WEAC is learning from the past and building for the future, WEAC President says

WEAC President Ron Martin addresses the 2017 WEAC Representative Assembly. Joining him at the head table are Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen and Secretary-Treasurer Arlene Braden.

Inspired by the legacy handed down by our past leaders and encouraged by the incredible promise of our current and aspiring educators, the future of WEAC is very strong, WEAC President Ron Martin said Saturday at the 95th WEAC Representative Assembly.

Despite what some media say, “It’s an exciting time to be a union member,” Martin said at the daylong Assembly in Stevens Point.

Martin cited the overwhelming re-election victory of public school advocate Tony Evers as State Superintendent, who specifically thanked WEAC members in his victory speech on April 4, as well as strong school board and school referendum victories throughout the state.

“Our success in this election shows us that our voices still matter,” Martin said. “Integrity matters. Public schools matter. Give yourselves a shout-out for a Job-Well-Done!”

WEAC members did not stop advocating for public education when the election was over. They have turned their attention to the state budget, fighting for public school students by speaking out at budget hearings throughout the state and submitting testimony to legislators who are making major decisions that affect our schools and students.

While the future for educators – through our union – is promising, there is no question that educators are facing major challenges, Martin noted.

“Nothing tears at my heart more than the increasing number of educators who tell me about the pervasive frustration, the loss of control, over their profession. I am deeply disturbed about the culture of testing and data collection forced down the throats of students and educators … transforming our profession into a scripted job that has no connection with what is best for students,” he said.

“I’m deeply disturbed over the number of educators who feel trapped, with no way out of a profession they once loved – the educators who don’t know what their salary will be next year, or the year after, and surely don’t know if they will ever pay back their student loans, afford a house or buy a car.”

But there is only one way out of this situation, he said: “It’s union, friends. Union is the way out. It’s us, together.”

“We come to this spot, today, to remind each other – in union – of the urgency of Now. This is no time to back off or drag our feet. Now is the time to make real the promise of our union – the promise of public education.”

Now is the time, he said, for less testing and more teaching. Now is the time to stand for racial justice, and now is the time to get politicians out of our classrooms.

The theme for this year’s RA was “Learn From the Past, Build for the Future,” and Martin said he has learned a lot about the incredible odds that those before us faced in forming this great union.

“Our union was in the hands of those before us. They formed WEAC. Not to serve themselves. Not only for a few. But for everyone. To secure the role of public education in Wisconsin. To be a platform for educators to work collectively.”

Successes like we experienced in the April election “are a reason why we choose to belong to this union,” and inspire us to move forward on behalf of quality public education and a strong union, Martin said.

“We care about kids. We care about every single one of them. We care about their families too. Our public schools work for everyone. Parents overwhelmingly choose public schools because they work. And public schools work because you work.”

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.

Public outcry denies Betsy DeVos mandate despite Senate approval of her nomination

From the National Education Association

Eskelsen García: The growing opposition to the Trump-DeVos agenda is here to stay

Despite nationwide public outcry over the nomination of Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Senate Tuesday approved the controversial pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education. Weeks’ long resistance followed by two high-profile Republican senators who announced their opposition to DeVos almost sank her chances of becoming the next education secretary.

Educators across the nation spearheaded the opposition initially but the chorus against her nomination quickly mushroomed and took on a life of its own immediately following her confirmation hearing. NEA’s historic campaign rallied parents, students, educators, civil rights groups, and other public education advocates — both Republicans and Democrats — to email more than 1 million letters and make more than 80,000 phone calls to senators in Washington and flooded their offices back home. DeVos also failed to convince key Republican Senators that she was ready to do the job for which she was nominated. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke ranks with their own party and voted against DeVos.

The following can be attributed to NEA President Lily Eskelsen García:

“Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education. Today’s outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance. Students, educators, parents, civil rights and special education advocates—along with millions of Americans—are speaking loud and clear: we are here to stay…we will protect public education.

“No other Trump cabinet nominee garnered the level of public opposition as Betsy DeVos and no other time in our nation’s history has a Vice President of the United States stepped in to cast the deciding vote on a nomination. More to the point, no nominee has united Republicans and Democrats the way DeVos has.

“The level of energy is palpable. We are going to watch what Betsy DeVos does. And we are going to hold her accountable for the actions and decisions she makes on behalf of the more than 50 million students in our nation’s public schools.

“America is speaking out. Betsy DeVos needs to listen. The hundreds of thunderous rallies, the flood of phone calls, and the deluge of millions of emails in opposition to the DeVos’ nomination deny the Trump administration a mandate to take over our public schools.

“We thank the senators — Republicans and Democrats — who said no to Betsy DeVos, and, instead, listened to the voices of students, parents, and educators. We look forward to working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to continue to protect and strengthen our public schools and to ensure equal access to a quality public education for all students no matter their ZIP code.”

‘Public schools are our hope for democracy’

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“In Wisconsin, we care about our communities and share responsibility for each other’s future,” says Appleton resident Carol Lenz, a member of Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education. “This is why we value our public schools, where all children are empowered to achieve their dreams. Our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy depend on strong public schools.”

In a letter published by USA Today Network-Wisconsin and the Appleton Post-Crescent, Lenz says her two adopted children from India received strong support and a great education in public schools.

“Public schools empower students to learn in a diverse environment, better preparing them to live in a diverse country and world,” Lenz writes. “Learning with others, regardless of color, class or creed, fosters meaningful relationships that bridges differences, creating sorely needed empathy for our fellow human beings. My faith teaches me that empathy will help heal our brokenness. This is what public schools do.”

However, she noted, the movement toward privatization threatens the future of our public schools.

“Shortchanging our investment in public education by diverting funds to privatization ‘reforms’ turns a public good into a private profit scheme,” she writes. “Privatization of education undermines democratically-elected school boards. It curtails local control and public oversight of public dollars. More importantly, it creates winners and losers. It destroys community schools while promoting segregation, contributing to social disunity and inequality. The result is more division and polarization, quite the opposite of ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ This is the last thing our already fragile democracy needs.”

Read the Carol Lenz’s entire letter in the Post-Crescent:

Public schools are our hope for democracy

In Wisconsin, we care about our communities and share responsibility for each other’s future. This is why we value our public schools, where all children are empowered to achieve their dreams. Our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy depend on strong public schools. Community public schools continue to be the front line in unifying a polarized society.

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Parents and community come out to support public education

Parents, educators, and community members check in at the registration table for Saturday's Community Strategy Session

Parents, educators, and community members check in at Saturday’s Community Strategy Session

Nearly four hundred parents, educators, students and community members came together on Saturday, February 7, determined to fight public education budget cuts, school takeover legislation, and the expansion of voucher and privately run charter schools.

The community meeting took place just four days after Governor Walker released his budget proposal, which dramatically cuts K-12 public education by $127 million statewide and cuts UW system funding by $300 million.

MPS bilingual educators Jose Trejo and Ivelis Perez lead a session on how to successfully advocate for bilingual education.

MPS bilingual educators Jose Trejo and Ivelis Perez lead a session on how to advocate for bilingual education.

The event, organized by MTEA and other organizations in the Schools and Communities United coalition, was held at MATC and featured over a dozen workshops on topics such as bilingual education, community schools, advocating for students with special needs, and problems with voucher schools and privately run charter schools.

Milwaukee Rep. mandela Barnes spoke to gathering about the community schools model he endorses in contrast to handing our schools over to third party operators.

State Rep. Mandela Barnes spoke to gathering about the community schools model he endorses in contrast to handing our schools over to third party operators.

State Rep. Mandela Barnes announced that he will introduce legislation to support community schools as an alternative to current proposals that punish public schools in high poverty areas or hand them over to private companies to operate.

MTEA president Bob Peterson told the group: “Today we face one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. We have a governor who is set on destroying the public sector to benefit the wealthy few. If it’s public, Walker wants it defunded and turned over to private operators. We know that when governors cut budgets, when companies move family sustaining jobs out of our community and when business leaders and politicians ignore the glaring racial and economic inequalities, it’s time to organize and to stand up for what is moral and just.”

Elsa Diaz-Bautista and Joanne Juhnke led a session on how to advocate for a child with special needs, and how to organize against so-called "special needs vouchers".

Elsa Diaz-Bautista and Joanne Juhnke led a session on how to advocate for a child with special needs, and how to organize against so-called “special needs vouchers.”

The coalition plans to take several steps to fight the proposed budget cuts and oppose schools takeovers and privatization, including:

  • Demonstrations opposing the budget (save the date of Feb. 16)
  • Informational meetings with concerned parents and educators at schools, organizations or places of worship (click here to request a speaker)
  • Testimony at budget hearings
  • Social media petitions and campaigns

Stay tuned to our website or Facebook page for more info. Plan to get involved, stay involved, and reach out to others in your school community so they can take action.

Click here for a flyer you can print and share with others who want to take action to support public schools.

Click here to sign our petition supporting community schools and opposing school takeovers.

Wisconsin's Overpass Light Brigade light up the night with a message in support of public schools.

Wisconsin’s Overpass Light Brigade light up the night with a message in support of public schools.

We Are Public Schools! from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Defend our public universities

By Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner

Photo credit: Michael Pecosky

Photo credit: Michael Pecosky


Click here for a printable version of this statement.

Walker has said his proposed budget cuts for the UW System wouldbe like Act 10 for the UW.” It’s a frightening analogy.

As with Act 10, Walker’s proposed cuts have nothing to do with the state budget. It’s about promoting privatization, undermining democracy, and abandoning public institutions.

 

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Walker’s Cuts are a Manufactured Crisis

In 2011, Walker introduced Act 10 —all but eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions — under the guise of solving a budget shortfall. Even after union leaders agreed to increase workers’ payments to healthcare and pensions, Walker continued with Act 10. It became clear that Act 10 was an attempt to weaken democratic rights, cripple the power of unions, undermine the public sector, and increase the power of private interests.

Today, in 2015, there is another manufactured crisis. Walker is proposing $300 million in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System. The cuts would be the largest in the UW System’s history, and would cripple one of the state’s most honored public institutions.

But this is a manufactured crisis. Just one example. If Walker had accepted full federal funding for BadgerCare, the state would have saved more than $500 million over three-and-a-half years. (Figures are from an August 2014 editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)

 

Walker is putting his presidential ambitions ahead of what’s good for Wisconsin

Walker is proposing his 13 percent, $300 million cut in funding to the UW System as part of his presidential campaign. Other states, focused on the needs of their residents, are putting money into their public universities and colleges.

Across the country, state support for public universities is up 10 percent in the last five years, according to a survey from Illinois State University. Iowa increased state funding by 12% from 2009-10 to 2014-15. In Indiana it was 8%, and 7% in Ohio. In Wisconsin, it’s down four percent — and now Walker wants an additional 13 percent cut.

In Milwaukee, Walker’s cuts would mean $40 million in cuts in the next two years — about the amount of money it takes annually to run the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Silber School of Public Health, the School of Information Studies and the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. Should those programs be eliminated?

 

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Walker is undermining democracy

Act 10 was part of a multi-pronged, partisan attack on democratic rights and local control, from voting rights to collective bargaining. In undermining public sector unions, Walker sought to eviscerate the most powerful defenders of the public sector.

As part of his plan for the UW System, Walker is once again undermining principles of democracy and collaboration. In addition to the funding cuts, Walker wants to eliminate the UW system as a state agency run in accordance with state law. Instead, he wants to create a so-called “public authority.” But there are several devils in the details.

First, Walker would control those appointed to the new authority. Second, Walker wants to eliminate the long-standing concept of “shared governance” at the UW System, under which the faculty, students and staff are involved in decision-making.

 

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Walker’s goal: public dollars for private interests

As governor, Walker has increasingly diverted public dollars into privately controlled organizations. In education, the most disturbing example is the public funding of private voucher schools, a program that Walker expanded across the state. (Since the Milwaukee voucher program was started in 1990, more than $1.7 billion in public tax dollars has been diverted into privately run voucher schools, most of them religious schools. The voucher schools are allowed to ignore basic democratic safeguards, from constitutional guarantees of due process, to open meetings and records requirements.)

The UW System has a worldwide reputation, not only for its excellence in education, but also for its role in promoting research and the free exchange of ideas in service to the common good.

The UW System is too valuable to be sacrificed in service to a conservative ideology that undermines the democratic mission of public institutions, and that privileges privatization over the public good.

 

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

Image credit: Nicolas Lampert

By Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, and Barbara Miner, author of Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.

Click here for a printable version of this statement.

Feb. 2, 2015

 

Substitute Teacher Explains Why “Real World Experience” Isn’t Enough to Teach

Scott Walker just announced that in his budget address he will lower standards for teachers to become licensed in the State of Wisconsin. He claims that once the teachers take a competency exam on the content they are teaching, they are prepared to teach that content to children. Listen to what Milwaukee Public School substitute teacher John Thielmann has to say about that having come into the profession of teaching with plenty of real world experience:

I am a “guest-teacher” (a sub in old-school jargon). I began more than 15 years ago under an emergency permit. I had 40+ years of “life experience.” I got by, watched others, copied techniques, etc. I went back to school, studied, and earned my teaching license. It made a HUGE difference- in classroom management, in understanding lesson plans, in improvising when there weren’t any plans or the plans weren’t working as hoped. In long-term assignments, it made a difference in MY lesson planning and instruction. Being educated and trained in HOW to teach is essential. That conclusion is based on my “life experience” of becoming a teacher.

Schultz says private school vouchers will “accelerate the demise” of quality public education in Wisconsin

DaleSchultzOut-going State Senator Dale Schultz, perhaps the last remaining moderate among legislative Republicans, sharply criticized his fellow Republicans’ policies this week in a Madison radio interview on The Mic/92.1 FM.

“We are now literally dismantling the state government, and people need to think long and hard about what they want for a future in our state,” he said, according to a recap in the Capital Times.

Schultz, who voted against Gov. Scott Walker’s signature Act 10 legislation stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, said the state, under Republican leadership, has “walked away from” its responsibilities to provide quality public education for all:

“The K-12 system in the last few years has laid off 3,000 personnel, and it looks to me like that’s going to accelerate. Out my way, I would not be shocked if a huge percentage of school districts wind up going to referendum to have the privilege of raising their own property tax because the state has walked away from its principal responsibility of providing for a free, appropriate and near equal education for everybody.”

And regarding private school vouchers, he said:

“I have no idea where they could come up with that money short of taking it away from K-12 public education which is just going to accelerate its demise. We can’t afford one system in this state. How we are going to ever have ourselves in a situation of trying to fund two is beyond me. … But with Gov. Walker’s impending announcement for the presidency, I know that he is going to do everything he can to push a robust voucher program because that is what’s popular with certain elements of the tea party.”

Read more:

Outgoing Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz vents his spleen at the GOP
 

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