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WEAC Members Defend Public Education During Lobby Day

WEAC members discuss the threats facing public education with Tim Fiocchi, a member of State Representative Jeffrey Wood's staff, during WEAC's June 16 Lobby Day.

Just days before the State Assembly will begin its work on the 2005-07 state budget bill, approximately 1,000 WEAC members from throughout Wisconsin gathered in Madison Thursday (June 16, 2005) to stand up for kids and public education during the Great Schools Lobby Day.

The teachers and education support professionals joined parents and other concerned citizens in face-to-face meetings with legislators. They stressed the importance of investing in public education and warned that the deep cuts proposed in the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee's budget bill would destroy the state's great schools.

“The education decisions in this budget will affect our children, our communities and our economy for years to come,” WEAC President Stan Johnson said.

Governor Jim Doyle introduced a state budget in February that protects schools by adding a historic $850 million in additional aid so that the state lives up to its commitment to fully fund two-thirds of the cost of public education. The budget proposal also calls for additional support for the SAGE class-size reduction program, transportation aid for rural districts and teacher mentoring programs, all while providing property tax relief.

One week ago, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee finished its version of the budget bill, which cuts $400 million in school aids from the governor's proposal by ratcheting down the per pupil expenditure under school district revenue controls, and makes other significant cuts to education.

"We know this budget proposal, if passed in its current form, will take teachers out of the classroom, increase class sizes, cut school libraries, reduce educational programs for children with far fewer curricular opportunities, delay maintenance of facilities, and keep low-income students out of higher education," State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster said during a morning general session at the Monona Terrace Convention Center before members met with legislators. "Is this budget good for the children of Wisconsin? No, of course not."

Governor Doyle also spoke out against the JFC's budget bill during the general session. "It's a cruel hoax," he said. "They know schools can't make these cuts. They know they are forcing an increase in property taxes.

"It's time we had a Legislature that said no to special interests and yes to kids," he said. "Tell your legislators that our kids should be their first priority."

Lobby Day participants met with nearly every state legislator or a member of their staff during the event. Clintonville Education Association member Ed Johnson told Heather Smith, chief of staff for State Senator Luther Olsen, about the challenges facing his district. Due to declining enrollment and revenue controls, his district has cut course offerings, increased class sizes, and laid off guidance counselors and the social worker, he said.

James Niemeier, who teaches in Beaver Dam, told Representative Carol Owens that the schools should not have to make any more cuts. “We are getting cut to the bone. We are looking for support for education so we can continue to be number one,” Niemeier said.

Joseph Pieters, a member of the West Central Education Association, met with Representative Jeffrey Wood's staffer, Tim Fiocchi. Pieters said his district has already cut $1.5 million from its budget, and could not handle additional cuts without needing to raise revenue through a referendum.

“To pit education against tax relief is a false choice,” Senator Jeff Plale told the members he met with. “You can’t look at education as 'just education.' It fits into a bigger piece that drives our whole economy.”

Deanna Matchy, of the Whitehall School District, talked to Representative Barbara Gronemus about the importance of increasing school funding. “We have so many kids with so much potential,” Matchy said. “Isn’t a child’s education worthy of being fully funded?"

Karen Hilleren, of the Plum City School District, agreed. “I believe we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and give kids what they need to succeed in the world,” Hilleren said.

“As legislators, we are really reneging on our responsibility. The future is our children. That’s just where it’s at,” Gronemus said

Many WEAC members appreciated the opportunity to have their voices heard at the Capitol. Beth Ludeman, president of the West Allis-West Milwaukee Education Association, said the future of children and educators is at stake.

“Today is important in order to safe guard our members’ futures and the futures of children across the state of Wisconsin,” Ludeman said. “I think people are pretty excited and upbeat to be able to build the social capital that our organization needs. I think people feel that they really make a difference.”

Shorewood Education Association member Arthur Anderson said"I think today is a terrific opportunity for our members to have their positions about education known. What the Legislature is proposing will destroy public schools. “

WEAC President Stan Johnson is urging all WEAC members who did not attend Lobby Day to get in touch with their legislators about the state budget bill. "We need to make sure that legislators hear the voices of the state’s educators—the education experts—before making their final decisions about this budget.”

Resource page on the 2005-07 state budget

Posted June 16, 2005

At the Capitol News Archives