Scott Walker has led the state of Wisconsin for most of the past decade.
During the course of that decade, Walker has peddled nonsense theories about public education that would make Betsy DeVos — Donald Trump’s absurdly unqualified and destructive secretary of Education — wince. Walker is so far on the fringe of the education debate that he began his tenure as governor in 2011 by attacking educators and their unions. Then he claimed that deep cuts in school funding were necessary, even as he and his legislative allies found more than enough money for crony-capitalist boondoggles that benefited his political allies and campaign donors.
Walker has not neglected public education. He has been at war with public education.
And the damage has been done.
“On school funding, we must face the reality that for too many budget cycles public school funding has not been the priority for those in control. A decade ago, Wisconsin spent nearly 40 percent of its general tax dollars on public schools. Today, it has fallen to 32 percent. Obviously, this is a question of priorities,” explained Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in his annual State of Education address.
“And for the first time in my memory,” Evers continued, “Wisconsin has fallen below the national average in how much we spend on our kids’ education. While other states have aggressively restored funding for public education after the Great Recession, we have remained stagnant. Wisconsin has a long way to go to catch up.”
Because Evers has announced that he will challenge Walker in the 2018 gubernatorial race, Walker’s apologists rushed to dismiss the criticism. They actually claimed that funding for public education in Wisconsin has declined because Walker has been so successful in cutting benefits for teachers.
If Walker and his hectoring minions would actually talk to teachers and school board members, students and parents, they would be embarrassed to mount a “defense” of the governor that is not just laughable but cruel. They want to play politics, but Wisconsin schools are hurting — and the only reason they are not in worse shape is because voters across the state have supported referendums to fill at least some of the gaps created by the governor’s anti-education cuts.
As a political careerist who has been running for and occupying various public offices for a quarter century, Walker has never bothered to take a serious interest in education policy. Nor has he bothered to take seriously the expression of policy in the form of attention to detail when it comes to budgeting.
What Walker knows is politics. He knows how to raise lots of money from out-of-state billionaires. He knows how to run viscerally negative campaigns with that money. And he knows how to present himself at election time as a more sympathetic figure than the political opportunist that he is.
Walker plays on the right side of the political field because that’s where the money is, and for years he and his legislative allies have taken money from right-wing donors who promote the diminishment, downsizing and privatization of public education. He knows this is not popular, so he is always looking for ways to foster the fantasy that he is on the side of public school students, parents and teachers.
That’s what he has done with the current budget. Recognizing the reality that people are angry about the blows to local schools that have been inflicted by this administration, Walker and his legislative allies included a grudging increase in support for school districts in the budget — $639 million in a $76 billion spending plan.
It is not a sufficient restoration of funding.
It is not a sufficient investment in the future.
It is Walker playing politics. And don’t doubt for a second that, if he is re-elected, Walker will make more cuts.
Walker is so determined to play politics with education funding issues that he actually scheduled his campaign-style budget signing events for the day that Evers was delivering his State of Education address.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, slammed the governor for his petty political ploy, arguing, “Nothing says more about how little Governor Walker cares about schools in our communities than the fact he decided to sign his state budget right in the middle of a report on the state of schools in Wisconsin. After seven years of his administration’s cuts to education, the demonization of school teachers, and the belittling of intellectualism, this move is quintessential Walker: He puts politics before governance and self-preservation before the public good.”
Sargent, a parent with a long-term commitment to public education, was right to call the governor out.
She was also right when she declared: “Our kids deserve better this and the calamitous mess Governor Walker has made of public education in Wisconsin over the past seven years.”
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