Wisconsin Parents Are Clear: Don’t Let Political Whims Distract Us from Kids’ Needs

Wisconsin education advocates call for solutions, not shenanigans.

This release was published on Feb. 10, 2022. View it as a PDF here.

Public education parents and advocates around Wisconsin have been clear and consistent for years: Students need more resources in their public schools. Revenue limits must be lifted so new funds can actually reach their classrooms. Kids need fully-funded public schools, and lawmakers have a constitutional obligation to deliver them.

Instead of putting the state’s enormous surplus to use in our public schools and delivering on the bipartisan recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, the Assembly Education Committee is holding hearings on a slate of dangerous and distracting bills—which are exceedingly unlikely to become law—putting adults’ political whims ahead of kids’ urgent needs.

Wisconsin parents, educators, administrators, community members and students won’t be distracted. Instead of buying tickets to this circus, public school advocates urge lawmakers to refocus their attention on what they owe our kids: fully-resourced public schools. We urge supporters of strong public schools across Wisconsin to sign the petition telling lawmakers to use our state surplus to meet the real needs of kids now!

Graphic: The distance between what Wisconsin students need and what these bills deliver is clear.

When I look at the bill to break up MPS, I see ways to increase bureaucracy and transfer ownership of real estate. What I don’t see, even once, is the word “student.” Unlike the authors of this bill, I live in Milwaukee, and I’m the proud parent of two MPS students. Our students and families are still struggling because of a global pandemic that has tragically killed over 1,000 of our neighbors. Our students have asked for increased access to mental health supports and opportunities for tutoring. Our families have asked us to strengthen special education and reduce class sizes. I’m pleased to share that the MPS Board is investing ESSER funding in these ways and more. However, I want to also remind legislators that many of these requests directly align with recommendations found in the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. Finally implementing their own recommendations would help their constituents and mine much more than this half-baked scheme,” said Milwaukee Public Schools parent and MPS Board Member Megan O’Halloran.

The Blue Ribbon Commission from four years ago listed the priority needs of public schools in Wisconsin: special education, ELL, poverty issues, and mental health needs. We’ve just been through two years of COVID. I’m waiting to see bills that address the needs of our kids, but instead I just see more politics with our children’s futures. Locally, funding for voucher schools took millions away from our district, and our district now relies on referendums. Our property taxpayers are being hit twice due to bad legislation. This pile of bills would only add on to our property taxes and would not help ALL kids in Wisconsin,” said Eau Claire parent and former Eau Claire Special Education PTA (SEPTA) President Elizabeth Ivankovic.

The children and families of the Eau Claire Area School District need legislation and funding that support the real needs of each and every student, not bills that distract from the success of our public schools. There is no more room for this type of grandstanding and theater while we have not yet followed the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission. The needs are clear; it is time to address them. With real commitment to public schools, Wisconsin can live our motto and truly move ‘Forward,’” said Eau Claire Area School District parent and ECASD Board of Education President Dr. Tim Nordin.

Members of Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education meet with our area legislators about the actual needs of our schools on a regular basis. Not one of the concerns we have discussed are included in this package of fast-tracked bills. Our local schools face a fiscal cliff in the coming years unless special education reimbursement is restored to promised levels, inflationary increases in revenue limits are provided and teacher shortages are addressed. How long can the critical needs of children be ignored?” said Jackie Nider of Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education.

After all the turmoil and stress of the last two years, now is the time that we need to come together and support our teachers, staff, and children in public education.  We need to follow the recommendations of experts in the field of education and create laws that will provide the equitable education that Wisconsin’s children deserve. Mandates that are not funded and vouchers that divide communities are only hurting the children who need the support the most.  We need funding to provide mental health services, more support for children with special needs, physically and emotionally safe learning environments, and the investment in the people who are working day in and day out to provide the education outcomes that Wisconsinites want for all children.  We want you to listen when we speak—every child, one voice,” said Wisconsin PTA President Gena Kraemer.

Public schools unite us as a community, state and nation.  As a former public school educator and father of two public school educators, I am disgusted with the Republican legislators’ constant and prolonged attack on Wisconsin’s public schools. Our public schools have been woefully underfunded for the last 10 years while the state has an historic budget surplus at this time.  Instead of investing in our state’s children and our state’s future, the Republican legislature continues to cut school funding, attack local educators and attack local control of public schools with a rash of so-called ‘reform’ bills.  Thankfully we have Governor Evers to block these bills which are hurtful to our communities and, more importantly, hurtful to Wisconsin’s children, said Michael Walsh, resident of the Madison Metropolitan School District and Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) Board Member.

Eliminating income limits for the parental choice program is just another way to siphon taxpayers’ money away from the public good to line the pockets of the wealthiest families in the state. Public money should pay for public schools. Reorganizing Milwaukee Public Schools looks to me like a new program of segregation. Instead of properly investing in MPS, Republicans prefer to engage in political stunts. How much time and money will be spent to break up MPS and for whose benefit? AB969 seeks to remove local control from school districts by forcing them to have armed school resource officers. Local communities and their elected school boards should be able to decide whether SROs are appropriate for their schools, not state legislators,” said educator and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Region 6 Secretary Brenda Morris.

Rather than trying to tear apart public schools, the legislature should be focused on what is really important: our kids. Locally elected school boards need to be allowed to lead in their communities. We know what our kids and staff need to be supported. Stop playing politics with our kids!” said Sun Prairie parent and Sun Prairie Area School Board Vice President Bryn Horton.

These bills do nothing to help public school students, whose education has been shortchanged for a decade. When will legislators uphold their constitutional responsibility and fund the needs of the over 850,000 students in our public schools?” said Carol Lenz of Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education.

The local control of a community, including through its professionals, is at stake through the governmental interference that Wisconsin’s proposed Assembly Bill 963 would impose upon vital public services of education and health care. Hidden behind the bill’s appealing facade of parental rights is nothing more than another intrusion of authoritarianism which serves the needs of a vocal minority.  The bill’s sponsors would exercise the control of those in power to enact legislation that subordinates the expertise of those whose services fulfill the very needs and expectations of a fair and just larger community,” said UW-Eau Claire Professor Emeritus of Education Dr. Michael Lindsay.

Despite the ongoing global pandemic, our students and educators are showing up across the state, in school buildings and online, to educate and be educated. Now more than ever our children need us, as adults, to come together to give them the supports and resources they need to succeed: more staff in buildings, more mental health workers in schools, and more funding for our most vulnerable students, including low income families, minority populations, and children with disabilities. By passing legislation written by people who have zero lived experiences in the situations our students and families are facing, we are ignoring the voices of those these decisions will directly impact, and furthering the divide, both academically and across our state as a whole,” said Heather Birk, a parent from Wauwatosa.

Our families and kids in Lake Mills deserve an excellent public school that provides an education that allows them to succeed.  It’s time to invest our state surplus in our local public schools and stop playing political games with our kids,” said Sandy Whisler, a retired educator from Lake Mills.

Wisconsin students deserve the freedom to learn. Teachers deserve the freedom to be professional educators. Parents are [already] encouraged to provide their input. The opinion of the general public is [already] welcome. The legislature needs to allow the time and opportunity for the people to provide input. The money is available. Now is the time to prioritize our children,” said retired educator and Fox Cities Advocates for Public Education member Ann Cattau.

I was privileged to work in Wisconsin public schools for more than 40 years as a District Administrator, a UW professor, a psychologist and a teacher. Working in rural, suburban and urban school districts throughout the state, I learned our public schools are among the best because Wisconsinites value public schools, and the schools are the heart of the community. I learned education is a team effort that requires the state, the local community, teachers, parents and children working together to achieve success. No one learns alone. I am proud of Wisconsin public schools because they unite us around our children and learning. I am distressed and saddened by the crisis engulfing our public schools. Wisconsin schools have been underfunded for years. We are now below average in teacher compensation, and among the worst states in funding special education, programs for English language learners, and increasing education funding. Because of an unprecedented teacher shortage, many of our students are now without the teachers they desperately need. Restrictive revenue caps make it impossible to recruit highly qualified teachers and provide the rich curricular and extracurricular activities that are the hallmark of a quality education and essential for preparing future citizens. At a time when the needs of our children have never been greater, and our schools are underfunded, the state is experiencing an unprecedented surplus. This proposed package of bills does nothing to lessen the crisis impacting our children, to adequately fund our schools, to increase the number of teachers, counselors, mental health workers, or to expand learning opportunities for children in and out of school. Instead, this package of bills divides, criticizes, and defunds. These bills hurt Wisconsin kids, schools, families and communities,” said Dr. Jim Shaw, retired Wisconsin educator.

As Vice President of the Superior School Board, I am disheartened to see the divisive K-12 ‘reform’ bill being introduced by the GOP. This bill is intentionally harmful to children and their communities. Now is not the time to use our children as political pawns. Now more than ever we need legislators to work across the aisle to enact policies that fund our public education to ensure all kids in our state can receive the best possible education promised to them under the state constitution,” said Superior parent and grandparent and Superior School Board Vice President Dr. Christina Kintop.

So-called parent rights bills in Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere distract from the rights of parents and students, many of whom have continuously called for more funding, better compensation for teachers, equal opportunity and an equitable playing field for all our children to learn and grow together. This round of ill-conceived legislation, coupled with the disruption of the operations of school boards, are part and parcel of a bad-faith political playbook … to wage culture wars for imagined political victories in upcoming elections. It is a cynical ploy and will not work. Wisconsin parents support public education, Kenosha parents want what will help our community, and they—we—will prevail for our Kenosha kids and Wisconsin communities everywhere!” said Kenosha Unified School District board member Todd Alan Price, Ph.D.

[These bills] fail to respond to the real needs of students in Wisconsin public schools, and would further widen the gaps and divert resources from the students who need them the most,” said Amy Steuer of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Our state leaders provided no new dollars for PreK-12 schools in the last budget. Our legislators told us to use ESSR III dollars to fill the funding gap, knowing that those dollars needed to be used for what they were allocated for (HVAC improvements, safety measures, interventions for students at risk). As a school leader, it is frustrating that many of our state leaders ignore their own Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations to improve public schools statewide at a time when we have one of the largest surpluses in state history. State leaders need to step up and provide schools with an increase in funding that matches the rate of inflation for the current two year budget cycle and address the state’s failure to adequately fund special education services for our state’s most needy students. Instead our state leaders currently focus their attention on bills that will not provide the resources so desperately needed to help our rural communities across the state provide our children with an adequate public education today and into the future,” said Pepin Area Schools District Administrator Bruce Quinton.

Students in the Muskego-Norway school district need fully funded special education services. Right now the state covers about a quarter of the cost of special education services, and districts are required to make up the rest. We are talking about services for over 100,000 students in special education at a cost of $1.7 billion statewide. We can make a historic investment in our students by using the surplus to fully fund special education in our state,” said Muskego-Norway School District parent Ann Zielke.

Below is an official statement from Wisconsin Public Education Network’s executive director:

The needs of Wisconsin’s children are clear. The state has the resources to address them and yet is doing nothing. Instead, we see a fast-tracked slate of absurd and ill-conceived bills intended to dismantle public schools, siphon resources to private ones, and further widen existing opportunity gaps standing in the way of our children.

We refuse to buy a ticket to this circus.

These bills are a deliberate and dangerous distraction from the real work of meeting the needs of Wisconsin’s children—work we will not be tricked into abandoning to take part in election-year political theater.

We turn our back on today’s hearing because these bills turn their back on Wisconsin kids.

We have attended hearing after hearing after hearing, and heard the needs of our children spelled out in clear and certain terms, and we know for a fact the solutions are within reach. Legislative leaders have chosen to ignore these needs and refused to solve these problems. They have chosen to ignore the recommendations of their own bipartisan task forces. They have disrespected the will and the expertise of parents and education professionals at every stage, and we are sick and tired of it. We demand better and we demand an immediate end to this nonsense.

Stop playing games with our children. Throw these bills in the garbage where they belong and use the rest of this session to put the state’s massive surplus to use in the service of the children who are counting on us to save them from the impending fiscal crisis.

—— Statement from Sun Prairie parent and Wisconsin Public Education Network Executive Director, Heather DuBois Bourenane

About the author: Christian Phelps

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