WEAC President Martin asks legislators to focus on more school resources, fewer guns

WEAC President Ron Martin

In testimony submitted Tuesday to the Assembly Education Committee, WEAC President Ron Martin said the solution to school violence is not more guns but proper resources to address issues that include student mental health, school safety improvements, staff training and common sense gun laws.

The committee held a hearing on six school safety bills the governor has submitted in advance of a Special Session of the Legislature. The Assembly plans to convene in Special Session Thursday to vote on the bills.

“While the package of bills under consideration appropriates funding for more armed guards, more equipment, more reporting requirements, it is imperative the committee recognizes what is missing,” Martin said. “The package of bills under consideration by the committee contains not one of the recommendations for safe schools forwarded by those of us who work in and with them.”

Martin noted that WEAC has put together a package of Principles for Student Safety and that the principles contained in that package are reflected in the beliefs shared by the Wisconsin Police Chiefs Association, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and many other groups representing students, parents and public safety.

CLICK HERE TO URGE YOUR LEGISLATORS TO SUPPORT SAFE SCHOOLS SOLUTIONS!

This graphic compares plans from the Wisconsin Police Chiefs Association, WEAC and DPI, and the governor:

Read President Martin’s entire testimony:

March 20, 2018

Public Testimony
Special Session Assembly Bills 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
Ron Martin, Eau Claire Middle School Teacher
President, Wisconsin Education Association Council

The Wisconsin Education Association Council has a long history of working collaboratively with education stakeholders around solutions to keep our schools safe for students and staff. We are the professionals who dedicate ourselves every day, face-to-face, to pupils – tasked with the moral obligation to meet their academic, emotional and social needs. We take that obligation seriously, and offer our testimony on the series of bills under consideration today. As the experts in education – as the individuals who would partner with police to implement the proposals at hand – we have critical perspective that should be considered. Our Association intends to fill that void of educator voice with our testimony, as we were not consulted prior to introduction to this series of bills, and because other education stakeholders do not possess the depth of knowledge gained from our daily interaction with students.

Our Association has been forthcoming with our recommendations for student safety at school. Those principles are reflected in the beliefs shared by the Wisconsin Police Chiefs Association, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and many other groups representing students, parents and public safety. Fewer guns aimed at our schools. Well-resourced schools with access to mental health professionals and counselors. Sustainable funding to accommodate safety improvements for all schools – not only a few. Ongoing training for school staff to meet the needs of a student body increasingly impacted by trauma outside of the schoolhouse doors. Common-sense laws for individuals who buy and own guns.

While the package of bills under consideration appropriates funding for more armed guards, more equipment, more reporting requirements, it is imperative the committee recognizes what is missing. The package of bills under consideration by the committee contains not one of the recommendations for safe schools forwarded by those of us who work in and with them.

Special Session Assembly Bill 1 provides funding for armed security guards, but no funding for professionals best suited for preventing violence in the first place. Mental health professionals, psychologists and counselors are critical members of the school staff, yet as a result of state aid cuts our students are woefully underserved.

AB 1 also provides for limited grants for physical upgrades in some schools, while others would be unable to afford updates under the revenue caps. We urge the committee to reject AB 1 and instead embrace legislation that provides revenue cap exemptions for school and public safety expenditures, along with sufficient funding for school mental health personnel, school resource officers, trauma informed care programs and community-school mental health partnerships.

Special Session Assembly Bill 2 creates an office of school safety under direction of the Department of Justice. Educators believe collaboration on the front end, through a statewide school safety center in partnership with the Department of Public Instruction, would better prevent and address violence in our schools.

Special Session Assembly Bills 3, 4, 5 and 6 call for new requirements and rules, but do not achieve what educators, parents and police professionals know to be necessary to keep our students safe. Our children are depending on elected leaders to provide more. Expanded mental health screenings, prevention programs and common-sense gun laws are what our students are calling for, and we urge you to listen. If not to us – the educators who dedicate our lives to them – listen to the students.

Resources are limited, and we believe wise investments are needed in school safety. We urge you to weigh each of the bills in front of you by asking whether they are aimed at preventing violence and whether they will lead to a systematic and sustainable approach to safety for every Wisconsin student. We absolutely believe the bills presented to you do not meet that threshold.

CONCLUSION

We urge the Committee to reflect on the collective input of students, parents, teachers, support staff and police. We are the professionals who know our students best. We are at the forefront when it comes to school safety solutions. It is our responsibility as teachers to let you know that these proposals will not result in more positive student experiences, nor will they solve the issue of violence which is not isolated to schools but instead is a community problem. Please consider this written testimony carefully and embrace long-term, sustainable, prevention-minded solutions for school safety.