‘My students deserve a quality education,’ special education teacher tells legislators

Supporters of public education packed into the auditorium of Marinette High School for a Joint Finance Committee state budget hearing.

Kandace Larsen, a special education teacher at Marinette High School, stood up for her students Friday in testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

“I am here to speak as an educator in support of public education, but more importantly, I am here to speak for my students – many of whom are not able to speak for themselves,” she said at a state budget public hearing at Marinette High School.

“Public education has seen many cuts in funding in recent years and Special Education funding has been frozen for a decade. What does this mean for my students? It means less staffing for those students who need it the most, because districts can’t afford the personnel needed to provide the support for those students who need the most,” Larsen said.

“It means larger class sizes, and less classroom materials. Many of my students come from low income families, families in which budget cuts affect the most. I have purchased pencils, notebooks, food, clothing, laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo, etc., out of my own pocket for students in my classroom who are in need, because these are some of the basic items they need in order to be successful at school.

“My students deserve a quality education – one that will prepare them for the future. They all hope to obtain jobs once they graduate from high school, a goal that can be difficult to achieve with a disability. Freezes and cuts in funding make it difficult for public schools to prepare students for the workforce, leaving the future for these students uncertain.”

Larsen asked the committee to restore funding to public schools through a $300 per-pupil increase to the revenue limit and by increasing state special education funding, which has been frozen for ten years, to 30% of costs.

She was one of many educators, parents and concerned citizens to express support for better education funding. Her husband, Brian Larsen, an Oconto special education teacher, said school districts, including his, “have been in a perpetual ‘cut the budget’ mode” since 2011, still resulting in deficit budgets year after year.

“What does this mean for our children? What does this mean for their future? It means students will have less access to a quality public education,” he said. “It means our children have fewer opportunities to learn. It means students will be unprepared for college, as well as the workplace.

“This puts the future of our children in jeopardy, and sets them up for failure. As an educator, I work hard to set my students up for success, and the state budget should also promote my students’ success.

“My students want to go to college. They want to obtain jobs, have families and own a home. They want to be members of their communities,” he said. “They need a quality public education to make their dreams happen.”

The Joint Finance Committee wrapped up its hearings Friday. It is expected to begin voting on budget provisions about May 1.

Read/watch more on the Wisconsin Public Education Network Facebook page.

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

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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.