One of the hallmarks of public education in Wisconsin is the locally elected school board. Local individuals who are invested in the results of public education can run for their local school board. Or if not on the board they can reach out to their local representative to have their voices heard or they can vote out the current board and replace it with more responsive people.
Now when I say individuals who are invested in the results of public education…I would take that as everyone in the community. We want an educated populace. We want our tax dollars spent wisely. We want to see results. When I ran for a seat on the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors, I was quite frankly shocked at how many people didn’t care. Even in a community with relatively high voter turn out and high property taxes, they didn’t care. But that is all preamble.
Hopefully most of our Wisconsin readers are aware that Governor Scott Walker trimmed around $800 million for public schools from his first biennial budget. And then restored a fraction of it in his next budget. But in his effort to get re-elected to a third term as governor, he is proposing an increase in state aid to public schools to the tune of $649 million in the 2017 – 2019 budget. He actually heard the voices of rural school systems who have been saying they need more funding. On the face of it, I would support this measure.
Except there are strings attached. Schools need to be in compliance with Governor Walker’s Act 10 stipulations…right down to how he views and defines Act 10. Now Act 10 essentially decimated public unions in Wisconsin, limiting their rights to negotiate pay and benefits and working conditions. And there are some hardline percentages for health insurance contributions built into Act 10 that Governor Walker is saying must be met to get additional school funding.
Walker would offer schools per pupil increases in state aid of $200 in the first year and an additional $204 in the second year. But to get it, the Republican governor is requiring districts to comply with his Act 10 law of 2011, which called for cuts in public workers’ health benefits.
In a hearing of the Legislature’s budget committee Thursday, legislators asked whether the budget requirement would end up penalizing some districts that had actually found savings in their employee benefits.
Act 10 called for a 12.6% employee premium contribution for participants in the health plan the state runs for its own and local government employees. School districts outside that plan did not have to compel employees to contribute 12.6% toward the premium, and as a result they could achieve health care savings through other actions such as plan or provider changes.
Now some districts meet this requirement but some don’t meet the exact 12.6% premium contributions. Now there are dozens of reasons why local boards haven’t changed local policies and that is their decision. But the governor doesn’t see it that way.
Walker defended his proposal last month, saying it’s consistent with what taxpayers experience in their private sector jobs and that there’s nothing to stop districts from rewarding employees in other ways.
“Most people in this state pay something for their…health insurance. Districts that choose not to do that are out of whack with where the rest of the state is at,” he said.
But it sounds like everyone in public employment does pay something for their health insurance now. And he doesn’t care if boards reward employees in other ways, just as long as they meet his one predetermined target percentage. So this really shouldn’t be a big deal if Act 10 requirements are essentially being met. And Wisconsin public schools are seriously suffering under the weight of his cutbacks in state support for public education and the caps on property taxes that also were enacted under Governor Walker. I would be seriously pissed if I were currently on the MPS school board and being threatened like this by my governor.
It’s time the state stepped up their support.
So rather than accepting the fact that the local boards understand the dynamics of their local school systems and their local environment, Governor Walker wants to tell them what to do. Governor Walker wants to usurp the power and authority of locally elected school boards and dictate how local schools are run from Madison. Governor Walker wants to micromanage your school board and control the destiny of your school system and your schools children. Governor, support the schools financially and then get out of the way.
Can you imagine the caterwauling out of Madison if the federal government was doing this?