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.
“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.”