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I don’t want my tax dollars giving a tax break to a wealthy family from Wauwatosa. Public schools have been the backbone of America, and can help bring future success, if we adequately fund them.
My son started college last month, and my daughter will graduate high school next spring, so for the past 15 years, I have been directly involved with our schools, starting with pre-school. Through after-school activities, music competitions, and sports tournaments, I have been inside almost every school in the 28th District. I am nosey when I visit, checking out their bulletin boards, seeing where the Seniors will go when they graduate, and noting what the school spends money on, what they prioritize, what is their security? Both my kids started at Unity Elementary in pre-K or Kindergarten, and we had truly wonderful teachers who encouraged their love of learning. I served on the Unity Pre-K Parent Advisory Committee, volunteered in classrooms and at events, assisted with projects for teachers, served on the Community Education Council, attended school board meetings, and coached or ran several after school activities, including Destination Imagination, Girl Scouts, and AYSO Soccer. Over the years, I wrote Letters to the Editor to area newspapers supporting school referenda or state school funding.
My children both chose to open-enroll into St Croix Falls, one in 8th grade, and the other in 10th. While I was sad for them to leave Unity, St Croix Falls was better able to meet their needs, and allowed them to meet new people, and spread their wings, pursuing goals like the Kohl's Scholarship, Badger Boys State and Boys Nation, the Youth Options program, Conserve Semester School, and other advanced learning opportunities.
While my kids have been successful, I have seen the budget cuts over the last 8 years take their toll, as Governor Walker cut over a billion dollars in school funding. Over the years, and particularly in this election cycle, he increased funding, but when adjusted for inflation, this does not make up for his previous cuts. Walker’s Act 10, which deprived teachers their right to collective bargaining, and raised their health insurance costs, means Wisconsin now faces teacher shortages, and teacher training programs see fewer applicants. Districts around the state scramble to fill vacancies as teachers move to other states for better pay and working conditions. Our teachers soldier on, despite median salary rates dropping by double digits.
Sadly, most of the wonderful teachers my kids had in elementary school were pushed out into early, unwanted retirement because of funding cuts. Not only are our kids missing out on their years of experience, the next generation of teachers won't have their guidance in classroom management to be successful in their own classrooms. Award-winning teachers now work as substitutes or in other fields. Stories like this prompted me to testify about school funding before the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee in Spooner in the spring of 2017 and this past spring in front of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding in Turtle Lake. This summer, I attended sessions on school funding formulas at the Wisconsin Public Education Network’s Summer Summit in Appleton to better understand what our schools are facing.
As the daughter of a retired public school teacher, and friend of teachers here and across the county, I know how hard most teachers work. Busy days at school are followed by nights and weekends grading tests and homework. Summer means summer school or continuing education to maintain professional licensure. Teachers need fair compensation, but also respect for their professional qualifications and their commitment to students.
We need to prioritize education in our state budget. Tony Evers proposes to fund already-mandated Special Education programs at 60%, a large increase which would free up a lot of money for schools to spend on deferred maintenance, teacher compensation, etc. We need to insure fair funding formulas for rural schools, particularly those with declining enrollment. I don’t want to do this this by increasing taxes on the majority of Wisconsinites - rather, we need to make sure the most wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes. I am also interested what’s known as a “circuit breaker” which could shelter seniors from increasing property taxes. I am well aware of the struggle some residents on fixed incomes face due to rising property taxes.
We need to insure public tax dollars go to public schools. Recently, too much funding has been moved to vouchers for unaccountable religious or private schools, who do not show improved educational outcomes over our public schools. Furthermore, 70% of the students in private and religious schools were already enrolled before the Walker voucher program. I don’t want my tax dollars giving a tax break to a wealthy family from Wauwatosa. Public schools have been the backbone of America, and can help bring future success, if we adequately fund them.
School Safety is not a new issue for our districts. A bomb threat kept kids home from Unity 10 years ago. Since the Columbine shootings, area schools have constantly increased their security. Most schools already have cameras, locked entrances, and controlled admission requiring I.D. Many schools have School Safety/Resource Officers and have been doing ALICE, or active shooter drills for years. What they lack are school psychologists and social workers, and adequate mental health care in our community to assist students with mental health and other personal issues, to create a strong culture of support and anti-bullying in our schools. I will work to increase funding in these areas, as well as make sure the schools that don’t yet have adequate security get the resources they need. We also need to work on anti-violence measures at all levels of our society. I defer to the recommendations of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, whose school safety recommendations include background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. The Chiefs advise against armed teachers and armed guards. If you’ve read this far, I hope you understand my deep commitment to the success of our students and public schools, which I will bring to the legislature, and continue long after my own children graduate.