Governor Tony Evers criticizes Republicans for school cuts, ‘using our children as political pawns’
At the Wisconsin Public Education Network’s annual summer summit, held this year in Eau Claire, Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday praised the assembled public school advocates, as well as Public Schools Superintendent Jill Underly for fighting against school budget cuts and resisted right-wing culture war ideas. called “radical”.
Evers accused Republican lawmakers of failing to properly fund Wisconsin schools and pushing divisive bills that aim to sow distrust and ill will in communities across the state.
Julie Underwood, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Committee on School Finance, introduced Evers, saying the Legislature, in its last session, did “little or nothing for public schools.
Instead, the Republican majority “passed horrible bills,” including increased voucher funding for private schools and a ban on discussing systemic racism in the classroom. She praised Evers for vetoing those bills. “He protected us from some horrible, horrible education policies,” Underwood said, calling Evers’ record 128 vetoes “better than a hat trick.”
“He’s the best goalie Wisconsin has ever had,” Underwood said.
Evers praised Superintendent Jill Underly for her recent comments on gun safety in schools and for opposing the idea that teachers should be armed to combat active shooters in the classroom.
“Obviously do we want to have schools that are tight enough that people can’t get in? Yes,” Evers said. “Do we need to make sure we have good mental health services? Yes, we have to. But how about not arming our people? Consider gun safety.
While 80% of Wisconsinans support universal background checks and red flag laws, Republican legislative leaders have refused to heed Evers’ call to hold a special session to discuss these ideas, a- he reminded the group. They also refused to answer his call for a special session on school financing
“Perhaps more than ever, our children in our schools need dedicated advocates like you,” Evers told the assembled Wisconsin Public Education Network teachers, parents and activists.
“After a decade of cuts, divestments and attacks on education, we must work together to do what is best for our children,” he said. He pointed to the increase in the ranking of Wisconsin schools in measures of achievement during his tenure at eighth place in the country in the US News and World Report rankings, from 18th place five years ago under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, when Evers was superintendent of public schools.
While acknowledging Republicans’ rejection of his two biennial budget proposals that would have dramatically increased funding for schools, Evers pointed to the budget he signed that, symbolically at least, restored state commitment. to cover two-thirds of public school funding.” I know as well as everyone in this room that how we fund our schools matters,” he added. He explained that while Republicans could claim to restore two-thirds funding in the budget passed by the legislature, they also refused to raise local revenue caps; it means a lot of that the money can only be used to grant a tax reduction to local taxpayersnot for school funding.
Still, acknowledging that the state should support two-thirds of the tab for public schools is important, Evers said, “For the first time in two decades, we actually got people talking about a two-thirds funding and really significant increases in special education and health services.
And, he added, “I was clear when I signed this budget, that it wasn’t good enough for our children, which is why I made sure to allocate $110 million. in federal funds for schools and an additional $15 million for mental health issues.”
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Evers said. But “the bottom line,” he continued, “is that our children and our schools would be much better off if we made the investments I proposed in my two semester budgets. They would also be better off if Republicans had made the investments I am proposing as state superintendent. And in fact, Republicans have cut over $4 billion from my education budgets over the past decade.
Legislature Republicans argued during the budget debate that local school districts should use federal pandemic relief funds to cover basic non-pandemic expenses, and that the injection of Federal money meant there was no reason to increase state funding for schools.
“We have a surplus, friends. Just remember that,” Evers added, pointing to the projected surplus of $4.4 billion government revenue over the next three years.
After failing to adequately invest in public schools, “Republicans are trying to divide our schools and hurt our children by bringing their radical efforts into the classroom,” Evers added. “It’s time these radical politicians stop using our children as political pawns.”
“Teachers should have the freedom to teach accurate facts about historical events and subjects without being censored by politicians,” he said. “We should find common sense solutions to keep our children, schools and communities safe, not make it easier or acceptable to have a loaded gun on school property. We should trust parents, schools and educators to work together to do what’s best for our children – a job they’ve been doing for a long time without the political interference and micromanagement of radicals inside Legislative Assembly. And we should work every day to make sure every child feels safe, welcomed, and included at school so they can succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.
Public school funds are better spent on classroom learning, Evers added, than on the court case who proliferated on critical race theory and other burning issues.
During a final panel at the WPEN Summit, Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a campaign finance watchdog group, drew links between campaign spending by groups hostile to public schools and attacks on democracy. The American Federation for Children, founded by Betsy DeVos, school privatization advocate and Donald Trump’s education secretary, has spent $8.3 million over the past 11 years “to make sure they have right-wing control over our legislature,” Rothschild said.
“We are in a democratic crisis in this country and in this state,” he added.
Amber West of the Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) student group in Milwaukee urged teachers, administrators and community members to “let our young people lead, making them leaders in decision-making processes, giving them platforms to speak and be heard by their administration, by the members of their school boards, by their chancellors in their colleges.
Her group, she added, focuses on empowering students and “educating them about what is happening around them, also letting them know they can make change, that their voice matters. And that youth votes matter too and that young people should have a stake in elections.
Michael Apple, professor emeritus of education at UW-Madison, urged public school activists and progressives to learn from the right. “They organize summer camps for high school students and young activists to learn how to manipulate the media,” he said. “They also have summer camps so people know how to get to Mequon to change school board elections. In the city of Kenosha last year they spent $150,000 to convince many working class and minority people to vote for totally racist people who disrespect anything we would do.
Apple added that it was working on a media project that tried to get the voice of public schools heard in newspapers, sending out syndicated opinion pieces pushing back against the right-wing narrative about schools.
It might annoy progressives to hear this, he added, but they must learn from conservative activists “not to be cynical, but to understand that they have actually succeeded because they take certain things very, very seriously. seriously…they win in too many damn neighborhoods. Let’s understand what they did.
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