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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Question of the Week for Democratic Candidates

How would you save public education?

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In the final weeks leading up to the May 8 Democratic primary for governor, the Shepherd will ask the candidates questions about tough issues facing the state, then print their answers for our readers' review. This is the second installment in our “question of the week” series.

Question of the Week: Last week, state Superintendent Tony Evers announced that 73% of the state's 424 school districts cut teachers during the 2011-2012 school year, resulting in 2,312 fewer positions, including 1,446 fewer teachers in classrooms.

The cuts are due to Gov. Scott Walker's slashing of $749 million in general school aids as well as reducing the per-pupil revenue limit by $1.6 billion from prior law. Because of these cuts, as well as the loss of federal stimulus money, public school districts are bracing for an even worse 2012-2013 school year. But Walker and his fellow Republicans claim that the savings from Act 10 are helping school districts weather the cuts in state aid.

If you are elected governor in June, you would begin your term in the midst of a biennial budget cycle that is already showing signs of strain. You'd also have to work with Republicans who have shown little to no interest in supporting public education, whether it's funding elementary schools or the state's universities. So, how would you help Wisconsin's public schools as they face an expected funding crisis in the 2012-2013 school year?

Tom Barrett, Milwaukee mayor:
Gov. Walker pushed through the largest education cuts in Wisconsin history. This is in addition to Walker's deep cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and our state's technical colleges. At the same time, Walker gave primarily corporations and the super-rich $2.3 billion in tax cuts over the next 10 years.

The consequences of these cuts are beginning to be felt. A new report shows that Wisconsin schools lost 2,300 staff positions last year, including 1,400 teacher positions.

A strong education system—K-12, technical college and four-year college—is absolutely essential to Wisconsin's future economic health and vitality. Companies want a skilled and educated workforce. If we lag behind other states, then those states become more attractive for companies to expand or relocate. Education is a jobs and economic development issue, pure and simple. As governor I will work to roll back Walker's tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations, and restore the investments in education that Walker cut.

To learn more about Tom Barrett, go to www.barrettforwisconsin.com.

Kathleen Falk, former Dane County executive: Education will be my top priority as governor. Gov. Walker's record cuts to public education hurt our children and limit our economic growth. Gov. Walker's approach is to give big, unaccountable tax breaks to the few, but my belief is you create jobs by investing in education. All across the state people have told me Gov. Walker's cuts to education is one of the top reasons he is being recalled. I also believe public tax dollars should go to public schools—and any school receiving taxpayer funds should have the same accountability standards. When our kids, our teachers and our schools need resources the most, Gov. Walker is failing us. I have a 14-year record of balancing budgets and funding our most important priorities, and that is the skill I will bring to undoing Gov. Walker's attacks on public education.

To learn more about Kathleen Falk, go to www.kathleenfalk.com.

Doug La Follette, secretary of state:
Wisconsin had the largest reductions in state aid per student this school year because of this budget. The dollar change in spending from the last fiscal year to this year dropped $635 per student under Gov. Scott Walker's budget.

A cut to education funding of this magnitude is deplorable. It is plain that the results are larger class sizes, fewer subject offerings and a reduction in the quality of education in our public schools.

I support the proposal put forth by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), which would increase funding for public schools and the state's university system through the addition of 1% to the state sales tax. I would review the overall sales tax to provide exemptions for necessities, and close loopholes, making it more progressive.

I also support Superintendent Evers' “Fair Funding for Our Future” plan.

I would work with legislators from both parties.

To learn more about Doug La Follette, go to www.douglafollette.com.


Kathleen Vinehout, state senator:
As governor, everything I propose would have to be approved by the Legislature. Some Republicans might be willing to help, however, since their governor's budget priorities would have been recently rejected by the voters.

My approach to public schools would be similar to the approach I took last year when I proposed an alternative to Gov. Walker's budget. I restored $398 million to public schools and technical colleges, $116 million to family care, and $4.5 million to veterans' programs. I also reversed the $70 million tax increase on lower-income working families and homeowners. To balance the budget I eliminated $105 million in new programs, $43 million in new payments to private schools and $98 million in tax cuts to corporations. In addition, I returned the $343 million transferred out of the general fund. In fixing the budget midterm, I would look first at these changes.

To learn more about Kathleen Vinehout, go to kathleenvinehout.org.