For many public employees, Act 10 truly was a bomb dropped squarely in their laps. Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “Budget Repair” bill, was less about repairing a hole in Wisconsin’s budget and more about crippling a political enemy of Republicans – Wisconsin’s public employee unions. In the wake of Act 10, many public employees, including those who may not have been overly political previously – began to take action to defend against Gov. Walker’s attack on public employees. One such public employee was Brad Klotz, a teacher in the Lake Mills School District. Klotz, a 13-year teacher, had been minimally involved with his local teacher’s union prior to Act 10, but as soon as he became aware of Act 10 he knew he had to mobilize and so he went to the State Capitol.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Klotz (pictured, left) about how Act 10 has impacted him personally and professionally, and how it has caused him to become more politically involved. “I’m absolutely more politically involved than before Act 10,” Klotz said, noting that the opposition has been very organized and active in pushing their agenda. “We have to fight ALEC,” Klotz continued, adding that Gov. Walker is not the problem; he’s just a symptom of the larger problem of the influence of right-wing special interests on our state’s political system. Asked how specifically he’s gotten more involved since Act 10, Klotz said that he’s gotten more involved in his union, having run for a leadership position on the regional layer of the educator’s union, and he also added that while he typically voted only in presidential years, he has become a more consistent and committed voter, voting in midterm and local elections as well.
“We’re engaging members in a number of different ways” said Klotz, outlining that he and other teachers have done canvassing to encourage their fellow educators to not only vote, but to get involved politically. “We’ve written 400 member to member postcards and made phone calls to our members for get out the vote efforts,” Klotz added, saying that he and other educators were also working to engage education chapters at colleges to get future educators more involved as well. Klotz did note there have been some challenges in organizing and mobilizing his fellow educators, adding that while his efforts to organize and mobilize his fellow educators have been “met with a lot of positivity,” new demands placed on educators as a result of new education initiatives being rolled out have left many educators burdened and more difficulty to mobilize due to demands on their time and energy.
Klotz also added that a lot of effort has gone into building up the teacher’s union locally by aggressively registering new teachers to join the union and then by getting those teachers involved. He noted teachers have been interviewing candidates for the local school board, attending school board meetings, and engaging the school board to discuss how best to stay “ahead of the curve” when it comes to educating students.
Klotz said the financial impact Act 10 has had on his family has been steep, noting that he and his wife (also a teacher) have seen their take-home pay shrink by $700 per month each. However, while Klotz mentioned the financial impact Act 10 has had on he and his wife (not to mention so many other educators and other public employees), it became clear his primary motivation for getting more involved was the negative impact Act 10 has had on his school district and school districts across the state. Noting an explosion in the number of retirements of school district staff since 2010, Klotz noted that in the first six months of 2011 nearly 5,000 school district employees throughout Wisconsin retired, while in all of 2010 just over 2,500 school district employees retired.
Asked about his biggest concern for educators in the next few years, Klotz cited the possible expansion of voucher schools. Efforts to expand voucher schools statewide were not successful during the last legislative session due to opposition from Republicans like Sen. Mike Ellis, but with the possibility of newer, more extreme conservative Republicans like Howard Marklein being elected to the State Senate to replace more moderate Republicans, the statewide expansion of voucher schools could become a reality. “Republicans want a check in every backpack,” Klotz said, adding that a statewide expansion of voucher schools would lead to more money being taken out of the already shrunken pool of money allocated to the state’s public school system. Klotz right noted that voucher schools have a 20-year record of not producing better educational outcomes than traditional public schools, and he noted that in some cases taxpayer money paid to voucher schools has been blatantly stolen.
While I’ve only shared Brad Klotz’s story in this post, I know his story is not unique. No doubt there are hundreds – if not thousands – of public employees who have decided to get more involved and engaged in the political process as a result of the outright assault on public employees through the “divide and conquer” policies of Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature. What’s more Brad Klotz’s story of how Act 10 has affected him financially is absolutely not unique. The policy of “divide and conquer” employed by Republicans in Wisconsin has left many Wisconsinites believing that this state’s public employees are enemies of taxpayers, when the truth is actually much different. Public employees helped make Wisconsin a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family, and public employees are your friends, relatives, and neighbors.