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.”

Voters support ‘major increase’ in special education funding

A large majority of Wisconsin’s registered voters – 74 percent – agree with Governor Evers that there should be a “major increase” in state aid for special education, according to results from the latest Marquette University Law School poll. As part of his state budget plan, Evers has proposed a $600 million increase.

Evers’ plan would increase the state reimbursement rate for special education costs from 27% to 60% and free up funding for other programs at the local school district level.

WEAC President Ron Martin has applauded Evers’ proposal, saying that years of underfunding of special education worsened under former Governor Scott Walker. “It’s incredibly important at a time when so many children have unique needs that we provide the resources needed so all kids can be successful no matter their learning style or ability,” Martin said.

In releasing its plan, the Department of Public Instruction said, “After decades of cutting or freezing support, Wisconsin provides less reimbursement to local schools for special education than any other state in the nation. In order to pay for these required services, school districts have to make difficult decisions, even reducing or cutting other opportunities for students.”

The state budget is currently being debated in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

In other results from the Marquette poll released Wednesday:

  • 70 percent said the state should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, while 23 percent were opposed.
  • 57 percent support increasing the minimum wage, while 38 percent were opposed. Evers is calling for an increase to $8.25 an hour on January 1 and then to $9 in 2021. It would increase another 75 cents each of the following two years before being indexed for inflation.
  • 57 percent preferred to keep gas taxes and vehicle registration fees at current levels, while 39 percent supported an increase. Evers has called for an increase of 8 cents in the gas tax.
  • 41 percent supported freezing enrollment in voucher schools and a pause on new independent charter schools, while 46 percent were opposed.

Read more:

Evers’ Approval, Disapproval Both Up In Latest Marquette Poll

Public approval – and disapproval – of Gov. Tony Evers went up in the latest Marquette University Law School poll as more people familiarized themselves with the first-term governor after three months on the job. The survey also saw a slight uptick in support for President Donald Trump among Wisconsin voters and a larger jump in support for Vermont U.S.

Spotlight on Locals: Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Education Association (GETEA) President Laura Knutson with the WEAC Strong Local Affiliate Certificate.  They are joined by GETEA leaders (L to R) Alexis McVietty, Sue Guenther, Karen Shimek, Jennifer Henderson, Amy Schaefer, Cindy Stetzer, and Aaron Ottum.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

When I asked Laura Knutson, President of the Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Education Association, what makes her local strong, she told me, “We have a good working relationship with our administration and our school board. We work together cooperatively.”  

This good working relationship is what led to one of the successes for the GETEA around health insurance. Two years ago, when the district began a process to make modifications in the health insurance of moving to a high deductible plan for all employees, the members of the school board listened to the concerns and fears of the employees and decided to make an investment in health savings accounts to ensure that employees would be able to meet the high deductible, especially on day one of the new plan taking effect. Laura said, “This went a long way toward calming fears and showed a good faith effort on the part of the school board and administration.”  

Cindy Stetzer, high school science teacher and leader of the Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Education Association, reiterated Laura’s sentiment about the success of the GETEA in the transition to their health insurance plan. She noted, “Because of our working relationship, the school district took the concerns of the teachers to heart. They listened to us.” Cindy also said that when working with the school district on their compensation model, “We were able to find some common ground.  The district heard us, and we built a plan that has strengths and isn’t as cumbersome as some plans in nearby districts.”  

When asked what makes the GETEA strong, Cindy shared, “It is the people that we have in our local association that keep us strong. We are active, and we have taken time to build good relationships with administration and the school board. Because of that, we have a seat at the table. Additionally, those in leadership roles always keep the lines of communication open.” 

As far as advice to other locals in Wisconsin, Cindy advised, “Focus on your successes, not what’s been lost. And, keep plugging away at this work every day by continuing to foster relationships. When you focus on what you need to best take care of and educate the students in your district, you will be able to see gains.”

Laura’s advice to locals in Wisconsin is, “Keep the lines of communication open with administration and your school board. We continue to meet regularly and remain proactive in our approaches to putting our students first and to keeping our schools strong.”

 Thank you to the Gale Ettrick Trempealeau Education Association for your steadfast commitment to cooperation, communication and relationship building.  

Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.

All 18 WTCS recertifications are successful

All 18 recertification elections in Wisconsin Technical College System locals were successful this spring, according to results from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC). Recertification votes were successful for:

Blackhawk Technical College Education Support Professionals, Blackhawk Technical College Faculty Federation, Fox Valley Technical College Education Support Personnel Association, Fox Valley Technical College Faculty Association, Gateway Educational Support Personnel, Gateway Technical Education Association, Lakeshore Technical College Education Association, Madison Area Technical College Full-Time Teachers Union, Madison Area Technical College Paraprofessional and School-Related Personnel, Milwaukee Area Technical College Full-Time Faculty, Milwaukee Area Technical College Paraprofessionals, Milwaukee Area Technical College Part-Time Faculty, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Educaton Support Specialists, Waukesha County Technical College Educational Support Professionals, Western Technical College Paraprofessionals and School-Related Employees, Western Technical College Faculty and Non-Teaching Professionals, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College Support Staff, and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College Teachers.

The law requires 52% of all eligible unit members (not just those voting) to vote yes for the recertification to pass. The WTCS locals are a mixture of WEAC and WFT affiliated locals.

Click here to open a PDF file with voting result details.

Educators ask Joint Finance Committee to support public education funding increases and measures to attract and retain quality teachers

Advocates of public education testified in Janesville Friday at the first of four state budget hearings by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, expressing strong support for Governor Evers’ proposals to increase public education funding and to attract and retain quality educators.

“Wisconsin’s professional educators, like myself, are locked into an unfair and unrewarding economic system,” said Janesville social studies teachers Steve Strieker.

“Working conditions and professional pay have declined. A teacher shortage looms with the continued exodus of colleagues. Teacher training is being gutted and fast tracked for easy licensure. Precious public school monies have been diverted to mostly less-needy private school students in the form of vouchers. And public school funding has been slashed. This situation stinks for public school teachers, as well as the parents, and students we serve,” Strieker said.

Others testifying Friday included WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Secretary-Treasurer Kim Schroeder and Lake Mills teacher Brenda Morris.

These and other educators asked the committee to support measures proposed both by Governor Evers in his state budget plan and by the Legislature’s own Blue Ribbon Commission on school funding. They include increased special education funding, predictable revenue cap increases and salary increases to attract and retain teachers.

Other hearings scheduled are:

  • Wednesday, April 10, Oak Creek Community Center, Oak Creek.
  • Monday, April 15, University Center – Riverview Ballroom, UW-River Falls.
  • Wednesday, April 24, University Union – Phoenix Rooms, UW-Green Bay.

Find out more about the state budget at weac.org/budget.

Lake Mills teacher Brenda Morris testifies before the Joint Finance Committee (above). WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen poses with WEAC members outside the hearing (below).