The past 12 months have marked an unprecedented time in Wisconsin history. On February 11, 2011, Governor Walker came out with his surprise attack on worker rights – announcing union-busting legislation designed to silence the voices of public employees, including teachers. Soon after, the foundation of public schools was shaken as state funding was cut by $1.6 billion. Divisiveness was embraced by state policymakers as the new way to govern.
Few among us can say they haven’t been personally affected. The actions and reactions of leaders and citizens have shaken the very fabric of our communities. In each village, town and city, citizens from all backgrounds refused to sit back and be silent as the foundation that Wisconsin was built on-opportunity, fairness and the value of public education-was weakened.
The whole nation watched.
Pay and benefit concessions made by educators could not make up for Scott Walker’s $1.6 billion cuts in education funding. If you talk to teachers, they’ll tell you how they’ve been impacted by what’s happened over the past year. Relationships with families and friends have become strained. Class sizes and workloads have increased. Fear and uncertainty is commonplace. In the last year, Wisconsin has seen a record number of retirements, as thousands of experienced, quality educators left the profession, much earlier than they intended. Many younger educators are wondering if they’ll stay in this career.
Despite all of this, educators are trying to do what’s necessary so their students don’t notice – because they are dedicated and caring professionals. But they can’t cover for programs that have been cut, or books, technology and field trips that can no longer be funded.
We’ve seen educators who have never before been politically active volunteering their time to go door to door to talk to voters. Why? Because it’s clear that there’s a bigger political agenda afoot.
In one short year, other states have mirrored legislation to silence the voices of workers, both public and private, at the same time disinvesting in critical public services. We’ve seen the same divide-and-conquer approach to governing. That’s unfortunate, because when Wisconsinites should be uniting, the governor is focused on dividing.
Over the next 12 months, educators will continue to come together on behalf of children and schools, despite fewer resources to meet their students’ needs. We are seeing firsthand how extreme decisions made at the state level impact our local schools and communities.
Mary Bell, President
Wisconsin Education Association Council