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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Support Moderate Republicans’ School Funding Boost

Plus: Hero of the Week

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Sen. Luther Olsen
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In the first two years of his term, Republican Gov. Scott Walker enjoyed an unusually high degree of discipline within his party. They voted in lockstep for the vast majority of his proposals, with just a few independent-minded Republican legislators taking positions that crossed party lines, as in the case of the original mining bill.

In the second half of Walker’s term, however, Republicans’ support for the governor’s tea party agenda shouldn’t be taken for granted. It seems that more Republicans are balking at some of Walker’s more extreme budget proposals. Their slim 18-15 majority in the state Senate means that these independent Republicans have the power to stymie Walker’s plans.

Most critically, Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) and state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who chairs the Senate’s education committee, have proposed an alternate funding plan for the state’s public schools, one that will benefit school districts around the state. While Walker had proposed increasing school aid by $129 million, he would keep revenue limits on schools. That means Walker’s funding increase would go toward lowering property taxes, not students in the classroom.

Ellis and Olsen, more sensibly, would increase school funding by $382 million with $229 million in state aid and $153 million from property taxes. Property taxes would go up marginally—$16.50 next year and $15 in the following year for a $150,000 house—but that investment would pay huge dividends for our state’s schools. Wisconsin will never get out of this recession and create family sustaining jobs if the state lacks a strong public school system and faces a shortage of educated, skilled graduates who can launch their careers here.  

Ellis and Olsen were wise to buck their leader on public school funding. We’re sure they’re facing huge pressure to toe the party line or else face a Walker-friendly tea party challenger in their next primary election. But they’re doing what legislative leaders should be doing with their power: they are trying to do what they believe is right for Wisconsin no matter what the money guys who control their party want them to do.

Heroes of the Week
: Milwaukee Latino Children’s First Book Project Sponsors and Volunteers

Having books available at an early age is vital to nurturing a child’s imagination and improving reading and writing skills. The First Book Foundation, a national nonprofit that distributes books to children in need, is working to make sure every child has a book of his or her own. When Candice Owley, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals (WFNHP), learned about First Book, she inquired if there were any Spanish and bilingual books available. This sparked the beginning of the Milwaukee Latino Children’s First Book Project, sponsored by WFNHP, American Federation of Teachers Local 212/MATC, Voces de la Frontera and the Washington, D.C.-based First Book Foundation.

In just two months, these partners raised about $5,000 to purchase more than 1,500 brand-new bilingual books for Latino children. These free books were distributed by sponsor members and volunteers at Allen-Field Elementary School (730 W. Lapham Blvd.) on March 2, which is National Read Across America Day and also Dr. Seuss’ birthday. In addition to distributing reading material, face painting, music and clowns entertained the kids. Health education materials and information on how to protect and take care of one’s eyes were available for parents. Books were left at the school for families who couldn’t attend the event.

Debra Kosloske, director of administration and communications at WFNHP, said “All the volunteers did an exceptional job coordinating this fantastic community event. They loved interacting with the children and found it very rewarding.”

For information about sponsoring a project with First Book, go to firstbook.org or call the national office at 202-393-1222.

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