Republican Gov. Scott Walker kicked up a hornets nest in Madison last Thursday, October 23, 2014, when he told a gathering of news reporters at the morning briefing that people living in Madison are driven by anger. “There are many people in Madison who are angry and they’re going to vote no (against Walker) [no] matter what, Walker said in his morning briefing.
What does he expect?
Shortly after he took office, Governor Walker surprised the citizens of Wisconsin with his now infamous “Act 10”, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair bill, ridding public unions of their rights to collective bargaining and deeply reducing the take home pay of all public employees, including all the public school teachers in the state. The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Finance who then held a public hearing the same day.
When it became clear the passage of the bill was inevitable, all 14 Senate Democrats left the state to prevent Republicans from passing the measure in the Senate.
Twenty senators had to be present to hold a vote on the bill and Republicans had just 19 seats. Walker immediately advocated for taking that requirement out of the bill, so Republicans could pass it without the Democrats being present, according to an online report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and became law in Wisconsin on June 29, 2011.
“It’s had a devastating effect on our union,”, said Wisconsin Union of State Employees Marty Beil in a report by the New York Times . It brought tens of thousands of protesters out to the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in frigid February weather in protest.
Wisconsin had been the first state in the country to grant public unions the right to negotiate contracts with their employers, after former Governor Gaylord Nelson established the rights for all labor unions, public and private, to bargain collectively.
Nelson subsequently became a U.S. Senator, where he helped passed numerous environmental legislation, and where he famously founded “Earth Day”, a day celebrated in many public schools and communities around the world with the purpose of learning about the importance of keeping a healthy environment every April 22nd. According to Nelson: “Some people who talk about the environment talk about it as though it involved only a question of clean air and clean water. The environment involves the whole broad spectrum of man’s relationship to all other living creatures, including other human beings. It involves the environment in its broadest and deepest sense. It involves the environment of the ghetto which is the worst environment, where the worst pollution, the worst noise, the worst housing, the worst situation in this country — that has to be a critical part of our concern and consideration in talking and cleaning up the environment.”
The aftermath of schools having to abide by Governor Walker’s Act 10 has deeply affected public education throughout Wisconsin. As the 2014-15 school year unfolds, Wisconsin has seen class sizes in its public schools grow faster than the national average, a rise in the number of students living in poverty, coupled with a reduction in state support for public education.
Public schools have long been an engine of our state’s economic growth, according to The Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and the State Priorities Partnership, formed in 1999, who’s mission is to engage in nonpartisan and independent analysis and provide education on state budget and tax issues, particularly those relating to low- and moderate-income families.
The Partnership is coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. According to The Wisconsin Budget Project, “Wisconsin has depended on a well-educated workforce, shaped by excellent public schools, to lay the foundation for our prosperity. To ensure that Wisconsin is competitive in the future, our schools must have the resources to offer students a high-quality education. Only then can we create a future workforce that is well-qualified and globally competitive”.
However, three and 1/2 years following Act 10’s passage into law, Wisconsin classrooms have fewer teachers, resulting in more crowded classrooms and less individualized attention for students. Over the last seven years, the number of teachers in Wisconsin public schools has fallen significantly. In the 2011-2012 year alone, there was a 7.1% in the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) teachers in Wisconsin public schools to 56,200 FTE teachers, down from 60,500 FTE public school teachers in the 2004-05 school year, even as student enrollment has increased slightly.
The decline in the number of teachers in Wisconsin has resulted in higher student-to-teacher ratios in Wisconsin. Having fewer students for each teacher helps students learn better, but in Wisconsin the trend is going in the opposite direction. In 2004-05, Wisconsin had 14.3 students per teacher; that number had risen to 15.5 students by 2011-12.
There has been a rising tide of children living in poverty in Wisconsin and attending public schools. The number of Wisconsin children who are from low-income families has climbed for ten straight years, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction.
According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, the rising number of low-income students presents challenges for Wisconsin schools. Children from low-income families lag their peers in educational achievement. They also are less likely to graduate from high school and become well-educated, healthy members of Wisconsin’s skilled workforce.
In the 2013-14 school year, 43% of Wisconsin children in public schools — or 359,000 children — were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, A decade earlier, only 30% of students qualified for free or reduced lunches.
In each of Wisconsin’s five largest school districts — Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay, and Racine — more than half the students are from low-income families and qualified for assistance for school meals. More than 8 out of 10 students in Milwaukee Public Schools were from low-income families in the 2013-14 school year. Put another way, about 69,000 children in Milwaukee Public Schools received assistance to help pay for school lunches.
Wisconsin’s public education cuts under Scott Walker are among the deepest in the country. When measured as dollars lost per student, Wisconsin’s cuts to public education over this period are second only to Alabama. Wisconsin provided $1,038 per student less in state support for public schools in 2014 than in 2008.
Changes to the state retirement system and collective bargaining rules made in 2011 forced school districts to cut compensation for teachers and other school employees and scale back academic programs. Some school districts have been forced to eliminate courses in core subject areas.
At the same time lawmakers were cutting state support for schools, they passed tax cuts that add up to $1.9 billion over four years. The tax cuts didn’t do much to lower tax bills for Wisconsin’s lowest-wage earners, but they did drain revenue that could be used for education or other priorities.
Cuts in state aid and uncertainties about future funding have caused turmoil in Wisconsin schools.
Yet while Walker’s actions have caused increased hardships on Wisconsin’s public employees, teachers and its student population, particularly for poor minority families, additional adverse impact is resulting from Governor Walker’s lack of positive environmental action.
In a recent article, Bill Lueders quotes Matt Neumann, president of the trade group Wisconsin Solar Energy Industries Association, as saying he needs only one word to describe Wisconsin’s recent record on renewable energy. He calls it “rotten.”
Neumann is equally concise in ascribing blame: “The big change happened in 2010, when the Republicans took control of the governorship and Legislature.”
Such criticism may have greater weight given that Neumann is a self-described conservative who a few years back launched SunVest, a Pewaukee-based solar installation company, with his father, Mark.
Matt Neumann says the economics of solar power have improved dramatically in recent years, to where government subsidies are no longer needed. “But we still need policies that support the ability to install solar,” he says, adding that the state is missing opportunities to grow this sector of its economy.
Renew Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy group, has tallied that the number of new solar electric installations in Wisconsin fell from 339 in 2010 to 136 in 2012, then rose slightly to 194 in 2013. Meanwhile, new solar installations nationally grew by leaps and bounds. More than 150,000 were added last year, about three times as many as in 2010.
For wind power, Renew Wisconsin reports that the number of commercial turbines placed in service plunged from 215 in 2008 to just 10 in 2012. Wind power in Wisconsin has since “flatlined,” according to Michael Vickerman, the group’s program and policy director. No new turbines were added in 2013 and 2014, and none are planned by state utilities, he says.
“We’re definitely falling behind,” says Gary Radloff, a researcher with the Wisconsin Energy Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s pretty remarkable and measurable.” Wisconsin had been seeing growth in this area before “this massive drop-off in the last few years.”
A recent poll by a bipartisan research team found that more than 80% of Wisconsin voters support raising the state’s use of various forms of renewable energy, including solar, wind and biomass.
Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor, has blasted Walker for his record on renewable energy and pledged to boost state investment in wind power, biofuels and digester technologies that turn waste to watts.
Walker’s true colors of being anti-environmental were shown when it was reported he received $700,000 from a mining firm who was subsequently allowed to rewrite Wisconsin’s once strong metallic mining law to allow it to have the largest open pit mine in North America, which will wipe out an area of significant natural beauty and high natural habitat quality which is a local tribe finds irreplaceable.
Further evidence of the low priority the Walker administration has given to environmental values is its unwillingness to create rules to limit small particle pollution from power plants, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to write such rules for Wisconsin. Wisconsin, the home of the late Gaylord Nelson, was once said to be a strong leader for other states to follow in protecting our environment. That can no longer be said now because of the blatant disregard for the environment the last three and one-half years by Governor Scott Walker. It’s no wonder Madison residents and undoubtedly many other residents of communities and rural areas throughout Wisconsin appear angry to Governor Walker. They’re furious – and they are saving their stingers for the voting booth on November 4th.
Source: Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism