State legislatures across the country are currently deciding their state budgets. Education spending is a topic that gathers the most emotion anywhere.
Tempers flared last Tuesday at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Members of the Joint Committee on Finance considered the biennial budget for K 12 education. The Republican-controlled committee approved the budget package by a vote of 12 to 4. The package includes $200 million of funding to school districts. Governor Scott Walker (R) originally proposed $127 million in funding cuts for the 2015-16 fiscal year. Additional items approved in the package were ending the enrollment cap for the statewide school choice program, requiring high school students pass a civics test, and giving the Milwaukee County Executive authority to take over failing public schools in the City of Milwaukee.
Milwaukee, WI state Senator Lena Taylor’s (D) remarks gained the most attention during the hearing. She accused GOP legislators of “raping” the children of the Milwaukee Public Schools. “For years, individuals who sit on this committee and in this building have known they have been raping the children of MPS,” said Taylor.
Brookfield, WI state Representative Dale Kooyenga (R) was offended by the senator’s remarks.
“I just find that sick, just absolutely sick,” said Kooyenga.
Senator Taylor doubled down on her remarks despite criticism from Representative Kooyenga. “I get it that the word rape sounds offensive, but when you consider the fact that 15 out of 100 kids can read on grade level, when $89 million have been skimmed from the education of kids, and you don’t invest it in the crisis areas, who are you fooling?”
“We have already proven that more money isn’t the answer to fix Milwaukee’s worst-performing schools. Instead, we need real reforms that put kids’ educations ahead of special interest groups – the kind of reforms that Rep. Kooyenga is proposing,” said Jonathan Steitz, budget and tax policy advisor at The Heartland Institute. Steitz, a Wisconsin resident, campaigned on the issue of school choice during his 2014 campaign for the state Senate.
Heather Kays, managing editor of School Reform News, said: “Time and time again, evidence and reality has shown money alone will not fix the public education system. Larger, systemic changes are necessary in order to address the many problems facing public schools today. An unwillingness to have an honest conversation about education policy can lead to these types of theatrics as some legislators desperately grasp at straws to justify continuing to do the same thing repeatedly, which is simply not working.”
Walker has until July 1st to sign the biennial budget into law.