Last week, I stayed up late listening to the proceedings in the Joint Finance Committee as the Republicans once again pushed more money into taxpayer-subsidized, private voucher schools to the detriment of public education.
As I watched my 5-year-old sleeping next to me, tears streamed down my face. I was devastated at the thought of how different his educational experience will be from my own and even my oldest son’s. Public education — once seen as a public good and the cornerstone for future generations — is being decimated by a government model of privatization at any cost.
In Wisconsin, now a mad scientist’s laboratory for democracy, corporate government is the new normal. Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican Legislature began this as soon as they took office in 2011. They turned the Department of Commerce into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which has been an embarrassment to our state and used as a slush fund to reward out-of-state special interests and campaign donors. Human services are being looked at through a lens of profit margins rather than the well-being and safety of our vulnerable citizens. Control over our children’s education has been handed over to private companies that value standardized tests over the virtue of knowledge.
We must humanize these policy decisions by exposing them for what they really are. While the GOP touts a "path to independence," they are actually abandoning freedom-providing programs that support our seniors, children, and friends and neighbors struggling to get out of poverty. While they say they are "protecting taxpayers," they are actually selling out Wisconsin’s future.
Their goal is comprehensive privatization — the replacement of government agencies and elected officials with unelected corporations controlling more aspects of our lives for their own profits, not the public good.
We are at a tipping point in our state’s history. The pattern of electing representatives who will march forward with an agenda of corporate control has shrunk our middle class, harmed our economy, threatened our community schools, and built a system in which people feel shame in asking for help. This is not the Wisconsin that I grew up loving. This is not the Wisconsin way.
Until we come to the realization that the fundamental purpose of government is to help one another and raise each other up, we will not succeed. We believe in a government that has an active, vibrant commitment to serving its people. A government that promotes public infrastructure, education, health, transportation, and parks. We support these things not for the sake of profit, but because they provide a common good. After all, private prosperity cannot exist without a strong government standing behind it.
Privatization means making the public good secondary and abandoning the sacred mission of our government. We must return our state to these shared values we all cherish: caring for each other in our communities and providing resources and opportunities for everyone to pursue a meaningful life. It is our moral responsibility to return our state to a government of, by, and for the people.
Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the Assembly.
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