Letter Back Home: Wisconsin

Dear Wisconsin,

We need an education governor.

Governor Walker has claimed to be the education governor for Wisconsin’s children, but this is far from the truth. Since 2011, we have watched Walker strip over $800 million in education funding from public schools. We have witnessed teachers lose their jobs at an unfathomable rate. We have seen our university system crumbling.

The ads running across your TV screens have made one thing clear: the 2018 governor’s election will be about education. And it is up to you to elect a real education governor.

Walker’s controversial education policies are something that neither Democrats nor Republicans support. The passage of Act 10 in 2011 severely restricted collective bargaining for teachers. Without union protection, teacher employment numbers have plummeted, and Wisconsin is now the national leader in public sector job loss. Teacher pay and benefits continue to decline; salaries are down 2.6%, or about $2000 less in base pay than previous years, and health care costs continue to rise. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel claims that these health care cuts were for the benefits of the students; before, teacher benefits were “lavish” and took away funding from other areas in education.

Teachers storm the state capitol building in Madison after Act 10 limited collective bargaining for public employees. // Credit: CNN

What the Sentinel and Wisconsin voters must remember is that with their ever-shrinking salaries, there is no such thing as “lavish” benefits for teachers. By painting benefits as a luxury that comes at the expense of Wisconsin’s students, Walker has created an environment in which students and teachers are portrayed as being at war with each other, despite their common goal of better educating the younger generation.

Under Walker, this common goal cannot be realized with shrinking salaries and the lack of union aid. Educators now struggle to both support themselves and provide a welcoming classroom environment for their students, a phenomenon that is occurring nationwide, but with particularly strong effects in Wisconsin. Walker’s pride in hiring “younger, more dynamic teachers” translates to school districts hiring educators with less professional experience for far lower salaries. Public education should not be run on a budget, yet this is what Wisconsin has been forced to endure for seven years.

As a recent graduate of the Wisconsin public school system, I understand firsthand the state’s need for a real education governor. In high school I witnessed the strain placed on my school district by a shortage of of state funding. Eventually, we had no choice but to propose a referendum requesting additional funding from the community. The money would have gone to hiring more teachers, reducing class sizes, and repairing our buildings. When the referendum did not pass, the district had no choice but to let go of many beloved teachers.

While some teachers had been let go, many decided to seek other jobs. “Teacher poaching” became common, and teachers frequently left for higher paying jobs in districts willing to pay their teachers more. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of my school district’s struggle occurred the year after I graduated when we proposed a second referendum and it passed. The district was able to hire new teachers and increase salaries, which would have been ideal had they not been forced to cut positions and salaries the year before. This fluctuation of funding and the unpredictability of the district’s hiring situation year-to-year again highlights Wisconsin’s need for a real education governor.

Wisconsin’s election for governor between incumbent Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers will be determined by one issue: education. // Credit: Wisconsin State Journal

Tony Evers is the governor that we need. Right now, 60% of people said that they would raise taxes on themselves rather than cut more funding from public education. This is not a decision that people should have to make, yet under Walker it has become the norm. With Evers, however, Wisconsin voters would no longer have to worry about their children’s education being mismanaged. With more than thirty years of experience in education, Evers has been a teacher, a principal, a district superintendent, and most recently the state superintendent for the past three terms. His platform centers on the importance of revitalizing Wisconsin’s education system; he will increase investments in early childhood education, increase public school and higher education funding, and allow Wisconsinites to refinance their student loans at a lower interest rate. Walker’s platform, meanwhile, consists solely of him being on the defensive, attempting to justify his past record while attacking Evers for side issues that bear little relevance on the election.

I am proud to be from a state filled with such hardworking students and teachers.They deserve a fully funded and thriving public education system that is as brilliant as they are.

Wisconsin, November 6 is less than a month away. Elect a real education governor for our state.

McKayla Wenner