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.

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


Racine public school teacher overcomes much to testify on SB 1

Racine Unified Public School teacher Angelina Cruz testifies at Tuesday's SB1 public hearing in Madison.

Racine Unified Public School teacher Angelina Cruz testifies at Tuesday’s SB1 public hearing in Madison (Photo credit: Rebecca Kemble).

Angelina Cruz, a teacher of ten years from the Racine Unified School District, suffered a traumatic brain injury 5 months ago that has kept her out of the classroom this year, but she mustered up the strength to testify at Tuesday’s public hearing on Senate Bill 1. Here is what she had to tell the committee on how to best help schools in Wisconsin:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. And I would like to thank you all for dedicating your work to public service. I do the same. My name is Angelina Cruz and I am a public school teacher. For ten years, I taught 5th grade in the Racine Unified School District. This would have been my eleventh year, except that 5 months ago I suffered a traumatic brain injury.

You may be wondering what would compel someone such as myself to find a way to Madison today to speak before you. Frankly, I should not even be alive. I shouldn’t be able to do this today. And that’s just it. I’ve been told over and over by some of the best doctors that my being alive is a miracle. So I feel very strongly that I must continue to use the voice that I have been blessed with to speak for my students and their families.

My first week out of the hospital was the first week of the school year. This was extraordinarily difficult for me. I’ve always taken what I do very seriously. These past five months I have been working very hard to get back to it. I receive e-mails from former students on a daily basis. I have had the opportunity to visit the school I was at for ten years. I miss it. I miss my kids. And I sit before you concerned that the place I love being most in this world, working with these kids, public schools, will not exist very soon.

I have a degree in educational policy so I like to think that I am pretty well versed in the history of public schools and how to move our schools forward successfully. So I am seeking some clarification:

  • How will voucher and privately run charter schools be held accountable? I’m not a statistician, but it seems to me that allowing charter and voucher schools to take different tests than public schools makes comparison and accountability unrealistic.
  • How do privatizing, or abandoning, public schools deemed “failures” ensure positive results when studies have shown that these schools do not perform any better than our existing public schools?
  • The establishment of a separate board is concerning. Will creating a separate board really hold private schools receiving public money accountable?
  • It seems as though this bill would remove local control of our schools. Presently, if a parent has an issue with a teacher or an administrator, they have the freedom to approach the local school board to redress their grievances. Passage of this bill seems to eliminate this as a possibility. Please explain to me how this is not a divestment in our communities.
  • What protections are in place for our special education students and English language learners under this bill? Private schools are not required under law to provide these services, whereas public schools must. Furthermore, private schools have the freedom to deny access to students that require services that they do not provide.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have no problems with private schools. I am a product of parochial schooling, grades K-12, because my parents thought it important that I have a religious upbringing. What this religious upbringing taught me is that our world is filled with beautiful diversity that must be embraced. We must love each other and support each other. And I fear that this bill does nothing toward that effort for those most in need.

Wisconsin has one of the finest public school system in the country. Yet here we are on the precipice of losing it all. If you are truly looking for ways to move our great state forward, and I believe that you are, please consider addressing issues related to poverty. Think about requiring smaller class sizes so that students receive more individualized attention. Please consider the provision of wrap around services so that children have adequate nutrition. Please ensure that schools are staffed with highly educated and experienced teachers. Consider raising the minimum wage to a living wage, so that parents have the means to provide for their families.

When you go to bed at night and close your eyes, please think about your own children and those that you know and love. Think about what it is that you would like for them to have. Because that’s what this is about. The kids. And it takes a village to raise them up. As politically charged as education has become across this nation, I believe that the legislators in our state have the courage to do the right thing for the voiceless that have gotten lost in this debate. The kids. This is not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. This is a doing what is right versus doing what is wrong problem. As Kid President once said, “I disagree with you but I still like you as a person who is a human being and I will treat you like that because if I didn’t it would make everything bad and that’s what a lot of people do and it’s lame.” I believe that we, in Wisconsin, can choose to model for the nation what it means to put our differences aside for just about the best reason ever. For the kids.

I have included my name, address, e-mail, and phone number on my testimony that I will be submitting for the official record. I look forward to hearing from you. And for you to do the right thing.

Thank you.


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.

La Crosse Tribune says Minnesota’s Dayton has clearly outperformed Wisconsin’s Walker

DaytonAndWalker_180pxFour years after Democrat Mark Dayton became governor of Minnesota and Republican Scott Walker became governor of Wisconsin, the La Crosse Tribune has analyzed the impact of their policies on the two states. The Tribune’s conclusion?

“As we enter the new year, Minnesota is clearly winning by a long shot,” the paper says in a New Year’s editorial.

The paper notes that both governors “inherited an economic mess that was the product of a nationwide recession” and that they “took decidedly different paths to deal with large deficits.”

It goes on to say:

Walker’s tax plan reduced the highest rate for the wealthiest Wisconsinites from 7.75 to 7.65 percent and brought slight relief to all income levels. Dayton’s plan created a new rate of 9.850 percent for the top 2 percent of Minnesota’s wealthiest. His plan also increased tax credits for renters — the opposite of Wisconsin, where those tax credits were reduced. Dayton also signed a $508 million tax cut in 2014 of which $232 million was aimed at the middle class and $232 million was earmarked for the elimination of some business taxes.

Minnesota has increased its minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and has it indexed to increase with inflation. Walker has said he does not support raising the minimum wage.

Minnesota took Medicaid money and created its own health care marketplace, reducing the number of uninsured residents. Wisconsin rejected federal money, instead tweaking coverage to put some 80,000 people into the federal exchange. That cost the state an estimated $206 million over the past two years and an estimated $460 million through 2020.

The business-friendly policy embraced by Walker has resulted in private-sector job growth that continues to lag behind the national average. The latest 12-month period numbers that ended in June show Wisconsin 32nd in the nation in job growth. Minnesota was 26th. Minnesota’s jobless rate in November was 3.7 percent. Wisconsin’s was 5.2.

How else do the states compare? Forbes ranks Minnesota as the ninth best state for business, No. 7 in economic climate and No. 2 in quality of life. Wisconsin is ranked 32nd, 27 and 17 on the same measures. The cost of doing business in Minnesota is 0.2 percent below the national average. Wisconsin is 1.7 percent above the average. The median household income in Minnesota is about $60,000. It’s just below $52,000 in Wisconsin.

And on education, the Tribune says:

The governors have vastly different views on funding education. Under Walker, Wisconsin has been a leader in cutting education spending. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed state school funding from 2008 through 2014 and found that Wisconsin ranked No. 2 in the nation — behind only Alabama — with a $1,038 spending per student decrease. Minnesota was one of a handful of states that actually increases spending during that time — just barely — by $30.

Finally, the Tribune asks, “Which state is in better shape as we head in 2015?”

“Economic measures of income and employment clearly favor Minnesota,” it concludes. “At least Wisconsin has the Packers.”

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Our view: Minnesota is winning this border battle