Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Walker is now the "education governor"? So why are rural schools closing and cutting?

Oh, now Scott Walker is now rebranding himself as the “education governor”?
Walker on Tuesday will release a statewide television ad following the style of several others released since the launch of his re-election campaign: a testimony from someone else, followed by a message from the governor.

The latest ad features an elementary school special education teacher from Racine named Anita.

"I can tell you one size does not fit all when it comes to our kids. And Gov. Walker gets it. He gave schools flexibility to put money where it matters most, in our classroom. And his latest budget adds $200 more per year for every student," the teacher says in the ad.

The flexibility the teacher references is Walker's signature Act 10 legislation, which eliminated most public employees' collective bargaining rights and required them to pay more into their pensions and health insurance premiums.
Naturally, the Walker campaign doesn’t tell you that the teacher in the ad is a Tea Party nut who’s made a living off of wingnut welfare. So Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now had to tell us instead.

That dishonesty aside, there’s the bigger issue of “adding more money to schools.” It’s a nice one-time measure of a two-year increase in per-pupil aids ($200 in year 1, $204 more in year 2), but that is all that Wisconsin schools are getting, and that’s not nearly enough to make up for the billions in cuts that those schools sustained in the 6 years before then.

It’s telling that another form of Walker's “increased school spending” is actually an $87 million increase in the School Levy property tax credit, which doesn’t go into the classroom at all. And schools with declining students and tax bases are still badly hurting, particularly since this year there was no meaningful increase in general school aids (intended to help low tax-base schools), and strict limits on property tax increases didn’t allow for further investment. And general aids barely increase for this next school year (1.6%, well below the rate of inflation).

Julie Bosman recently focused on the funding woes in rural Wisconsin schools in an article for the New York Times. In this long, in-depth feature, it shows a disturbing trend of small towns in Wisconsin continuing to lose their schools, staff, and their communities.

This is happening 7 years after Act 10 was supposed to make things better. So why is it happening? A lack of opportunity in small towns means that younger people leave, school enrollments continue to fall, with no chance to make up the difference.
Over five school years, ending with the spring of 2016, 71 percent of rural districts in the state saw a drop in enrollment, said Sarah Kemp, a school demographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In Potosi, a town in western Wisconsin, Ronald S. Saari, the district administrator, said his district was down to 320 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, all housed in one building. Nothing is left to cut, he said....

About 15 years ago, the graduating classes in the River Valley School District, then a relatively robust 160 students, began to shrink.

Administrators were faced with several choices, none appealing: Get more money from taxpayers through a referendum; reduce costs by closing elementary schools and eliminating staff positions; or cut more programs, like electives at the middle school and Advanced Placement classes in the high school.

The Arena school, which had 94 students in its final months, tried remaking itself into a public charter school with a STEM focus in 2014, receiving grants of more than $350,000 for new iPads and laptops, teacher training and consultants. But it was not nearly enough. Thomas R. Wermuth, the district administrator, studied enrollment projections and saw that the student shortage was not going to turn around. The state doles out aid partly based on head count; the new law to aid thinly populated districts wouldn’t help River Valley, which has too many students overall to qualify.
This is where we need to remember that the per-pupil aid increases that Walker constantly talks up don’t help districts like River Valley much, because of these stagnant and/or declining enrollments. The same issue afflicted the district that Walker graduated high school in, at Delavan-Darien, where an April referendum failed and led to the closing of Darien Elementary, with more than 1/5 of the district’s teachers being laid off.

Simple electoral math tells you that Scott Walker is already hated in Madison and Milwaukee, and you’d think more people would be fired up to vote in “Blue Wave Year 2018” to add volume along with the 3-1 margin that’ll be against Gov Dropout in those cities. Which means rural areas are places where Scott (“52%”) Walker can’t afford to lose any support in if he wants to stay in office, and seeing the schools close and deteriorate is a sure way to lose low-info and/or independent rural voters.

Which helps explain why this desperate grifter is now flying around at taxpayer expense and crashing into classrooms trying to claim he’s a “pro-education” governor to keep from bleeding any more votes. Good luck in thinking those empty words are going to convince average Wisconsinites to ignore the declining reality that they see every day.

But it does remind me of the theme song of the Walker 2018 campaign.


  1. Why are people fleeing rural WI? Because they can't start businesses there without broadband. And because Walker won't accept Medicare, clinics are closing and doctors are moving to larger population centers. So, in rural areas, no way to start a business or keep one afloat. No healthcare. Bad roads. And now no schools. People crowding into cities along transportation routes. Living in places they don't want to live because the government is restricting access to what they need to live away from cities.

    It's almost like the GOP under Walker is working toward that well known and nutty conspiracy theory "Agenda 21." Here. I'll even provide the link so right wingers can refresh their collective memories. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/11/tea-party-agenda-21-un-sustainable-development/

    1. And don't forget that Walker also turned down $23 million in federal dollars from the Obama Administration that would have paid for broadband in underserved (mostly rural) areas. And he did so because....Obama?

      And just like with schools, Walker is trying to throw state money at the situation now, well after the damage has been done and the state is far behind.

      The decline will continue as long as rural Wisconsin keeps voting in Republicans that have no issue with seeing their communities go down the drain. Maybe the elections of Dems Schachtner and Frostman to the Senate from rural districts that were previously held by Republicans is a sign that they're catching on.

  2. Excellent analysis once again, but I'm afraid that the hatred for teachers that Walker stoked throughout rural Wisconsin will result in an easy re-election for Walker & down ballot Republicans in the red areas of Wisconsin again this year.

    Vacationing in Minocqua last summer, most of the workers at the local McDonalds were teachers from local elementary schools who couldn't make ends meet on the $28,000/yr post Act 10 salaries. How did I find out that they were local teachers? Because the local old farts coffee clubbers with brand new "Stand With Walker" bumper stickers on their Lincolns, Suburbans, and Silverados called out to these ladies as "Hey-Teacher Bitch get me some more coffee" when they wanted a refill. Total disrespect for teachers is the Walker way and completely ingrained in the social fabric of Wisconsin. Divide and conquer in action.

    1. Not seeing the first part (Dems have been gaining in red areas in all elections so far this year in Wisconsin), but I definitely see the second part. Those fat-ass old men get theirs, the hell with the trash they left behind. Sad (but believable) story.

      Maybe I don't need to head up to Minocqua this Summer if the locals have that kind of attitude. Divide and conquer can work both ways, you know.

  3. No offense Grandpa but I can't wait for your generation to pass.