public money accountable, DeVos punted, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Times documented this exchange:

“Wisconsin and all of the states in the country are putting their ESSA plans together,” said DeVos, referring to the Every Student Succeeds Act, a school accountability law. “They are going to decide what kind of flexibility … they’re allowed.”

“Will you have accountability standards?” Pocan asked.

“There are accountability standards,” DeVos said. “That is part of the ESSA legislation.”

That’s not true. ESSA’s regulations state that the law’s accountability rules do not apply to private schools.

Earlier, Eskelsen García released a statement saying the Trump-DeVos budget “is a wrecking ball aimed at our nation’s public schools.”

“Their budget shows how dangerously ill-informed they are about what works for students and in public education. Their reckless and irresponsible budget would smash the aspirations of students, crush their dreams, and make it difficult for them to go to college and get ahead.

“We should invest in what makes schools great, the things that build curiosity and instill a love of learning. That is what every student deserves and what every parent wants for his or her child. It should not depend on how much their parents make, what language they speak at home, and certainly, not what neighborhood they live in.”

“Even worse, DeVos and Trump have made failed private school vouchers a cornerstone of their budget. Vouchers do not work and they take scarce funding away from public schools — where 90 percent of America’s students enroll — and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to the public. Spending money on voucher programs means denying students the opportunities they deserve in their neighborhood public schools.

“With this budget, Trump and DeVos want to slash billions of dollars from public education, but it’s more than education programs. These deep cuts will harm students and will have a direct impact in the classroom, but these cuts will also reach far beyond the schoolhouse doors. These budget cuts will hurt every working family in America. And that’s why we have to call on Congress to reject the Trump budget.”

Read more about DeVos’ appearance before Congress:

Betsy DeVos would not agree to bar private schools receiving federal money from discriminating

President Trump’s budget proposal includes deep cuts to education but generously funds a new push for school vouchers. When pressed by representatives at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on the budget, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declined to say if, when or how the federal government would step in to make sure that private schools receiving public dollars would not discriminate against students.

Rather than closing low-performing schools, officials should invest in them, research project concludes

Investing in low-performing schools is a better way to benefit students than closing those schools, according to a new research report. “Closing schools based on academic performance is not a promising solution for turning around low-performing schools,” according to the new policy brief by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC). “School closures negatively impact student achievement and well being, especially among students living in low-income and underserved communities.”

The report, which was funded in part by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, notes there is no guarantee that students will be transferred to better performing schools and in many cases, students are transferred to other schools of equal or lower performance. It found:

  • School closures cause significant stress for teachers and students and negatively impact student test scores, especially during the school’s final years of operation.
  • Students who are transferred to higher-performing schools experience a drop in achievement during the first year at a new school, despite moving to a “better” school.
  • School closures create transportation barriers for displaced students and have the potential to prevent students from participating in after-school activities, sports, or work.
  • Policymakers and districts overlook the hidden costs of closing schools, including costs associated with boarding up and securing closed buildings, storing abandoned furniture, textbooks and technology, and integrating students into new schools.

Instead of closing low-performing schools, the policy brief concludes, policymakers should invest resources in improving existing schools:

  • Especially in districts where high-performing schools are in low supply, policymakers should avoid using school closures as a remedy for improving student performance.
  • Education leaders must work with their local communities, school administrators, teachers, families, and students to find solutions to improve low-performing schools.

Legislative Update – April 24

Special education funding. This bill (SB 211) increases state aid to school districts for special education and school age parents programs provided by the school district to no less than 33 percent of the school district’s certified, eligible costs. It is referred to the Senate Education Committee. Learn more.

WRS bill. This bill (SB 190), introduced this week, combines two proposals introduced by Sen. Duey Stroebel into one bill, which would raise the early retirement age from 50 to 52 for protective services employees and from 55 to 60 for general employees.  Furthermore, the bill would change the calculation for a participant’s final average earning from the highest 3 years to the highest 5 years.  Both of these changes would apply to new employees hired after the passage of the bill. Read more and see the bill history. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection, which Sen. Stroebel chairs.

Matching funds for deposits to school long-term capital improvement trust funds. This bill (SB 192), part of a package of bills relating to limits on school district funding referendums requires the Department of Public Instruction to provide matching funds for deposits that a school board makes to a long-term capital improvement trust fund. Under the bill, if a school board increases the levy limit for operating costs or capital costs, the school board is required to refund to DPI any matching funds it received during the 10 school years immediately preceding the resolution. If a school board fails to refund the amount of the matching funds to DPI within 12 months, DPI must reduce the school district’s state aid to cover the amount due. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: voting by common, union high school districts. (SB 191) prohibits common and union high school districts from voting on a resolution to exceed the revenue limit of a school district at a special meeting. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: number of years a school boards can go to voters. Under this bill (SB 195), a school board would only be able to seek approval from voters in the school district to increase the revenue limit for five consecutive school years. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: When a board can schedule a vote. This bill (SB 194) limits school boards to schedule a referendum for the purpose of increasing the school district’s revenue limit only concurrent with a spring election or with the general election and only if the election falls no sooner than 70 days after the date on which the board adopts and files a resolution to that effect. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: What a board must include on referendum ballot. This bill (SB 187) requires a school board to include specific financial information on a referendum ballot, including the total amount of debt to be issued, the total amount of interest and related debt service costs to be incurred, and the sum of the principal, interest, and related debt service costs. Read more.

ESSA & the WI Legislature. The state Department of Public Instruction is working on a plan it needs to submit to the feds to comply with the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requiring participation by educators and other stakeholders. A bill, AB 233, received a public hearing this week and would require DPI to first submit its plan to the Assembly and Senate education committees for approval by May 15, letting lawmakers propose changes before it goes to the federal government for approval. See the bill history.

Final Joint Finance Committee Budget Hearing. The Legislature’s budget-writing panel concludes public hearings this week, and then is expected to debate the final version through May during which time the panel votes on budget items. The governor continues his statewide tour to tout his K-12 education budget.

Coming Up in the Legislature

April 24

  • Senate Committee on Education. The panel will hold an executive session on bills related to recovery charter schools and a mental health training program. Click for the agenda. Here’s a summary of the bills:
    • AB 11 authorizes the director of the Office of Educational Opportunity in the University of Wisconsin System to contract for the operation of a recovery charter school, insurance coverage of mental health treatment provided by a recovery charter school, and making appropriations.
    • AB 6 authorizes the director of the Office of Educational Opportunity in the University of Wisconsin System to contract for the operation of a recovery charter school, insurance coverage of mental health treatment provided by a recovery charter school, and making appropriations.

Recent Developments

April 20

  • Tech ed equipment grants. A fiscal estimate was received for SB 125, which provides technical education equipment grants for school districts, provides an exemption from emergency rule procedures, and grants rule-making authority. View Bill History

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.

Teacher asks legislators to put voucher program to a statewide vote

La Crosse teacher John Havlicek asked legislators Wednesday to put the private school voucher program to a statewide vote. In testimony before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee at a hearing in Ellsworth, Havlicek first read the names of nearly 100 people whose testimony supporting public education over vouchers was given to him to present to the committee (read some of that testimony here). Then he said:

“Nowhere in the history of our state – in the history of our country – has the public ever actually voted to approve vouchers, opportunity scholarships, or whatever we’re calling them. The research is clear, these (vouchers) do not benefit those students, they do not benefit those schools, other than their bottom line, and they hurt public education.

“If you’re so confident that we should have vouchers in Wisconsin, that we should be increasing the funding and that the voucher program should be expanded, I would ask you to put it to a statewide referendum. Put it to a vote!”

State Senator Lena Taylor posted this video on her Facebook page:

The Wisconsin Public Education Network posted this image of the binder holding testimony from 86 people supporting public education:


Public Education Advocates Flood Milwaukee Joint Finance Committee State Budget Hearing

DSC04576 copy
Just in case GOP legislators on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) had forgotten how dramatically their last state budget hurt Milwaukee Public Schools, parents, students, educators, and community members came to the April 5 State Fair public budget hearing to remind them.

Public education supporters arrived early to the Milwaukee JFC hearing from all over Southeastern Wisconsin (Photo: Joe Brusky).

The hearing provided a steady flow of public education supporters who, one-by-one, stepped up to the microphone to testify in support of fair and equitable public schools. The last two-year state budget that passed, not only continued the massive cuts to Wisconsin’s public schools by over $2 billion dollars, but it also snuck in the Midnight Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools. By inserting the non-fiscal Takeover plan into an Omnibus state budget bill at the last minute, legislators knew they could pass the controversial provision without holding public hearings. The Takeover was eventually defeated by a popular uprising against it and the sham Takeover Czar it empowered over the city’s democratically elected school board. But, the residents of Milwaukee have not forgotten, nor are they willing to allow it to happen again in the next budget.

Members of the Joint Finance Committee were seated above public hearing attendees and were separated by a yellow barrier fence (Photo: Joe Brusky).

The JFC is mandated to hold hearings around the state, and usually a wide array of issues are spoken to. This year, the one issue that came up again and again was public education. Kilbourn Elementary teacher Shari Redel took a personal day out of the classroom to speak up for her MPS students who currently receive thousands of dollars less in per pupil funding when compared to their suburban school counterparts:

MTEA member and Kilbourn Elementary teacher Shari Redel speaks before the JFC. Every time a public education supporter spoke, other advocates wearing “Go Public” t-shirts stood in support (Photo: Joe Brusky).

As a proud Milwaukee Public School teacher for the past thirty years and as the parent of a child who attends public school in a suburban district, I see firsthand the funding disparities, such as the unequal access to specialist teachers, lack of fully resourced libraries, large class sizes, and even the quality of hot lunch. I love my child very much, but I love my students too. It literally breaks my heart to know that my students are treated as less than because many are impoverished. I am asking you to raise the revenue limits so my students have the same opportunity as my own child.

The funding disparities that Redel speaks of have real consequences as Wedgewood teacher Julie Meyer attested to:

MTEA member and Wedgewood Park teacher Julie Meyer testifies before the JFC (Photo: Joe Brusky).

My principal made the choice to fund a social worker, yet because of that choice I have thirty-nine students in my class. We should not have to make that kind of a choice. We should have well funded public schools so I can address the needs of all my students with a smaller class size and I can have a social worker to address those imminent student needs. I ask you to please maintain the budgeted request for a $200 increase per pupil. Thank you!

MPS parent Jenni Linse Hofschulte registered her outrage over the last few state budgets included many public education killing provisions:

MPS parent Jenni Linse-Hofschulte speaks in favor of fair and equitably funded public schools (Photo: Joe Brusky).

These measures were not measures that were asked for by the constituency and parent and students in our state. In the next budget cycle the voucher scheme cap was expanded, but without accountability, a measure not being asked for by the constituency. In the next budget cycle, voucher accountability, as promised, never arrived and funding for our public schools was not restored, and finally in the cloak of darkness came the gifts of the OSSP otherwise known as the Milwaukee Takeover, a measure that was not being asked for by Milwaukeeans. I could have stood hear and asked for a lot today, but my request is really fundamental, please do not use the budget and Omnibus to strip local control and force measures on our schools. Show my 6 year old that you value and respect our voices, our community, and our public schools.

Another public school parent shared a story of how her desire to find the best education for her child with special needs led her to stumble upon why handing public dollars to private institutions only hurt public school children:

A public school parent and supporter of “Save Our Schools – Wauwatosa” testifies on what she discovered when she inquired about sending her child with special needs to a private school (Photo: Joe Brusky).

By the time Sam was four he finally found the right therapists to begin helping him and they told me to get him a public school evaluation. Prior to making that appointment I had called and toured several private schools to see what kind of services they could provide for Sam and his special needs. Each school’s representative told me they could not accommodate a child with special needs. So I was unsure if a public school could help if a private school couldn’t and I began to worry. I nervously called the Wauwatosa School District…and I was immediately put at ease as they reassured me that Tosa could meet our needs. Sam is now 9 years old, thriving at school, learning from incredible teachers on how to use coping strategies for any frustrations that pop up. This is the power of public school! I ask that you raise the revenue cap, providing $300 per year per student, and pause voucher school expansion until they have the same accountability measures as all publicly funded schools.

Students were also present at the Milwaukee JFC hearing. A group of students from Youth Empowered in the Struggle collectively stepped to the microphone to speak as well:

Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) students testify before the JFC on how budget cuts have hurt them and their teachers (Photo: Joe Brusky).

Today, we are here to demand that you fund our schools and stand up to Scott Walker, who already cut state tuition for undocumented students. This makes it harder for us to attend college. Our schools are underfunded and that is not a coincidence. We are Black and Brown working class students who live in impoverished communities. The lack of funding in our schools contributes to the school-to-prison-pipeline. How are we supposed to be productive citizens when you keep taking resources away from us? We are tired of being told their no money for art programs. We are tired of having to share worn down textbooks from the 1980s. Our teachers should not have to use their checkbooks to better serve us.

Students, parents, educators, administrators, and community supporters spoke all day long in support of a state budget that respected Milwaukee Public Schools and other public districts in our region. Public education advocates kept tally of speakers throughout the day. Of the 216 total speakers, an astonishing 73 spoke in favor of a strong public education budget that respected MPS, but will the legislators be listening this time?

Public education advocates set up camp on the State Fair parking lot outside the Milwaukee JFC public hearing, where these posters were hanging for all arriving to see (Photo: Joe Brusky).


YES Students Testify Before the Joint Finance Committee from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Educators, parents ask legislators to prioritize public schools over vouchers in state budget

Educators and parents are asking members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to provide more funding for public schools that educate all children and pull back funding for private voucher schools.

“I am very concerned that there is an increase in funding for the unaccountable voucher program in the budget,” La Crosse teacher Mary Ender Stutesman writes in testimony presented to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “The voucher system with its lack of accountability – not only for the quality of education received by students but for the quality of teaching practiced there – does not improve our democratic goal of quality education for all.”

Stutesman was among several La Crosse Education Association members who presented written testimony. The Joint Finance Committee is re-writing Governor Walker’s state budget proposal and is conducting hearings this month.

“I am a firm believer in public education, and it pains me to see more money taken away from the public school system and given to the voucher system,” writes La Crosse teacher Lisa Colburn. “The public schools serve all students, regardless of their income, their ability or their disadvantages. Voucher schools not only pick and choose their students, they also remove students who struggle in their system. Those students are sent back to the public schools, where educators as always do their best to educate those students.”

In addition, Colburn added, students who attend voucher schools “do worse on standardized tests than their public school peers,” and many voucher schools have shut down, “taking state money and leaving the children behind.”

La Crosse teacher Bryan Morris asks legislators to provide equity in school funding. “By using the per-pupil funding method, you will be leaving our neediest districts and students behind,” he writes. “Please consider funding based upon needs rather than a one-size-fits-all method.”

“Each year our budgets are tighter and tighter, and the priority of education can no longer focus on what is best for kids because districts are struggling to pay the basic necessities such as lights, heat, bus transportation and office supplies,” writes La Crosse teacher Rose Kulig. “Despite tight budgets and high needs, we find money that used to be used for public schools being used to support vouchers to fund private schools that used to operate without the use of tax dollars. To me it seems our current situation will only get worse as more money is allocated for vouchers and less for public schools.”

La Crosse teacher Eric Martin writes that since 2010 in particular, “budgets have been brutal, and teachers have been asked to do more than ever while simultaneously acting as a political punching bag.”

“It is a testament to the excellence of our state’s educators that districts like ours in La Crosse have been able to still serve their students at a high level with the care that students deserve.”

Martin noted that fewer young people are going into the teaching profession and it’s not very difficult to connect the dots between that trend and “the way public education has been vilified by many in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin students deserve better from their state than they have received over much of the past decade,” Martin writes. “Wisconsin’s public schools have always been among the very best in the United States. We must continue to invest in them and pursue wise policies which will keep them that way for the sake of our most precious resource – our young people.”

La Crosse teacher Chad Wilkinson writes that he has taught in both the public and private school systems and that “one of the things that made teaching easier in the private school system was the ability to remove the worst kids, the kids that were tough to educate, and send them to the public school system.”

“Vouchers take money from the institution that needs it the most. In the public system, we get ‘those’ kids. We work hard to get them to graduate and succeed.”

La Crosse teacher Daniel Kaczmarowski notes that the governor’s budget proposal increases vouchers by $217 per pupil while increasing funding for public school students by only $200 per pupil. “If it is decided to continue down the road of funding more and more voucher students, our public schools will suffer as the state will not be able to afford its obligation, and districts will have to cut services for students. Stop throwing my tax dollars to (private) schools that, on average, achieve the same or worse than our excellent public schools in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse parent Andrew Stutesman writes that he is troubled by the “meager increase contained in the budget for public schools that educate every child.”

“This increase does not keep pace with inflation, while costs go up every year,” he writes. “Every year we have more students, with more profound challenges, that need more support. Yet, every year we end up decreasing that support. We have fewer social workers, fewer guidance counselors, fewer librarians, and fewer enrichment programs such as world languages and the arts. …

“I urge you to create a budget that does what government is supposed to do: provide for the least among us so that they, too, can participate in the American dream: a cultural, social, economic, and political success of our wonderful state!”

Wausau teacher Robert Hughes also emphasizes the need to support public education.

“Public schools are the one place in society where everyone gets a seat at the table,” Hughes writes. “People with diverse backgrounds have a right to a quality education, from certified public education teachers. We can make Wisconsin strong again by fully funding public schools, and breaking down barriers for the next generation.”