Office of the Governor Scott Walker
The most radical betrayal of the public trust lies in your education agenda.
Dear Gov. Walker,
Ever since the recall election, the media has worked to paint a curious portrait of you as some kind of "moderate," stressing always your someday-hopes of a bid at the presidency -- assuming all that John Doe stuff goes away. Just this week, USA Today even found a UW-La Crosse professor to say that you've "been moving toward the middle and sounding more conciliatory."
On the eve of your budget address, I'm writing to say we can see right through these phony new clothes. It doesn't take X-ray vision to see that the changes you're proposing in your second biennial budget are even more radical than the union-busting, protest-warranting, recall-inducing, school-defunding, health care-gutting, job-crushing measures of 2011. You're just getting better at disguising them.
In 2011, you cut $500 million from the health care budget and rejected $9 million in federal health care funds. Last week, you stated your intention to reject an additional $4 billion in federal Medicaid funds that would insure 175,000 struggling Wisconsinites through the BadgerCare Plus program you already decimated. In a PowerPoint you presented to your friends, you revived the lie that not providing access to affordable health care will allow struggling families to gain "self-reliance" and be "independent." And you added insult to injury by claiming (impossibly) that this move will save the state money and that these people will be able to get insurance for $19 a month. You said you do all this because you "care" so much.
In 2011, you proposed cutting funding to Planned Parenthood by nearly $2 million and set the wheels in motion to ensure they aren't eligible for funding because they provide abortion services. Last month, you marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by declaring January 22 to be "Protect Life Day." And yesterday Planned Parenthood announced they're closing four locations in rural Wisconsin, meaning thousands of Wisconsinites will have to travel hundreds of miles to receive abortion-preventing and reproductive care they rely on.
But the most radical betrayal of the public trust lies in your education agenda.
In 2011, you stripped $1.6 billion from the education budget and set the stage for massive expansion of voucher programs, which benefit fewer than 25,000 Wisconsin children. In 2013, you're doubling down on your investment in defunding public education. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards provides the details (PDF) of your plan: "Private voucher schools would see their state payments raised by 10 percent -- more than $600 per pupil at the elementary level and by over $1,400 per pupil at the high school level under the governor's proposal. Public schools, on the other hand, would be allowed no increase in their revenue limits. So while the governor is proposing a 1 percent increase ($129 million) in state aids for public schools, not a penny of that increase would go to children."
You call this "moving toward funding parity," a perversely accurate description for a system that pretends public funds should equally "invest" in public and private schools. This commodifies our children and ensures that a very few profit at the expense of the many.
This move calcifies the damage done in your first biennial budget by forcing an implementation plan that consolidates massive power at the state level, strips local districts of autonomy, and leaves struggling schools to fend for themselves. While $54 million of the new money is earmarked as handouts to the schools that do well on the new "report cards," a measly $10 million is set aside for competitive grants for struggling schools. (You call them "failing schools," but we all know these are the ones with the highest percentages of low-income and minority students.) These schools will be forced to fight for the crumbs, much of which will likely go to the "independent consultants" hired to assess the "winners." After all your talk, your plan to help the schools that most need it boils down to this: "Come up with your own plan."
Your proposal also pours more money into charter schools (which study after study shows to perform worse than regular public schools) and the controversial special needs vouchers. In an attempt to silence critics this time around, you're trying to sneak the special needs vouchers into your budget, just like you tried to immobilize public unions in the 2011 budget.
This isn't about "reform" or "rewarding" well-performing schools. It's about defunding public schools at the expense of our children while private interests reap the profits.
Within hours of your announcement of your plan, everyone who knows anything about public education had shouted out in warning: Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (PDF). The Wisconsin Association of School Boards. The Wisconsin Education Association Council and the Wisconsin Alliance for Public Schools. The School Administrators Alliance. Opportunity to Learn-Wisconsin. Community leaders. Parents. Students
The message is clear: This plan is disastrous for our kids. The agenda you're putting on the table this year is every bit as radical as the one you proposed in 2011, and doubly dangerous to the citizens of this state.
Now that all of your campaign contributors are seeing a return on their investments, you may be banking on a cloak of invincibility to get you through the next two years and on to bigger and better things. But no matter how the media fawns over your dismal record, we see right through you. Let's hope the Legislature wakes up and sees through your plans, too, before it's too late.
Heather DuBois Bourenane is a Sun Prairie resident. She publishes Monologues of Dissent. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.