May 5, 2021: Budget Takeaways; DPI Transition

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CAN YOU BELIEVE how much has happened just in the month of April? It feels like we have a lifetime of news, action, and spotlights to go over. Read on for news that matters to Wisconsin kids and their public schools, action opportunities you can take right now, and local action spotlights.


    We appreciate and thank both Dr. Jill Underly and Dr. Deb Kerr for running in the race for State Superintendent, and we congratulate Dr. Underly on becoming the State Superintendent-Elect. She will take office as Wisconsin’s highest education official in early July. Dr. Underly has been a close friend of Wisconsin Public Education Network and we look forward to working with her at the Department of Public Instruction to expand public communications about the role of DPI and achieve equity in funding and policy for our public schools. We also thank Carolyn Stanford Taylor for her service in this role since 2019 and for putting forward an excellent set of budget recommendations this year!

    The public hearing process on the 2021-23 biennial state budget has taken up a lot of news over the past month. This story from Wisconsin Public Radio and this one from UpNorthNews both summarize what we saw at the in-person hearings in Whitewater, Rhinelander and Menomonie and the virtual hearing: the process left many Wisconsinites out, and those who were able to testify overwhelmingly wanted to see the Governor’s education budget items pass into law and close the educational gaps for Wisconsin kids and public schools.

    WisconsinEye coverage of the budget hearings and more is available on their website for paid subscribers — visit

    Last Friday, April 30, just two hours after written testimony was due to the Joint Finance Committee and before reviewing those testimonies, the committee chairs released this memo itemizing pieces of the Governor’s budget that they will move to eliminate without further consideration and announcing a meeting on Thursday, May 6 in Executive Session to discuss the budget. Public Instruction is not on the agenda for that meeting.

    More on the budget below.

    Dr. Jill Underly is building her transition team and first agency appointments. We are excited that Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools board president Dr. Julie Underwood and board members Marva Herndon and Kim Kaukl are on her transition team, as well as our Northwest Regional Organizer Chris Hambuch-Boyle! The transition team also includes many of our Network’s longtime friends and partners, and two former candidates who ran in the State Superintendent primary election. Read more about her transition team and priorities here.

    HAPPY TEACHER & STAFF APPRECIATION WEEK! Educators in Wisconsin public schools have never worked harder and never faced more challenges than they have over the past year. We resolve to show our appreciation for educators not just this week but year round and hope you will join us. Share your notes, stories, and displays of gratitude for educators this week so we can amplify them — and stand up for budgets and policies that will guarantee that our public schools have the resources and working conditions educators need to do what they do best. And check this out: the U.S. Census is highlighting its free resources for educators and released a statement on the particular importance of teacher appreciation this year.

    We joined the Fair Maps Coalition and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin in demanding fair, nonpartisan electoral maps on Thursday, April 29. We believe political maps should represent the people who live in Wisconsin’s districts and that fair funding and local control of our public schools depend upon this goal. Check out the League’s one-pager on the importance of fair maps here.

    The Wisconsin Association for Equity in Funding has released dozens of data dashboards showing the funding inequities facing public school districts in Wisconsin based on revenue limits and caps on state funding. Their research plainly shows the funding gaps that face students in public schools — particularly students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities — and calls on the state to change the formula to close those gaps.


    Wisconsin Public Education Network is entering its second year of specifically funded and designed digital organizing, and we’re seeking your input. Please fill out the form on our Digital Action page to tell us what kinds of digital tools, media platforms, and allied issues you’d like to be involved with to enhance your public school advocacy. We will use this input to inform our digital priorities going into the summer and a new school year!

    Save the date! The 7th annual Wisconsin Public Education Network Summer Summit will be on Monday, August 2. We expect to launch registration for the summit and a limited-capacity six-week reading series next week, so keep your eye on our Summit page in the coming days so you can get registered.




  • We teamed up with the ACLU of Wisconsin and were present at all three in-person budget hearings with the Joint Finance Committee and also tracked the live virtual hearing on April 28. We also held press conferences with the ACLU and many other partner organizations and coalitions to discuss our budget priorities, our concerns about the hearing process, and to highlight the importance of this legislation for public schools.
  • Read our joint press release with the ACLU of Wisconsin and the letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee in which we joined dozens of other organizations to express our disappointment in the restrictive hearing process and ask for more virtual hearings. That letter was ignored.
  • According to our real-time tallies, pre-K-12 and higher education came up in some 40% of all live testimonies — an enormous percentage for a single issue — and an overwhelming majority of these were in favor of Governor Evers’s proposals to invest in public schools, increase the state’s reimbursement of special education costs in public schools, support students in poverty and restore collective bargaining rights for educators. Visit our Budget HQ for more details on the budget, the hearings, and what’s next.
  • Make sure you follow us on Twitter, where we were able to highlight a few more virtual testimonies than we can spotlight in this newsletter.

Northwest Wisconsin

More people participated in the budget hearing process than we can enumerate here, but we’d like to shine one spotlight on our friends at the Eau Claire Area School District who showed up in a big and organized way to testify at the hearing in Menomonie: Superintendent Mike Johnson, Executive Director of Business Abby Johnson, and School Board President Tim Nordin were among those who testified at UW-Stout. We’d also like to shout out Dr. Christina Kintop, Superior School Board Vice President, for making the trip to Menomonie to testify.

Southwest Wisconsin

Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates came from Madison to Menomonie to make sure their voices were heard on the importance of the budget to special education funding — and whose kids testified about what this issue means to them in the classroom, which got the particular attention of several legislators. Watch Anna’s and Martha’s testimonies on Facebook.

Northeast Wisconsin

The Green Bay Area Public School District also saw several administrators testify on the state budget, largely at the virtual hearing, including Superintendent Steve Murley. As ever, Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education has been very involved as well; Patti Clark-Stojke was quoted in news stories above and testified in Rhinelander, and FCA4PE also hosted a School Finance info session with Dr. Julie Underwood in April — check that out here.

Southeast Wisconsin

In addition to educators, administrators, and even some students in Milwaukee Public Schools and elsewhere in the region who spoke out on the state budget, we were so impressed to see an organized group of Kenosha educators and board member Todd Price, who made the trip all the way from the other corner of the state to Menomonie to testify in favor of a state budget that puts public schools and the kids who attend them first.
In other southeast news…
A coalition of business, organizations and public entities in Milwaukee wrote and published this excellent letter in favor of increased special education funding.
We are excited about an emerging Oak Creek advocacy group called Forward for Public School Advocacy (Forward PSA).


Spotlight on EVERYONE who testified in favor of public education for the Joint Finance Committee. Everyone who has shared their stories in Whitewater, Rhinelander, Menomonie, on Zoom, or in writing has helped show the committee that Wisconsin wants what our kids deserve: adequately- and equitably-resourced public schools.

We specifically highlight those who shared their testimonies with us. Check out the folder below of some excellent written testimonies our statewide partners submitted to the committee, and watch the videos of Tom Beebe’s, Mary Kay Baum’s, and Linda Uselmann’s recorded budget testimonies!



About the author: Christian Phelps

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