Educators and supporters of public schools continue to advocate for school funding increases

Educators continued to advocate for public education this week as the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee held hearings on the state budget.

Educators and supporters of public education testified at those hearings, submitted written testimony and shared their thoughts through letters to their legislators and in letters submitted to local media throughout the state. There are plenty more chances to get involved in the state budget:

  • Monday, April 15: Joint Finance Committee hearing, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., University Center – Riverview Ballroom, UW-River Falls.
  • Monday, April 15: Governor’s Budget Listening Session, 6-7:30 p.m. (Doors open at 5:15 p.m.), UW-Superior, Yellowjacket Union1605 Catlin Ave., Superior. REGISTER HERE!
  • Tuesday, April 16: Governor’s Budget Listening Session, 5 p.m., Chippewa Valley Technical College – Business Education Center, Student Commons, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire.
  • Wednesday, April 24: Joint Finance Committee hearing, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., University Union – Phoenix Rooms, UW-Green Bay.

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This week’s budget hearings
On Wednesday, supporters of public education packed a Joint Finance Committee hearing in Oak Creek, speaking in favor of Governor Evers’ proposals to increase general public education funding as well as special education funding.

Among them was Greendale High School teacher Zach Geiger, who said he is concerned about attracting and retaining qualified teachers who provide quality education to all students. 

“I started my career five years ago and have seen teacher after teacher leave the profession in search of careers with more predictability, respect, and adequate compensation,” he told the Joint Finance Committee. “Most of these teachers were in their first five years, and I am afraid that this trend is lowering students’ access to teachers who have developed their practice over years.”

Geiger said he is also concerned at the amount of public school funding that is being allocated for private school vouchers and independent charter schools. 

“This should concern all of us because I believe public schools build successful communities of educated citizens,” he said. “The investments in education proposed in this budget are necessary to stop the damages that public education has withstood in the past eight years and re-establish teaching as an attractive profession and Wisconsin education as a point of pride.”

At an earlier hearing in Janesville, WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen said our public schools “are struggling to find teachers—substitute teachers, regular education teachers, special education teachers.”

“We’ve neglected funding for public education for too long,” she said.  “Wisconsin has fallen to 33rd in the country in terms of paying teachers. We need to increase state funding by 1.4 billion over the next two years — with a $200 per-pupil funding level for 2019-20 and $204 for 2020-21.  

“My local community passed a referendum last fall — in an attempt to solve the budget shortfalls in pay and in deferred maintenance,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “The state must do its part for allstudents in Wisconsin because our children deserve this investment. I encourage you to pass the People’s Budget – investing in our public education system, criminal justice reform, healthcare. These are the first steps to a brighter future in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse teacher Jon Havlicek submitted a column to the La Crosse Tribune providing a firsthand account of how school funding shortcomings impact his classrooms daily.

“As a Spanish teacher at Central High School for the last 21 years, I can tell you that the state has underfunded public schools for over a generation,” Havlicek wrote. ” In particular, the state has reneged on its promise to cover 66%, or two thirds, of the cost of special education services in our public schools. This cost continues to grow, as more and more students are identified as needing more support.  While private schools can and do exclude many students who need special support, public schools must not and do not shirk our duty to provide the best education we can, for ALL students.  

 “However, the state commitment to special education funding has dropped almost every year, to the point where it stands at about 25% today, far short of the promised 66%,” Havlicek wrote. “Governor Evers, in his People’s Budget, has called on the legislature to pass a budget that moves toward fulfilling the state’s obligation to these students and their families. He also campaigned on a promise to significantly increase general school funding, to make up for the stripping of support that our students and families have suffered over the last eight years.

“We can keep the world class education system we have here in Wisconsin,” he concluded, “but we need to fund it properly.”

WEAC Secretary-Treasurer Kim Schroeder, a fourth-grade teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools, asked Joint Finance Committee members to be open-minded and supportive of public schools rather than just saying Governor Evers’ budget is “dead on arrival.”

For those legislators who refuse to be open-minded, Schroeder said, “Stop. Stop saying you care about education. Stop saying you care about parents.  Stop saying you care about the children of this state. We don’t believe you anyway.”

“What matters are actions. We are tired of the false rhetoric. We are tired of you playing politics with the future of our students.  

“We are watching. The parents are watching.  And, most importantly, the students are watching.”