Archives for category: Wisconsin

State Senator Chris Larson regularly reports to his constituents. This newsletter describes the latest assaults on Wisconsin’s public institutions and traditions by Governor Scott Walker and his allies.

“Many of you have contacted me regarding your support for investing in education in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites take great pride in supporting their local neighborhood schools. Underinvesting in education causes our schools, teachers, and — most importantly — our students to struggle. This is worrisome and will likely have costly consequences for generations to come. Like many of you, I believe we need to get Wisconsin back on track by ensuring our future leaders have equal access to quality education.

“For-Profit Voucher Schools Continue to Be Unaccountable, Take Away Resources from Traditional Neighborhood Schools

“Communities across Wisconsin are starting to see the negative consequences of intentionally disinvesting in our traditional neighborhood schools and expanding unaccountable, for-profit voucher schools. Further, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recently published new figures on enrollment, which showed that the number of students receiving public money to attend private schools doubled from the previous school year and is now over 2,500. Further, 75% of students receiving public money for private school have already been attending a private school prior to being publicly subsidized. This expansion has resulted in an overall increase of state expenditures on vouchers to $18.3 million during the 2015-2016 school year. In the 7th Senate District alone (excluding the city of Milwaukee), we have seen $171,860 diverted away from our public schools and funneled into private institutions. This weakens our school districts and limits the resources they have to educate our children. I have been, and will continue to be, a vocal opponent of the voucher program because of the direct harm they do to our local public schools.

“Restricting Communities from Investing in Students

“Over the past few years, Republicans in control of the Legislature have been relentless in their attacks on local control. This session, legislative Republicans introduced a bill that strips away the ability of local communities to invest in education at the local level. Assembly Bill 481 would, in certain instances, take away the right for a school district to bring funding proposals to a referendum. With fewer state resources going to school districts, the referendum process is more crucial than ever. In fact, last April, 76% of all school referendums appearing on the ballot statewide passed because our communities recognize that we cannot continue to underfund our children’s future. Taking this tool away from neighborhoods is not only an infringement of local control but could have severe impacts on cash-strapped schools.

“Community Schools: A New Vision for Education

Access to quality public education is a right that every child deserves and is enshrined in our state constitution. However, the Republican majority in our state continues to rollback local control and intentionally underinvest in our public schools, putting our children at risk. The community school legislation that I introduced with Representative Barnes addresses the complex range of factors that lead to underachievement, while strengthening local communities in the process. This forward-thinking legislation will help guarantee that our children, as well as future generations, have the necessary support to succeed year-round.

“We need to make our schools a haven, not only for educational achievement, but for all aspects of our children’s lives. A multitude of studies have shown that if a child comes to school sick, hungry, homeless, or afraid for their safety they cannot learn. We can address these problems by restructuring the way we look at education in our state.

“Higher Education

“Since the passage of the last Walker budget, our university system is having to try to find ways to deal with the $250 million cut they have been faced with. This requires flexibility and innovation on the part of administrators, as well as student leaders, and I have been proud to see the cooperation throughout the UW System. I am continuing to meet with administrators from UW-Milwaukee, as well as various technical colleges, in an effort to work together to address their funding and resource concerns.

“In a recent visit to the UW-Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to see the amazing work they are doing, despite the decrease in state investment. The new Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa is up and running, creating a unique opportunity for graduate students to work with industry professionals. The new campus houses a variety of facilities that are researching topics from early, portable Ebola detection to mobility options for neighbors with disabilities. With nationally renowned professors and industry leaders working in the lab with students it is promising to see the real-life work experience students are getting. Projects like the Innovation Campus are a direct result of the dedication of university staff and students to higher education; let us all work together to ensure their continued success.”

Tim Slekar, dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, was outraged when he learned that the legislature passed a bill requiring all students to pass a civics test if they wanted to graduate from high school. His son will opt out of this test, and he urges other parents to do the same.

He writes:

Quick Fact. In the Spring, Representative James “Jimmy Boy” Edming slipped into the Wisconsin budget (without debate or public commentary) a provision that requires all students attending public schools to pass a Civics test in order to graduate from High School. According to Representative Edming it seemed like a”good idea” and would “help instill the responsibilities of citizenship.”

It’s now November and as a parent of a 10th-grade Wisconsin public school student I recently received a letter from my son’s school informing us that “successful completion of this exam will be required for graduation.”

Oh well what are you going to do?

I don’t know about all of you but as a social studies scholar and advocate for participatory citizenship I plan on challenging this disaster of a “good idea.”

Isn’t it amazing how legislators are so cavalier about writing laws telling schools and teachers how to do their job?

Here are Tim’s reasons for objecting to the mandated test as a graduation requirement:


It’s an exit exam for graduation and will have a detrimental influence on the graduation rate in Wisconsin.
He is already required to pass a civics course during his time in high school and I have faith in his teacher. She is best qualified and in the best position to assess my son’s knowledge of civics.
The civics test mandated is culturally insensitive and discriminatory.
This test actually diminishes civic participation.
This test will use valuable instruction time pushing a false patriotism at the expense of engaging experiences that motivate our students to become active citizens and critical “consumers” of political rhetoric.
It’s time to stop the mind numbing, skill and drill ethos that is destroying the potential of our children who overwhelmingly understand that the test and punish culture sucks the life out of their one chance to be educated.

Tim is willing to compromise. He will endorse the test requirement if the legislators who mandated it and other elected officials in the state also take it and publish their scores.

The people and the children of the state of Wisconsin have a right to know if their elected leaders are proficient in their knowledge of American Civics. And I do not want any excuses like “I already graduated from high school.” Too bad. If all of our children have to prove their civic competency by taking a high stakes test then so do our elected representatives.

I want to see Governor Scott Walker’s scores!


Thousands of parents, educators, students and community leaders will hold “walk-ins” on Friday, September 18 at more than 100 public schools across the city of Milwaukee to celebrate public schools and to share information about how a proposed public school takeover will hurt students and the Milwaukee economy. In addition to Milwaukee, all public schools in LaCrosse, Wisconsin will also hold walk-ins in solidarity with Milwaukee students.

When we walk in on Friday, we are demanding justice for our kids and our city, and we are willing to unleash all our collective power to win that justice. When we walk in tomorrow we will be saying that we will not stop until our students have the schools and communities they deserve.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Schools and Communities United coalition are organizing the walk-ins in response to a public school takeover plan passed as part of Wisconsin’s 2015-17 state budget. The takeover is part of a coordinated attempt by Governor Walker and state legislators to turn as many public schools as possible over to private operators, whether it be through takeovers, statewide voucher expansion, special needs vouchers, or additional charter school authorizers.

The takeover plan charges Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele with appointing a takeover czar this fall. The takeover commissioner would then choose 1-3 schools and attempt to convert them into privately run charter or voucher schools in 2016-17. In subsequent years, up to five schools per year could be targeted for takeover.

Milwaukee parents and community members are concerned about this takeover plan for several reasons:

• The takeover threatens the entire school district – not just the schools targeted for takeover. In Milwaukee, more than 40% of students already attend privately run charter or voucher schools. Similar challenges have brought school systems to their financial brink in cities from Detroit to Chester Uplands, PA.

• The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources to help students succeed. Simply changing who runs a school does not automatically lead to student success.

• Many students will be left without critical services. The takeover schools are not required to meet the needs of special education students or English language learners.

• School takeovers eliminate good jobs, particularly for African Americans and Latinos. Takeovers have hurt the economy in New Orleans, Memphis and Detroit. They have eroded middle class communities of color, and have led to a less diverse teaching force.

• Takeovers eliminate democratic local control, and disenfranchise African American and Latino communities. A recent report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools shows that across the nation, school takeovers target almost exclusively African American and Latino students: of nearly 50,000 students whose schools were taken over nationwide, 97% were Black or Latino.

Milwaukee parents have a better plan to promote and strengthen public schools, and make sure all students – regardless of zip code – get a great education. Community Schools, a nationally recognized model that increased graduation rates in Cincinnati by more than 30%, have begun to take root in Milwaukee and have wide support from Milwaukee-based state legislators.

Historian and teacher John Thompson reminds us of why unions are necessary: to protect workers against predatory, greedy, heedless bosses.

He tells about the jobs where workers risk their lives and where more would die without the protections that unions insist upon.

He chides the so-called “reformers” who pal around with anti-union goons like Scott Walker and John Kasich and who help them bust unions.

He reminds us that neither Arne Duncan nor Barack Obama lifted a finger to help the unions in Wisconsin when Scott Walker began attacking them.

In union there is strength. That was why it is so sad that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, i.e. Scott Walker lite, and the Obama administration help pave the way for his union-bashing and did little to help working people in the Wisconsin recall campaigns.

That is also why Walker pretended to not be an existential threat to private sector unions and claimed that his fight to the death with public sector unions did not foreshadow an all-out assault on public and higher education. Only after he had picked off one opponent after another did Walker cut education spending by $2 billion and ram through Right to Work. When pushing a $300 million cut to higher education, he promised universities freedom from “shared governance,” which “kept the university from directly running things” and told professors to work harder.

Unions have always been some of the most loyal members of the civil rights coalition, as well as crusaders for economic justice. And, we have usually had the same opponents. As Kaufman recalls, a founder of the Right to Work movement, Vance Muse, explained the need for its banning of otherwise legal, negotiated agreements, “White women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes, whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Kaufman also notes that roads in the Right to Work state of Texas don’t cost half as much to build, even though workers get paid that much less. “So,” as a union leader says, “it is only a question of who makes the money — the workers or the owners.”

It is one thing for a right-winger to oppose the rights of working people, but there is no intellectually honest way for a liberal to be an ally of Right to Work and to still pose as pro-civil rights. On the other hand, the neo-liberal corporate reformers who opened the door for Walker are nothing if they aren’t inconsistent. They will say anything, do almost anything, and ally themselves with virtually any true believer in uncontrolled competition to clear the way for top-down, market-driven school reforms.

Sadly, one reason why elite education reformers don’t understand the essential role of labor in working for justice is that too many of them have no experience in the blue collar working world. If the rank-in-file of the corporate reform movement had more experience in the industrial world, they would have seen how little the lives of workers are worth. Kaufman explains, for instance, that the fatality rate for construction workers is 40% higher in Right to Work states.

Virtually every remnant of the social safety net is now at risk. Middle and working class families are just one medical crisis away from poverty. Now more than ever, test-driven, competition-driven reformers should reconsider their neo-liberalism and rethink their contempt for organized labor. They should face up to the single biggest question. Even if they can’t get over their distaste for teachers and unions, and even if they don’t have any personal contact with blue collar workers, how can they continue to sow discord among the ranks of progressives? If they help destroy organized labor, who will replace us in the fight for civil rights and economic justice?

Recently an old friend who has long been active in Democratic party politics asked me why everyone he knew in the business world hates unions, especially the teachers unions. I said business hated unions in the 1930s. The same people hate them now. The only difference is now they have the tacit support of the Obama administration. I sent him a copy today of John Thompson’s post.

The Wisconsin government has slashed funding for K-12 public schools while expanding and enriching the state’s voucher program. This is a clear-cut victory for ALEC, the corporate-funded lobby for privatization.

“Since Republicans took over our state Capitol in 2011, they have cut $1.2 billion from public K-12 education. Under this latest budget, 55 percent of school districts will get less general student aid than they did last budget cycle and Wisconsin is spending $1,014 less per public school student than it did in 2008.

“Yet for the private school special interests, this budget was like Christmas morning, with presents that blew the student enrollment caps off the statewide private school voucher program, diverted an additional $600-800 million from public schools over the next decade and increased per-pupil spending in the statewide private voucher system more than what even Governor Walker had proposed. The cherry on top was the last minute, late night passage of the special needs voucher program, which funds private schools for special needs students without requiring specialized instruction, teacher training or current legal protections.”

Way to go, Scott Walker, in meeting your goal of destroying public education. Way to go in destroying a historic democratic institution.

Peter Greene dissects a statement by the Heartland Institute, a rightwing think tank, cheering for the “dismantling” of public education in Wisconsin. The cheering from the free marketeers was prompted by new legislation to expand vouchers and charters. That legislation awaits Governor Scott Walker’s signature, of which there is no doubt.


The privateers view public education with scorn, as a public monopoly rather than a public responsibility. They forget, or never knew, that the development if public education was long considered a major milestone in our democracy, a promise that all the children would have the right to a free public education. Given our diversity, the public schools would be common schools, serving the entire community and creating an educated citizenry.


Greene writes:


“The Wisconsin Legislature passed a budget this week that dumps more funding into the already-robust voucherific choicetastic system in Wisconsin. All the budget needs is a signature from Governor Scott Walker, and the only way Walker wouldn’t approve such move would be if he were disappointed that it didn’t explicitly end public education and replace public school teachers with minimum-wage temps.


“Also cheering for this are the boys at the Heartland Institute, a thinky tank devoted to free market causes and a better world where rich people are free to do as they wish and poor people live the crappy lives they deserve.”


Greene quotes from a press release from the Heartland Institute:


““Wisconsin’s new budget, which expands school choice programs, is a big win for Wisconsin parents and taxpayers. The strategy of across-the-board expansion of choice accelerates the process of dismantling the inefficient ‘district-based’ system and the educational apartheid that system creates.” Says Bruno Behrend, who just goes right on ahead and uses the word “dismantling.”


One thing we know about choice programs: they accelerate segregation of every kind, by race, religion, class, and income. The other is that they do not produce either better education or higher test scores than public schools serving the same kinds of students.


How long will the people of Wisconsin continue to tolerate the destruction of their public schools and public university systems?

Bob Peterson describes what Scott Walker intends to do to public schools and higher education in Wisconsin. Since he plans to run for the Republican nomination for President, it is important to know his views on education.

He is a zealot for school choice and privatization. He doesn’t like public schools or universities. He thinks that taxpayers should foot the bill for religious education. He believes that the purpose of education is workforce training. He is contemptuous of liberal learning. He is proud of his disdain for free inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge.

Peterson writes:

“Buried within the budget are 135 non-budget policy items — a toxic cocktail of attacks on public education, democracy, environmental protections and labor rights.

“For Wisconsin’s schools, the budget is a blueprint for abandoning public education. In Milwaukee, in addition to insufficient funding, the budget includes a “takeover” plan that increases privatization and decreases democratic control of the city’s public schools.

“The budget was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate a few minutes before midnight Tuesday, with all Democrats and one Republican voting “no.” The Assembly is expected to pass the budget and send it to Walker by the end of the week.

“The attack on the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is in the context of a frontal assault on public education across the state. The budget cuts $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system, holds overall K-12 funding flat in the first year with modest increases in the second (which, given inflation, means cuts). And while programs promoting privately run charters are expanded, the budget eliminates Chapter 220 — a metropolitan-wide program designed to reduce racial segregation in public schools and improve equal opportunity for students of color.

“The budget is also expanding the statewide voucher program, under which tax dollars are funneled into private, overwhelmingly religious schools. (The program is modeled after Milwaukee’s private school voucher program which began in 1990 and which now includes 112 schools and 25,000 students.)”

In a dismal field of GOP candidates, Walker stands out for his anti-intellectualism and contempt for learning.

Milwaukee Democratic legislators wrote a letter to their colleagues urging them to oppose the state takeover of low-performing Milwaukee public schools. Any students of a school taken over would be transferred to the control of a charter operator or a voucher school. This is not “reform,” it is privatization.


Ironically, the public schools of Milwaukee perform as well as, or in many cases, better than the local charter schools and voucher schools.


What would be fair, if the Legislature passes the takeover bill, would be a mandatory transfer of students in low-performing charter schools and voucher schools back to the public schools.


It would create chaos, but “reformers” love disruption. Fair?

Tim Slekar writes of Wisconsin’s efforts to stifle academic freedom and the rights of communities to control their schools.

Slekar writes:

“Once we lose our freedom to self government and once we lose our freedom to knowledge haven’t we truly entered a stage of tyranny?

“So have we? Have we entered a true stage of tyranny? One only need look at the purposeful dismantling of Wisconsin’s public K-12 and university education systems to answer that question.”

A few minutes ago, I posted a blog that appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education, stating that the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin was trying to save tenure from the onslaught of Governor Scott Walker and his allies in the Legislature.

I quickly heard from Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor at UW, who warned me not to believe it:

“Thanks so much for posting the blog tonight. However, it is incorrect. The UW Regents aren’t trying to save tenure- that’s not what they voted to do. This is a Board full of Scott Walker’s appointees and what they did was vote to adopt a fake version of tenure that is called the same thing but still allows for massive layoffs. It is a carefully worded trick and the media fell for it.

“More here:

“Please help your readers remember that the Regents, the President of UW System, and yes even the Chancellor of Madison are approved by Walker. None are to be trusted, unfortunately. And all are frantically spinning the story to suggest faculty, staff and students are overreacting.




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