Public school advocates meet after a battle over the budget


A week after the Wisconsin Legislature convened a special school funding session convened by Governor Tony Evers without taking any action, Evers told a statewide group of public school advocates that the state budget he signed was “nowhere near is where we should ”. be “when it comes to promoting education.

Gov. Tony Evers signs the 2021-23 biennial budget at Cumberland Elementary School in Whitefish Bay after partial vetoing 50 (screenshot | Gov. Evers’ Facebook video)

Speaking to the Wisconsin Public Education Network’s summer summit at Sun Prairie High School, Evers said Monday that a veto on the entire budget would have jeopardized $ 2.3 billion in federal funding if lawmakers refused to come to the table return and renegotiate. “And I can guarantee you would not have come back,” he added. Yet the final budget was created on the basis of a “wrong choice” between investing in the needs and priorities of the state and saving taxpayers’ money.

Despite a public campaign to sign the Republicans’ “historic tax cut” and the handful of veto entries he was able to enforce by allocating a little more money to schools, Evers admitted to the group of public school officials, activists, teachers and political experts, that the end result was disappointing.

There is enough money to cut taxes while meeting the goal of two-thirds of government funding for schools, he said. But lawmakers sat on $ 550 million in education it tried to transfer to the state’s Rainy Day Fund and refused to act even after Evers returned the money to the general fund, calling on lawmakers to spend it on schools. And that’s only part of the $ 5 billion surplus that will accumulate in the state coffers over the next few years.

Rather than meeting the urgent needs of the state, Republicans in the legislature are leaving schools in unnecessarily cramped conditions. And as the new delta variant of COVID-19 is driving up infection and hospitalization rates, lawmakers are insisting that schools use federal COVID aid money to fund basic surgeries rather than paying for pandemic-related expenses.

“The answer is honestly fair cards,” Evers said, referring to the 10-year process of redrawing voting cards based on census data, which is expected to be available this month. Wisconsin’s gerrymanded political cards have secured a Republican majority in power in the legislature, even with most of the statewide votes going to the Democrats. The result is that lawmakers in safe seats do not respond to public pressure.

State School Superintendent Jill Underly, speaking to Evers at the public school event, also had strong words for the legislature.

Jill Underly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction nominee (photo courtesy Underly)
Jill Underly, State Superintendent of Public Instruction nominee (photo courtesy Underly)

“For the first time in my memory, Wisconsin has more than enough money to make groundbreaking investments in education,” she said, but lawmakers have refused to adequately fund schools. “Legislators tell the districts that despite the budget surplus, they are not getting the money they need.”

Wisconsin students have endured “more than a decade of austerity,” added Undery, referring to the 2020 graduating class, whose members “knew nothing but cuts” throughout their college years. “We are failing our children,” she concluded.

She invoked Wisconsin’s “deep commitment to public education, early childhood, and higher education,” including the nation’s first kindergarten, which began in Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin idea that the state university system should serve the public.

“Our schools need a master,” she said as she stood in the hallway outside the Sun Prairie High School auditorium after her speech.


She explained why she was one unusually strong statement for a state superintendent last week calling on school boards and school officials and parents across the state to phone their lawmakers and urge them to comply with the governor’s request to raise school funding.

“I was in schools. I’ve seen firsthand what the guidelines do, ”she added.

She is particularly concerned about what she calls the “widespread misconception” that federal COVID aid money can be used in lieu of state aid, as Republican lawmakers have claimed, to fund the general operation of schools.

“COVID aids neither turn on the lights nor pay the teachers,” she said, “these costs are increasing every year and there is no increase for them” in the state budget.

Every federal COVID aid law is geared towards very specific expenditures, she explained. The first of three rounds of assistance concerned personal protective equipment and hygiene. The second involved infrastructure improvements, including new HVAC systems to purify the air and prevent airborne infections. The last COVID package was aimed at helping children who suffered learning loss during the pandemic, including enrichment and tutoring programs.

Schools will be breaking federal regulations if they try to spend this COVID bailout on salaries and school supplies, Underly explained. And they also need it to solve urgent problems created by the pandemic. “So many school districts start in the red – the general public needs to understand that,” she added.

Underly agrees with Evers that redistribution is ultimately the answer for schools in Wisconsin.

“Some people in the legislature are deaf in their own echo chambers,” she said. Because of gerrymandering, they don’t have to listen to anyone who disagrees with them. Still, she said, “there is this silent majority of people who don’t speak up because they think it won’t make a difference.”

Therefore, she urges school officials to contact their lawmakers.

“People want schools to be open, face to face. Most children and parents want that. And for that we have to fight this virus, ”she said.

Unless the state takes sensible action to control the spread of COVID-19 and its new variants, “we will get caught in an endless cycle, and that is not good for anyone.”

Later the day after Evers and Underly reached out to public school advocates, a group of Fox Valley citizens held a breakout session, entitled “Closing the Gap with Legislators,” sharing their efforts to communicate their elected representatives discussed.

The Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education discussed their meetings with five members of the congregation to push for funding for public schools. “We have a tough argument in our part of Wisconsin,” said Nancy Jones, a retired teacher from the Appleton School District. The area covered by the Fox Cities group is heavily occupied, with four out of five assembly districts represented by Republicans.

John Bowman, a member of the Appleton School Board, explained how federal special education costs are eating up local school budgets. “Every year we send $ 23 million of general funds to special editors,” he said. “So children lose without special needs.”

Bowman and the other Fox Cities proponents described their meetings with lawmakers who appeared friendly and agreed with them about special education funding and other issues, including the need for more mental health services.

One representative brought the group to tears and described how he and his family had helped the family of a child with special needs. But after the meeting, he backed the Republican budget and refused full funding from Evers for the special edition.

Another lawmaker said she was very supportive of mental health funding and shared personal stories about her work as a nurse who saw the need for better mental health care. But their support faded during the budget process.

Still, proponents said they remained determined to continue building relationships with their lawmakers and recruiting allies to join the struggle, including church groups and other citizens who care about child welfare.

Keron Blair headshot
Keron Blair (Photo | Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools)

Expanding the size and power of the public school movement was the theme of the group’s keynote address given by Keron Blair, National Director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, who launched the group with a jumbo-screen address above the auditorium Zoom from Atlanta.

The struggle to properly fund schools and fill performance gaps is not really a financial issue, but a matter of political will, Blair told the group. “It’s not about whether we can do it; it’s about whether we’ll do it, ”he said.

Public school advocates would have to make it “political suicide” to not support education, he said. And the only way to do that is to build power by recruiting more people into the cause.

“It is not brave or radical to say that educators should be paid well and that children should be taught the truth – the whole truth – about our country’s history and contemporary politics,” Blair said. “These are literally reasonable demands.”

Well-funded schools and curricula that prepare students for meaningful participation in democracy should be universal goals, he added.

“We must be dissatisfied with having a majority opinion but not being able to move politics,” he said, adding, “Our communities and schools continue to be plagued by challenges that we know how to solve. “

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