Education politics day in the Wisconsin Assembly

On Tuesday, the Assembly passed a number of education bills aimed at “extending the rights and powers of parents,” according to their Republican authors, most of whom Governor Tony Evers said he was likely to veto. They include AB-995which requires school districts to have mandatory personal training and at the same time allows parents to waive the mask requirements for their children; AB-413which prohibits education in universities and technical colleges “That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that a person by virtue of race or sex is responsible for acts committed in the past by other persons of the same race or sex” and AB-963“Parents’ Rights Bill, ”which includes the right to view educational materials and determine the name and pronouns of the genus by which teachers address a child.

Assembly Speaker Robin Voss explained at a pre-session press conference that lawmakers could “[make] I’m sure we’re doing our best to address some of the issues we saw during the pandemic, and focused on some of the poor test results we’ve seen over the past few years. “

The overall test results in the state showed an overall decline in students ’knowledge levels from the 2018-19 to the 2020-21 school years with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as detailed in the Wisconsin Policy Forum report – and this decrease may be greater than the scores suggest, because a lot of students did not take the exams at all.

In his speech, spokesman Jeremy Tisfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) complained of declining scores and accused the state education department of not keeping students to higher standards. The closure of schools during the pandemic was unnecessary and harmful to children, Theisfeldt added.

During the debate, other Republicans picked up on the topic, focusing on the idea that school closures harm students and that public schools “remain”. Expanding access to private schools, disintegrating Milwaukee County School Schools, creating “micro-schools” so that families can unite in non-traditional “learning blocks”, and removing the income limit for families receiving tax-funded school vouchers , to cover tuition fees in private schools. their proposed solutions in a flurry of bills passed along party lines.

“We are doing our best to show the distance between what these bills offer and what children really need and what parents really want,” said Heather DuBois Burenan of the Wisconsin Public Education Network Wisconsin Examiner. WPEN refused to testify on bills during commission hearings the group called part of the “circus” in the election year, which does not affect the real educational problems of the state.

Noting that this week is the Week of Public Schools, Democrats held a press conference on Monday, which took a completely different approach.

Senator Chris Larsson, Latonia Johnson, Jeff Smith, MP Sondy Pope and Peggy Wirz-Olsen, president of the Wisconsin Board of Education, called for a package of bills aimed at increasing funding and support for teachers, as well as collective bargaining. educators are again legitimate, repealing Act 10, a 2011 law that ended most union rights for most civil servants.

Wirz-Olsen described the shortage of teachers in Wisconsin as a crisis for both teachers and students. “Our students need more support than ever before, but we don’t have enough – ask any teacher in any school district in Wisconsin,” she said. “Our workload has increased dramatically since the pandemic, and now it’s worse because classes are merging, preparation time is shrinking, and we’re filling other classes and other courses.”

Teachers have burned out, student needs are high, and “teachers are at a tipping point,” she added.

Among Democrats’ proposals to expand teachers’ powers were bills that set minimum wages for teachers tied to lawmakers’ salaries and give teachers the same health insurance that state lawmakers receive. While teachers worked overtime during the pandemic, Larson slyly remarked that Wisconsin lawmakers were “the least active in the entire country” – and “guaranteed pay regardless of success.”

A number of democratic amendments to the republican bills were quickly overturned in the assembly hall on the grounds that they had improperly expanded the scope of the legislation through a sharp increase in spending.

While most of the educational proposals proposed by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers this week have little chance of becoming law, they do serve to demarcate battle lines in future elections.

Vos began his press conference on Tuesday, clearly referring to Virginia where Republican Glen Yangkin ran and won on the “Parents’ Rights” platform, upsetting Democratic candidate Terry McAuliff, the former governor.

The turning point of the race, according to many observers, including Education Weekwas McAuliff remarked in a debate in early October: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should teach.”

Questionnaire Kristen Soltis Anderson noted: “It is arguable that every Republican in the country will be involved in education in 2022 because of what happened tonight in Virginia.”

In his speech, Vos joyfully summoned Wisconsin Representative Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) for a comment similar to McAuliff. In a tweet she later deleted and apologized, which immediately went viral among conservative activists, Snodgrass wrote about a proposal for a Republican bill on parental rights: for studying in a private school from his family budget. “

“God forbid, public school should have a contribution from parents the way I think the vast majority of Wisconsin residents support,” Voss said.

“Parents’ hope of the right to make choices is good, not bad,” he added.

In an interview with Wisconsin Eye on Monday, Public School Director Jill Anderlay noted that none of the Republican education proposals meet the recommendations of the two-party Blue Ribbon School Funding Commission, which released report in 2019 following public hearings in the state. That the commission’s recommendations were ignored, ”for me, it thus confirms that it is all political theater, ”Anderlay said.

Asked about declining test scores in Wisconsin, Anderlay said the legislature should do more to support schools if they want better results. Funding for one student in Wisconsin has been declining for years – since 2009, when the legislature abolished the requirement to index it to inflation.

Since then, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, schools have had less spending per student than under previous rules. In the 2021-22 academic year, Wisconsin students received $ 342.82 less per student than they would have received under the inflation index. And this calculation was made before inflation jumped sharply.

In the current budget, for the first time, a Republican-led legislature did not increase school funding at all, arguing that school districts should use federal money to help with the pandemic to cover general operating expenses.

After receiving a stern warning from the federal government that the state’s plan to put zero dollars in schools is against federal regulations and endangered billions of federal money, the legislature has increased the equalization of benefits for school districts – but that money has allowed counties to simply cut local property taxes. It did not increase the money for schools.

From a political point of view, a detailed discussion of school funding or even statements by parents and communities about local public schools does not fuel political fervor such as allegations that public schools undermine families and instill anti-racist propaganda against children.

On Tuesday, at the Assembly Hall, Jill Billings (D-La Crosse) and Christina Shelton (D-Green Bay) delivered lengthy speeches describing their positive experiences as mothers who volunteered and participated in their children’s schools. education. According to them, parents already have the right to participate.

Ridiculing the fact that “rainbows and unicorns” are being taken over by schools, spokesman Robert Witke (R-Racine) replied: “Parents are disappointed. Parents are looking at other things besides bringing cookies for sale.

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