It does all of us political enthusiasts well to remember and repeat one of the discipline’s most important truths:
All politics is local.
Hmmmm….I feel as if something’s missing….
All politics is ultimately local.
There it is.
Thank you, Speaker Tip O’Neill. You inspire us all, Republican and Democrat, well into the 21st century.
With that public service announcement out of the way, let me turn to local-ish politics in the Badger State and smell what Madison’s cookin’, to paraphrase possible future political aspirant The Rock.
In perhaps one of the most sexiest of topics, the Wisconsin Legislature is voting on the Republican crafted budget bill. Stop me before your knees get too weak!
Republicans gave public schools an additional $128 million in state funding over two years, which is less than 10% of the 1.6 billion that Evers proposed. Republicans defended the move, noting that Wisconsin schools are slated to receive $2.6 billion in federal coronavirus relief money. However, nearly all of that would have been in jeopardy unless the state spent $400 million more on schools. The additional $647 million in state aid Republicans handed schools to replace revenue lost through property tax reductions satisfies the spending requirement, ensuring schools will receive all of the $2.6 billion in federal aid.”
The passage is fairly objective, but I was left wanting a more complete picture of the Republicans’ position.
Considering the educational trajectory Wisconsin Repubs pursued under Governor Walker, it’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction and think “10% of what Evers asked for? Don’t those savages have any respect for education?” Initially, it might seem that way. However, as the cliché goes, there’s always another side to the story.
Thanks to the great site Wispolitics, I found the editorial “3 most shocking federal COVID-19 funding numbers” written by CJ Szafir of the Institute for Reforming Government on the conservative website Empower Wisconsin. I will quote only the three points to avoid taking up too much space, though you should definitely read the entire article:
1. Without any additional state funding, COVID relief funding alone will increase spending on Wisconsin’s K-12 schools by 15%, giving massive increases to big districts like Milwaukee ($11,242/student), Racine ($5,138/student), Beloit ($5,292/student), etc.
2. Wisconsin is receiving so much federal COVID funding that it could fund a year of the state budget by itself.
3. Federal COVID funding is a nearly 104% increase on top of the existing federal funding that Wisconsin expects to receive for the 2021–2023 biennial budget.
The federal government is dumping massive amounts of aid into Wisconsin-so much so that relief funding, absent state funding, will increase spending of the K-12 budget. During COVID, politicians were looser with their checkbooks than a sugar daddy paying for his sugar baby’s botox, and it’s time to reign some of this spending in.
I’m all for increasing the educational budget if the reasons and metrics are clearly laid out. However, we all saw how the airliners and big business abused the bailouts, and there’s no reason why the educational system wouldn’t, despite its nobler base objectives. Funding of this size cannot be rushed, and I’m not sure it’s the most thought out.
I went back to Governor Evers’s Biennial Budget Message from February, and I was surprised that it did not feature the word teacher or its synonym educator once. The governor was adamant that children deserve the best education, but you don’t get that without superior teachers. Sure, his mindset is that increasing funding will reduce turnover and retain great teachers, which make sense.
However, the supply of new teachers is declining. As I wrote in “To Teach, Or Not To Teach” from June 2019:
“Wisconsin has a particular nasty teacher shortage. From 2010–2016, the amount of people entering an education certification program dropped by 35% and those finishing has dropped by 28%. In the 2016–2017 school year, 1605 more teachers left the profession than entered it.”
The governor was relying on retirees to bolster the supply lines, but after the sh-tshow that was 2020, more and more older teachers are contemplating retirement, throwing a spiked wrench into his plans. The Department of Public Instruction launched a recruitment effort in May, but I’m afraid it’s too much words and too little action.
The teaching profession has to be more attractive to younger professionals, including ones who want to switch careers. The fact the governor didn’t specifically mention anything along those lines, such as partially funding the education of career switchers who teach in certain districts, is baffling to me. The budget’s written summary has a section entitled “What’s Best For Kids” but not one titled “What’s Best For Teachers.” It’s not shameful to show educators a bit more love through higher salaries, better benefits and more administrative support-hell, it may be cheaper than the current proposals!
The Republicans are not without criticism, of course. In an effort to remain the party of Leave It To Beaver and aggressive, hyperbolic DARE programs, they removed Governor Evers’s desire to legalize both recreational and medicinal marijuana. C’mon guys, you don’t have to smoke the grass. You can at least grant everyone else the option to do so, especially if they are getting smashed multiple days a week anyway. Perhaps recreational weed doesn’t have to be legally yet (it’s only a matter of time) but what’s the justification for banning medicinal uses?
In a lovely imitation of its mutated older sibling, it’s possible for the budget to be vetoed
Well there you have it. Two issues affecting your daily life, educational budget and the right to puff grass like Cheech & Chong, are decided at the state and local level, not in Washington.
Maybe you’ll tune in to the proceedings? Pretty please?